It's amazing what aggressive ball pressure can do. You put a ton of pressure on the ball, deny the passing lanes, and force the offense to really execute. The Raptors did just that tonight and the result was a resounding home playoff win against the Magic and now look poised to even up the series.

I've always felt that this series would come down to whether or not the Raptors could toughen up on defense. Can they stop penetration? Can they close out the shooters? Will the take charges? The Raptors can score with the best of them but if they could somehow figure out how to defend both individually and as a team, they could really make some noise. So far though, they've been wildly inconsistent, mostly bad in the first quarter letting Nelson and Arroyo do whatever they want with the ball and relying too much on help defense giving way to so many open 3-pointers. But finally, in game 3, we see the Raptors put together a complete game defensive effort and it paid off. Here are a few sequences from the first half that allowed the Raptors to build a 20 point lead going into the locker room,

Ball Pressure:

To me, it starts and ends with ball pressure. Part of the reason why I don't like straight zones is because it's soft and you let the offense off the hook IMO. I always like making the offense work, even in the backcourt making the point-guard zig-zag down the floor. Not only does this shave some secs off the shot clock, but you allow your other defenders to get into position in the half-court. Here, Jose Calderon works Arroyo full court,

Double and Rotate:

One of the things that the Raptors did a lot better tonight was their double teams on Dwight Howard and rotating to cover the other defenders. In this clip you'll see that the double team goes while the ball is in the air. They don't wait for the catch or the dribble because Howard is too good a passer. In fact, Howard is still able to touch pass it to the top of the key and reverse the ball, fortunately, the Raptors are able to rotate and get into the passing lanes and force the turnover,

Deny the Post-entry Pass:

First, you'll notice that TJ Ford is basically covering Howard from the outset. Once the ball is reversed to the top of the key. Andrea Bargnani does a solid job getting his hand out to deny the pass and poke it away. Howard should've done a better job to jump to the ball, but with Ford in front of him, it was difficult to do that,

The last clip that I didn't screencap was the charge taken by Jamario Moon. That was the 1 personnel change that head coach Sam Mitchell made for this game starting Moon over Nesterovic. For the most part I agree with it, the Raptors need more speed to double and rotate and Moon gives them that. Plus you can see that he's willing to take charges more readily which is another big reason why he should be starting.


The challenge for the Raptors is whether they can play this kind of scrambling type of defense with aggressive ball pressure for the entire game. You can't afford to fall asleep sometimes, you must play this way all game. Nobody said good defense would be easy, but in order to stop good offensive teams (which almost all the playoff teams are), it is a prerequisite.

If you've ever watched the Southern Illinois Sakulis play, you'll know that they play hard-nosed defense. If you like hard-nosed defense (who doesn't), then you'll want to check out Chris Lowery's new DVD on transition defense and half-court defense. Talk hoops strategy at the X's and O's Basketball Forum with other great coaches from around the world.