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Toronto Raptors’ success in transition and Golden State Warriors’ desire to tackle it

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Watch Warriors @ Raptors Game 2 in the early hours of Monday morning (1am) live on Sky Sports Arena

The Toronto Raptors’ speed on the break was very much the defining factor in their NBA Finals Game 1 victory over the Golden State Warriors.

Golden State Warriors 0-1 Toronto Raptors

  • Game 1: Warriors 109-118 Raptors | Box Score | Report
  • Game 2: Warriors @ Raptors – Monday June 3, 1am
  • Game 3: Raptors @ Warriors – Thursday June 6, 2am
  • Game 4: Raptors @ Warriors – Saturday June 8, 2am
  • Game 5 (if needed): Warriors @ Raptors – Tuesday June 11, 2am
  • Game 6 (if needed): Raptors @ Warriors – Friday June 14, 2am
  • Game 7 (if needed): Warriors @ Raptors – Monday June 17, 1am
  • All games live on Sky Sports Arena

The sheer ferocity and velocity coupled with the willingness of their players to run out in transition allowed the Raptors to score 24 fast-break points and turn the Warriors’ 17 turnovers into 17 points in the win at Scotiabank Arena.

It hasn’t happened by accident though, Nick Nurse’s team have worked hard at these rudiments all year to the point that they are now a slick machine with the championship on the line.

“I think that’s been the key for us all year, our pace in transition,” said Raptors shooting guard Danny Green. “If we run, we get some easy ones where they’re on their heels a little bit and not many [are] contested at the rim, and if you put pressure on the rim, then [you] get some open outside looks.

“We get our defense set, [then] we like our chances to get the rebound and push out and get some easy buckets,” said Toronto’s sixth man Fred VanVleet. “This time of year defenses are so good, the coaching and the schemes are so good, that if you can get the advantage in transition and steal a couple of buckets and win that advantage I think that’s a huge key for the game.”

But the key is ensuring they prevent the opposition scoring to allow them to take advantage of the fast break, according to center Marc Gasol.

“To be able to run, you’ve got to get stops,” he said. “And to be able to get stops, you’ve got to communicate, you’ve got to be physical, do all the little things that are necessary and finish each possession with rebounds.

“I thought in the second half [of Game 1] we did a much better job of finishing possessions and running them.”

Was that the only secret to Toronto’s scoring though? Reporters asked Klay Thompson about the similarities in style the Raptors have offensively to earlier incarnations of the Warriors, such as circa 2015 when they won their first championship of the current era before the arrival of Kevin Durant.

Steve Kerr had mentioned that some of the wrinkles in their play are similar to his first Warriors team and Thompson can see where the head coach is coming from.

“They’re very good. They’re very long. They don’t really play with a traditional post player, which is kind of similar. They really spread you out. The biggest difference between other teams? I mean, probably their size. They’re really big.

“Their big men can handle the ball and make plays too. So that’s very similar. Every position player on the floor can make a play. When you have playmakers everywhere, it’s hard to guard.”

But for some of his team-mates, the success in Game 1 for the Raptors was much more due to the Warriors’ failings than anything special from their opponents.

Bench player Shaun Livingston, who is a veteran of the Warriors’ three title wins in the last four years, said: “It’s as simple as not getting back on defense. It’s elementary.

“Rise of the shot, you’ve got to get guys back. OK, we’ve got to get back but then you play and you’re like ‘these guys are fast’. Now we know, we go through the series and we make our adjustments.”

Steve Kerr yells instructions during the Warriors' NBA Finals Game 1 loss
Image:Steve Kerr yells instructions during the Warriors’ NBA Finals Game 1 loss

And Kerr agreed that’s where the biggest improvement is needed from his charges in the next contest.

“It sounds boring, but transition defense, your ability to do that under pressure, when you’re in the finals or in a big series, whatever, and everybody’s asking you a million questions, it’s ‘can you focus on blocking and tackling?’ That’s what it comes down to,” Kerr said.

“I think a team like this that pushes the ball relentlessly, it’s not enough to just say, ‘hey guys, transition defense is important’. I think you have to feel it, and we felt it the other night.

“They ran the ball right past us several times. As I said the other night, our transition defense was very poor and that has to improve.”

Veteran swingman Andre Iguodala, who was 2015 Finals MVP with Golden State, agreed that his team will need to do the basics better in Game 2 and the rest of the series.

“It’s one of those situations where you have a team that’s really fast and you preach it prior to going into the game but it doesn’t really connect until you actually experience it,” he said.

“It goes back to the fundamentals of basketball, when a shot goes up you have to get three or four guys back, get your defense set, all eyes on ball. It’s not really who your man is, it’s just transition defense.”

Game 2 takes place in Toronto in the early hours of Monday morning (1am) live on Sky Sports Arena.

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