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Raptors Have Begun Preparing for Opposing Teams to Copy Memphis' Defensive Game Plan

The Toronto Raptors know opposing teams are going to try to swarm Fred VanVleet after the Memphis Grizzlies' success Tuesday night

The Toronto Raptors just got a taste of their own medicine and, boy, did it taste sour.

Remember the 2019 NBA Finals and all the praise head coach Nick Nurse got for slowing down Steph Curry? Remember the box-and-1, the so-called “janky” defense Curry scoffed at back in 2019? Well, that type of scheme been the bedrock of Toronto’s defense ever since Nurse took over the organization back in 2018. He’s asked his team to swarm superstars and force opposing teams to play left-handed.

On Tuesday, the Memphis Grizzlies did exactly that. They stuck Dillon Brooks on Fred VanVleet and challenged the undermanned Raptors to beat them with everyone else.

They didn’t.

The credit goes to Mississauga’s Brooks who said he’d had the game circled on his calendar for a while now. It was just his second time playing in Toronto and first since his rookie season and he wanted to relish it.

“I love playing here. It’s been a dream,” he said following the Grizzlies victory. “I still have catalogs from when Vince Carter and Antonio Davis and Alvin Williams was playing here. I love the culture. I love what’s happening with the Raptors.”

Brooks certainly held his own against VanVleet, holding him to just one field goal attempt and two points, with three turnovers in 39.50 partial possessions or 7:28 minutes defending him, per NBA Stats.

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“Fred’s an amazing player. He's a go-getter attitude,” said Brooks. “He knows the game so well. So he was a tough cover. I was trying to figure out a way to limit his touches, trying to get out of his rhythm, and give us a chance to win.”

At one point in the fourth quarter, Brooks, who shot 5-for-18 from the floor, brought the ball up the court and popped a three-pointer over a backpedaling Yuta Watanabe. He quickly spun around and started yelling “this is my house” at Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire.

“[He] kept telling me this is our house; this is our house. You know I like that,” Brooks said. “I like when people start talking to me. It only ups my game.”

But defensively, Memphis’ plan worked. VanVleet couldn’t shake Brooks loose and without OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. to space the floor, nobody else stepped up. Fortunately, there are ways to adjust to it, Nurse said following Wednesday's. It takes stronger screens to free VanVleet up and more off-ball movement from everyone else. And now Toronto will be planning for it, expecting others teams to follow Memphis' roadmap.

Will the adjustments work? Can they beat teams determined to take VanVleet out of the game? For now, at least, the answer appears to be no.

Further Reading

Inconsistency continued to Pague Raptors in Loss to Grizzlies

Heat docked second-round pick for violating NBA's tampering rules

What's next for Chris Boucher?