Raptors 103, Wizards 93 – Box

Any fears that the All-Star break might disrupt the Raptors’ momentum were rendered unfounded on Tuesday night as the Raptors notched an impressive win against the team they would face in the playoffs, if they started today. Winning road games is sweet in itself, and when you do it emphatically it’s like cherry on the pie. It brings me great joy to see the camera pan over the exiting fans, the disappointed faces, and the tired home announcers. Even the PA guy is mechanically calling out the plays, all the while dreading his drive back home through the more “diverse” parts of DC.

The Wizards have been pegged by many to overtake the Raptors in the second-half of the season, and on the evidence of last night it’s going to be a tough ask. Other than the token run made by home teams when they’re down big in the fourth, the Raptors exerted their authority and controlled the game with ease.

John Wall’s offense was singular in keeping the Wizards within a shout in the first half, and Dwane Casey was more than willing to let Wall become scorer rather than creator. Wall had 18 points on 9-12 shooting in the first half as he tried to carry the load for the misfiring Bradley Beal (2-10 FG). This contrasted sharply with a Raptors offense that was clicking right from the start and ended up shooting 57% for the game, with six players in double figures. Jonas Valanciunas was being used to initiate the offense, often being re-posted, and his finishing against the sizable Washington frontline was superb.

DeRozan's Team Talk

“Just (told) everybody to be focused,” DeRozan said. “Each and every single game matters from here on out especially if we want to do something special. We can’t take any nights off. These thirty games are going to be big and we have to start tonight.”

DeMar DeRozan

Patrick Patterson retained his starting role despite Amir Johnson being available, and as is the norm, he jumpstarted the offense without ever initiating it. The Raptors moved the ball inside-out very well, with Valanciunas keen to make quick decisions instead of inviting the defense to swarm in. As Amir Johnson paced himself he found himself a pick ‘n roll partner in Lowry: of Johnson’s six field goals, five were assisted by Kyle Lowry, and three of them were pick ‘n rolls.

Dwane Casey tested Terrence Ross on John Wall to no avail, the former proving to be too quick around the screens for any Raptor. As Bradley Beal missed shots you would generally expect him to make, the defensive presence of John Salmons, DeMar DeRozan, and Terrence Ross can’t be discounted as the trio did well to close-out on Beal, taking precious inches of space away.  Kyle Lowry was playing the role of distributor for much of the first half and DeMar DeRozan remained passive by exclusively taking five jumpers.  The Raptors were at half-throttle and managed to take a six-point lead at halftime with both teams shooting well over 50%.

More from this game:

Dwane Casey conceded size in the frontcourt in favor of the versatility of Patterson.  You might recall that Casey came under a lot of criticism from hacks like myself for always playing the game the other coach wanted instead of taking initiative and exploiting mismatches.  Last night was the complete opposite of that.  Conventional wisdom might suggest that the Raptors bulk-up in the front to matchup against Gortat and Nene, yet Casey kept Patterson in favor of the bigger, more physical, Johnson.  The result was Patterson running circles around them in the first and Johnson finding a soft spot against Trevor Booker.

Amir Impact

“He and Amir both came in and brought energy and that’s what we needed, the physicality,” Casey said of Hansbrough. “I keep talking about that … people don’t want to fight against that every night. His physical screens, just putting bodies on people in the paint, I thought that was huge.”

Whenever we’ll face the Wizards in the foreseeable future, it’s going to be about John Wall.  The Raptors did well to kill the tempo of the game and prevented the Wizards from turning this into a track meet, which is what Wall is unstoppable at.  When a team shoots 57%, as the Raptors did, the chances of the other team running at you are greatly reduced since it’s much tougher to break from a made field goal than from a long rebound.   This game only featured eight fastbreak points, four for each team.  Having killed the tempo, the Raptors ball-movement and individual drive-play proved to be too much for the Wizards who lost the points-in-the-paint battle 48-60, which is surprising given their advantage on paper.  Lowry, DeRozan, Valanciunas and Johnson were able to finish near the rim throughout the game, causing frustration to the Wizards who would generally expect to hold an advantage there.

Three things could’ve happened in the third quarter which started with the Raptors holding the aforementioned six-point lead: 1) The Wizards might’ve come back after Beal finally hit some shots, 2) The game remained tight with a nervous fourth quarter ahead of us, and 3) The Raptors would find another gear.

The Raptors found another gear.  It came courtesy of Kyle Lowry who had 14 points – all of which can be seen here.  Wall inevitably cooled down going 0-3 in the quarter and at the end of it the Raptors had a 14-point lead.

With Lowry resting, Greivis Vasquez got the nod and he hit two huge threes to help the Raptors to a 20-point advantage with 7:30 left.   The night looked to be ending on a quiet note only for the Wizards to make a run fuelled by unforced errors on the part of the Raptors.  The lead was never quite threatened and Nene helpfully missed three FTs late on to make sure that Washington wouldn’t get a sniff.

The Raptors won while giving up 11 more rebounds which led to 13 more second-chance points for the Wizards.  As damning as a statistic like that is, consider it by design on this night where Patterson provided the Wizards with a look they don’t face often.  DeMar DeRozan’s 4-6 FG performance in the third quarter is overshadowed by Lowry’s, and it should be noted that although he did settle (and make) his outsider jumpers, he drove to the rim and finished effective in equal measure.

It’s a good star to the “second half” of the season with a tough game against the Bulls coming right up, for which you can purchase below-cost tickets.

 

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