Renewed defensive strategy has Raptors alive in conference finals
BY JEFF ZILLGITT, USA TODAY SPORTS
TORONTO – Following every game, Toronto Raptors assistant coach Andy Greer re-watches the game that night and charts Toronto’s defensive plays.
Did the offense get the ball into the paint? Was transition defense good enough? Did the Raptors stop dribble penetration?
He gets up the next morning and watches the game two more times. The staff meets, discusses what adjustments need to be made and Greer pulls clips – the good and bad plays – so he can show players in video sessions.
“I put together the game plan for every game plan defensively,” Greer said. “Dwane will say, ‘OK, we need to tweak this or tweak that.’ It’s his final decision. But it’s been good for me to grow that way where I can have that input.”
Casey is a big believer in giving his assistant coaches that kind of responsibility. When Casey was with the Dallas Mavericks, Rick Carlisle entrusted Casey to run the defense.
Greer helped the Raptors re-discover solid defense this season. Greer was on Tom Thibodeau’s staff with the Chicago Bulls but needed a job when Thibodeau was dismissed.
The Raptors needed to improve their defense after finishing 23rd in defensive efficiency in 2014-15. Casey hired Greer, and Raptors finished 11th in defensive efficiency. Toronto brought in better defenders this season (DeMarre Carroll, Bismack Biyombo, Cory Joseph), but Greer showed the Raptors how to play better defense.
“Andy had been great. I think we have one of the best staffs in the league,” Casey said. “As far as Andy, he brought that Chicago mentality. But he’s done an excellent job.”
Greer is part of the Van Gundy coaching tree. He was an assistant for Van Gundy’s dad, Bill, at Genesee Community College in the mid-1980s and played college basketball with Jeff Van Gundy. He was also on Jeff Van Gundy’s staff in New York and Houston, a Houston staff that also included Thibodeau, Steve Clifford and Patrick Ewing.
After rough defensive outings in the first two games in Cleveland, Toronto returned to its defensive roots.
The Raptors admitted they were too preoccupied with Cleveland’s three-point shooting and temporarily abandoned the defense that got them to the Eastern Conference.
“We overemphasized the three-point shot,” Casey said. “Our whole thing the whole year has been protect the paint. We’ve always done that. Against this team, you have to do multiple things. You have to take away the three and defend the paint.”
In Game 3, they re-focused on protecting the paint and transition defense. The Cavs scored 106 points in the paint in the first two games and just 20 in Game 3. Even though Cleveland took 41 three-pointers, it made just 14. Toronto likes its chances with limited paint scoring and average three-point percentage from the Cavs.
“We got a better read in Game 3 on where to play, how to play,” Casey said. “The No. 1 thing is protect the paint. It took us a couple of games to get the speed of our rotations, containment of the ball.”
Greer’s defensive philosophy is centered on reducing the number of the times the ball goes into the paint and getting back in transition defense. Paint touches break down the defense, and quick offense can burn a team not in position.
“It starts in transition no doubt, and that’s what we’ve done well so far this season. We’ve gotten back,” Greer said. “It starts as the ball’s being raised up to shoot and have a guy flying back. We want to get five guys ahead of the ball.”