Raptors are winning the battle of centres with a defence that has stifled Orlando’s Vucevic

Raptors are winning the battle of centres with a defence that has stifled Orlando’s Vucevic
The schemes are solid and the help is nice to have but when it gets right down to it, the reason the Raptors have helped turn Orlando Magic centre Nikola Vucevic into a nonentity two games into their playoff series is kind of simple.


The combination of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka had done a tremendous job on the all-star centre, each able to use his individual talents to frustrate Vucevic into two distinctly below-average performances.

“We ve got two really good centres defensively, first of all,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Wednesday. “They re, at times, as good as it gets, so it s nice to have two guys to be able to go at him throughout the course of the game. They played him physical. They limited his touches.”

And they took away everything the seven-footer wanted to do.

Vucevic is a combined 6-for-21 from the field two games into the series, averaging 8.5 points per game. That’s a far cry from his usual production, which runs to about 17 shots per game and about 20 points a night as a focal point of the Orlando offence.

He’s been a far cry from that.

“I’ve just got to figure it out,” Vucevic said after Tuesday’s disappointing six-point game. “Find a way to be more aggressive and more efficient offensively. I didn’t take many shots (in Game 2), so I’ve just got to find a way to get going defensively. I expected this, I expected them to focus on me, and I’ve just got to look at the tape and see what I can do better.”

It may not be up to him, regardless of what he does.

Gasol is big enough and strong enough and smart enough to force Vucevic off his comfort spots in the Magic offence, Ibaka is quick enough to crowd him, and the Raptors have been sending periodic double-teams in the post that have frustrated the 28-year-old veteran. Vucevic has turned the ball over five times in two games despite his lower-than-usual usage.

“Our perimeter ball pressure has limited his touches, as well,” Nurse said. “We ve made it hard for them to get (the ball) in there because of the ball pressure on the outside. Then, when he does get it, there s been enough good individual play and good team play to make him seem uncomfortable.”

It’s a defensive game plan well-devised and well-executed.

What the Raptors are doing to Vucevic mirrors what they’re trying to do to Terrence Ross — use all the tools at their disposal and a lot of different looks to take the sharpshooting backup out of his comfort zone.

Ross has gotten away from the Raptors in short spurts but Toronto held him scoreless in the second half of the Game 2 whitewash, with just three shot attempts, thanks to a variety of different looks and just solid, smart defenders.

That group included Fred VanVleet, who would seem to be a bad matchup for the long, quick, athletic Ross. But VanVleet was able to get physical with Ross, disrupt his movement without the ball and force him into split-second decisions that didn’t often go well.

“I keep using the same words, desire and determination,” Nurse said. “Fred’s determination, desire to guard him (Tuesday) night was really high … Terrence is a problem — we end up with Kyle on him, Fred on him, Kawhi on him, Pascal on him, you know, we’re trying to throw a lot of different things at him … it’s hard to get that guy out of rhythm but we’re trying to.”
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