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NBA Finals 2019: Five Game 2 adjustments to expect from Warriors and Raptors, including DeMarcus Cousins’ minutes

The Toronto Raptors looked incredible in a 118-109 win in their first-ever NBA Finals game, but the Golden State Warriors will be the first ones to tell you that the playoffs, and the Finals in particular, are all about adjustments. Both teams have studied film for the past two days, noting what they can improve for a pivotal Game 2 on Sunday.

While Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Raptors coach Nick Nurse will undoubtedly have some unexpected wrinkles in their back pockets, here are five adjustments that both teams will likely make heading into Game 2.

Changing things up on Kawhi

Golden State clearly took the approach of not letting Kawhi Leonard beat them, trapping him to get the ball out of his hands and forcing role players to step up — but those role players did so well that it might cause a bit of an adjustment from the Warriors. Watch the clips below, as the Warriors’ trap allows Leonard to dump the ball off to Marc Gasol (much like how Steph Curry dumps off to Draymond Green when trapped), who first makes a pass to Fred VanVleet for a rhythm jumper and then hits a clutch shot himself in the fourth quarter.

“I think we made pretty good decisions,” Nurse said on Saturday. “There are always some things you probably would have — other outlets you would have went to on some of those offensive deals. There’s other spacing you would have done, other cuts you might have made. But I thought for the most part we were trying to get to an open area, trying to get the ball to the open man. We mixed it up between cuts and rim attempts versus kick-outs for 3s. That’s all you’re trying to do. I keep saying, our offense is hit the open man, and that’s what we were trying to do.”

Perhaps in Game 2 the Warriors will be more selective with their traps on Leonard, particularly early, in an effort to not let players like Gasol, VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Danny Green get into a rhythm. It may mean more points from Leonard, but then when the Warriors get more aggressive with their traps later in the game, the other Raptors may not be as confident or efficient. Whatever the Golden State decides to do against Leonard, you can expect it won’t be the same as Game 1.

“I think with great players like Kawhi or LeBron or Kevin Durant or whoever, it’s the old cliché: You can’t just do the same thing over and over again,” Kerr said on Saturday. “But in this case the cliché is true: You can’t give a guy the same look every time. So you just try to mix it up and keep them off balance the best you can. I thought we did a decent job overall on Kawhi. He didn’t have his best game. But, again, transition and other areas of our defensive game were really lacking and we have to clean up. We’re under no illusion that we’re going to stop Kawhi. We’re just trying to make it as difficult as possible on him.”

More minutes for Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins is healthy — but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to play. He got his feet wet in Game 1 with mixed results, making some excellent passes but looking hesitant to shoot while displaying less than optimal footspeed defensively. Golden State is in a tough position considering Cousins’ lack of conditioning and playoff experience, but without Kevin Durant it appears the Warriors will need to play him more, adding another playmaker and hoping he can get something going offensively against Serge Ibaka (who has a tendency to get pushed around by bigger centers). The eight minutes Cousins played in Game 1 — again, a product of his lack of conditioning — were hardly enough to get him into any sort of groove. Watch on this play as Cousins passes up a chance to make a layup and/or get fouled from about two feet away from the basket, instead kicking to Quinn Cook for a missed 3-pointer, which leads to a transition basket for the Raptors.

It was a great pass, but Cousins needs to be more selfish there — those are shots that he has to take. Cousins’ defense is an obvious concern, but Jordan Bell was largely ineffective in his 11 minutes and Kerr has already said Kevon Looney will stick to his usual 28-30 minutes. Andrew Bogut is an option, but puts yet another non-shooter on the court for Golden State without providing much more, if any, quickness defensively.

Cousins was a minus-1 in his time on the court despite his defensive deficiencies, and if he can keep the Warriors around even with Curry on the bench in, say, 12 to 15 minutes, that’s all they can really hope for. Expect Cousins to be more aggressive looking for his own shot in whatever minutes he gets in Game 2, as his confidence begins to grow.

“You’re always concerned with [Cousins]. I think he’s certainly a low-post force,” Nurse said on Saturday. “It’s hard to guard him with one guy when they decide to throw it in there to him and he gets going. And then when he’s playing on the perimeter, he can do both things: He’s a very good passer and he can also knock down a shot if you don’t go up and guard him. So he’s a big body, good player, lots of skills. I would imagine he’s going to get better and better as the series goes and get some timing and feel back out on the court.”

Staying glued to the Splash Brothers

Overall the Raptors did a good job on Curry and Klay Thompson in the half-court, but three of the duo’s seven 3-pointers in Game 1 came after offensive rebounds.

Toronto allowed nine offensive boards, which isn’t bad, but they need to do a better job sticking with Curry and Thompson after the Warriors get a second chance — easier said than done, considering they’re both among the best ever at relocating in just such situations.

“I think it’s a team-wide effort,” Kerr said on Saturday of the relocation 3-pointers. “You have guys who are willing to screen for them, who recognize those situations, where it doesn’t have to be a play call. You don’t have to say, all right, we’re running whatever, four-out. You recognize situations where you can just set a screen for a guy. We got a lot of smart basketball players, guys who can make passes, who can set screens.”

Whichever Raptors aren’t involved in crashing the boards need to make finding Curry and Thompson their top priorities to avoid such lapses. The Warriors thrive in these chaotic, scramble situations, and it’s one of those things that’s hard to plan for until you see it, so expect Toronto to be better at keeping a body on the Splash Brothers in Game 2.

Limiting Toronto’s transition opportunities

Kerr has harped on it since the final whistle blew in Game 1 — Golden State’s transition defense needs to be better. Allowing Siakam and Kyle Lowry to run the ball down their throats led to plenty of easy buckets, and prevented the Warriors from completely closing the gap in the second half.

Obviously limiting turnovers will help the Warriors (they had 17 in Game 1), and that’s not really something you can game plan for, but they got lost several times in transition leading to wide open looks. That’s something the they can, and surely have worked on leading up to Game 2. 

“Give them credit. Siakam was running the floor like a gazelle. They were getting the ball off the rim and just pushing it,” Thompson said on Saturday. “Instead of crashing as hard as we did, we’ll have to make the adjustment in Game 2 and try to send more guys back. But 10 days off as well, we might have had a little cobwebs. It was just a mixture of things. But I know this: I know we’ll be better tomorrow. So that’s always a good thing.”

Keeping Curry off the line

Teams are used to chasing Steph Curry off the 3-point line, but the free throw line is where he did a lot of his damage in Game 1. Curry made all 14 of his free throw attempts, and many of the Toronto fouls appeared to have been avoidable. Curry is crafty, baiting defenders into fouling him on jump shots with hesitation moves and fakes, and the Raptors fell for them more than a few times.

Curry has averaged 5.2 free throw attempts per game in his playoff career, and hasn’t shot 14 in a playoff game since the 2017 Finals. Needless to say, the Raptors can’t give a player as offensively dominant as Curry extra points at the free throw line. Expect them to be more careful around him in Game 2.

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