The Toronto Raptors and head coach Nick Nurse have historically been among the NBA's best teams at game planning to slow down opposing superstars. While other teams stay stagnant, opting to use their night-to-night defence to stop the league's best, Nurse has no problem totally reshaping the Raptors defensive scheme. On any given night, the Raptors are wont to use Nurse's famous box-and-one, triangle-and-two, or blitz superstars as aggressively as any team in the NBA.
It's a strategy that has worked marvelously for them against teams with one or two offensive superstars. The problem, however, is the Raptors are getting set to take on the Brooklyn Nets on Friday and there isn't much you can do to slow down the trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving.
So far this season Durant, Harden, and Irving have played 317 possessions together, per Cleaning the Glass. In those minutes, they have an Offensive Rating of 122.1 points per 100 possessions. Just how good is that? Well, last year's Dallas Mavericks broke the NBA record for the highest Offensive Rating ever with 115.9 points per 100 possessions. That 6.2 point difference is as big as the difference between the Mavericks offence last season and the 18th ranked Sacramento Kings' offence last year.
So, Nick, how do you stop them?
"Well, I don't know," Nurse said, unwilling to reveal whatever trick he's holding up his sleeve. "I think it's a tremendous challenge."
The problem for Toronto is those three superstars are just the beginning of the Nets' firepower. After them, Brooklyn has plenty of complementary role players who aren't too shabby either. Joe Harris, for example, is shooting 48.7% from behind the arc and 54.5% on catch-and-shoot 3s while Jeff Green is draining 3-pointers at a 45.2% clip this season. Normally the Raptors would aggressively help off those secondary and tertiary players to contain a superstar, but against the Nets even that's hard to do.
The only reliable way to beat the Nets these days is to simply outscore them. As impressive as their Offensive Rating is with that trio on the court, Brooklyn's Defensive Rating of 117.7 points per 100 possessions is about as bad as its gets in the NBA. For comparison, the Kings' 117.2 Defensive Rating is the worst in the NBA this season and it's still better than the Nets' with their offensive stars on the court.
The Raptors are a team that hangs their hat on their defence and Nurse's crazy defensive schemes. As he said Thursday, you're not going to get him to say defence doesn't win games any time soon. But that old sports adage about defence being the real difference-maker might just be thrown out the window against these Brooklyn Nets.