Toronto Star

Raptors searching for balance amid offensive explosion


DENVER— The Raptors — to steal a pet phrase from their coach, Dwane Casey — have told on themselves.

Despite the intense wishes of Casey, who has made a reputation over more than a quarter-century of coaching as a defence-first mentor, this incarnatio­n of the team boasts an ability to simply outscore teams when it’s needed.

“It’s like a mirage,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Saturday before the Raptors hung110 points on his team in an impressive going-away win. “They are telling everyone from last year that they are this big, physical, defensive team. And then when you play them they run you to death and they score in the 100s.

“They are the second team in the NBA offensivel­y, but if you ask your players or anyone, ‘Tell me about Toronto,’ the first thing they say is physical, pound you defensivel­y. I don’t know how they are get- ting away with this.”

Casey doesn’t exactly bristle at the suggestion the Raptors have turned into one of the best offensive teams in the NBA because he knows that’s the kind of personnel he has.

Especially with the off-season acquisitio­n of Lou Williams, who gives Toronto a huge scoring boost off the bench that didn’t exist a year ago.

They have myriad ways of scoring — mostly on the perimeter, but they can get to the rim if that’s what teams give them — and Toronto’s depth makes it often bullet-proof offensivel­y.

If one player is struggling, they can find one who isn’t, and the players are smart enough to ride the hot hand until it’s someone else’s turn.

“We want to be a grind-it-out defensive team, but the game has forced us at times to be an up-anddown kind of offensive team, so we are searching,” he said. “There are times we do put together some good defensive series, but we are still searching.”

That search will not be abandoned any time soon. While Casey relishes his team’s scoring — and quite pleased with the 23-7 record they took into Sunday night’s late game here against the Nuggets — he is steadfast in his belief that defence is more important. It’s all well and good to average108.2 points as the Raptors do — second in the league behind the Dallas Mavericks before Sunday’s action — but this is the regular season and it’s different.

Casey knows, and keeps hammering home the point, that if Toronto doesn’t start defending better it’ll be tough to go deep in the playoffs. Games become slower, tougher and more physical when there’s more on the line and getting stops is far more important than running up scoring totals. It’s what he wants them to ultimately be.

“I don’t know if we have establishe­d our identity yet,” he said. “We are not a defensive juggernaut, we are not an offensive juggernaut on some nights in some spots of the game.

“So I think we are still searching. It goes back to us being a young, upand-coming team. We are not an establishe­d team, because an establishe­d team would already have their identity and we are still searching.”

Personnel drives a lot of that search and the Raptors are more built towards scoring than defending, even more in the last month or so when DeMar DeRozan, who had turned into a solid defender, has been sidelined by injury.

Casey figures once he gets his team back to its usual rotation, things will improve.

The scoring is welcome. More balance is desired.

“We have to get back to the centre now, which is harder to do depending on the personnel you have in there,” he said. “That is something we have to look at. That is where James (Johnson as a starter) has helped us, and even Landry Fields has helped us. DeMar had become a better defender, too.

“So that’s where now, with Greivis (Vasquez) and Lou out there more, we are probably more an offencefir­st team.

“If we are going to be serious about going deep in the playoffs we have to get back to the centre.”

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