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Even though the Raptors were still alive (or better yet, gasping for their last breath), it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest the majority of this fan-base simply wanted to be put out of their misery. Well, the Wizards were accommodating hosts, handing out an embarrassing Game 4 defeat, while ending Toronto’s season with an excruciating-to-watch series sweep.
There is something to be said about pride, though, from the players to fans alike. Deep down all of us kept a little bit of hope that a Game 5 would take place. It’s just a shame the feeling wasn’t mutual.
At least Game Of Thrones was able to shake off its slow start in last night’s episode. Anybody else hoping Tyrion and Daenerys will eventually rule side by side? Hey, if you didn’t have access to a bottle of Jack, or a dartboard with Casey/Lowry as its bullseye, distractions have been encouraged throughout.
Still, in a twisted sense, every single one of this club’s hardcore supporters was willing to endure an inevitable evening full of frustration and anger to see this downfall to the bitter end. And we have every right to be resentful, as the amount of support shown to this team deserved a better fate.
I will incorporate Game 4’s gameplay as this article goes along, but this disappointing moment calls for the big picture to supersede the game’s individual perspective. It all connects, in unfortunate fashion.
Just like any hangover, the cobwebs slowly transform into moments of clarity (or regret for that matter). And realistically, the morning after hit home around the All-Star break, perhaps we’ve been our own worst enemy all along as we continued to show faith in this squad despite all the smoke being blown.
This city is starving for success, undoubtedly, so are we guilty of putting this squad on an underserved pedestal coming into this season? The year’s scorching beginning didn’t help matters, either. In hindsight, a little more investigation into what the opposition was bringing to the table should have presided.
A testament to that fact would begin with last year’s second-half charge, and the euphoric opening round against Brooklyn. Which on the surface can even be described as coming close to rivalling Vince Carter in his Raptors’ prime. But as we now wallow in a reality check, it’s safe to say we let the Raps lead us down a path of false hope.
The George Costanza syndrome, if you will:
It now seems like ages ago that the only positive revolving around this franchise was the chance at winning the Andrew Wiggins’ lottery. But with just under two seasons removed from that scenario, would the current levels of “respect” across the league be traded in for that ongoing rebuild? Whether it would’ve been Wiggins or another top prospect, the answer is yes, and no.
There’s reason to believe that Valanciunas’ development would be further along if a playoff atmosphere wasn’t stumbled upon. Less emphasis on keeping the status-quo, while presenting opportunities for JV to learn on the job without Casey’s short leash hanging over his head on a nightly basis could have worked wonders. Along with the actual shaping of an offensive identity for the long haul. The offseason will be a gruelling one, filled with what-if’s, but the Raps are heading into it with not much to show for it in the way of progression. JV remains a second-class citizen in this freestyle scheme.
On the flip-side, it’s just not that simple. Jonas’ stagnant, and somewhat deteriorated skills can’t solely be based on the way he was handled. Intelligence is a two-way street, and Gortat and Nene took advantage of at every turn.
“Progression” is my major issue with Casey. The 82-game grind is played for a reason. How long can a coach keep the Raps’ front-court woes on the back-burner? How long can tinkering with inefficiencies at both ends seemingly not take place? Did Casey lose the room halfway through? Those JJ rumours are beginning to gain legs as we speak.
At this point, the firing of DC would shock very few, and not having the foresight to address (or at least attempt to) what would ultimately be a contributing factor in the team’s failures will not work in his favour. How was the coddling maintained with T-Ross and not with JV? Especially when T-Ross is decidedly more replaceable with how this roster is currently constructed.
Add another flatline for Ross at the charity stripe. Accumulating zero free-throws is nothing new, but as long as were discussing advancement in personnel, move along, folks, there’s nothing to see here. Mix in DeRozan’s 4.25 FTA average, along with Lowry’s own minuscule 2.75 over the course of the series, and you don’t get much of an example being set.
Before Game 2 hit, I stated that if Lowry failed to show up, the benefit of the doubt he has received during his time in a Raptors’ uniform would officially disappear. Yes, injuries played a factor, but does that negate a slippage in overall basketball IQ?
Game 4’s tone was set with K-Low once again heading to the bench with three early fouls. The second was a mockery of officiating, but does that exempt him from his all-too-familiar leaving of his feet for his cheap third? Not to mention his careless technical foul while sending the Ref an attitude-filled message. Love the passion, hate his recent mindset.
The pretty 21-8-4, and 53% from the field line showed up far too late. But at least he’s owning up to it.
In what was once deemed the unthinkable, the notion of Lowry being available in the offseason has now become a possibility. And that brings us to the offseason, will there be sweeping changes?
Casey isn’t the only one with one foot out the door. Amir, Hansbrough, Chuck, Fields, and possibly even Lou and JJ are all on notice. Come to think of it, DeRozan might be the only player resembling a sure bet to exist in this team’s blueprint for next season.
Just under 12 minutes. The grand total of playing time given to James Johnson across the entire 4 games. I hinted at the rumours, but Casey could have gained a bit of job security if JJ was allowed to help. Defending the wing, the interior, the not-so secret weapon of Pierce at the 4, aiding the disparity in four straight rebounding breakdowns (chalk up another 42-37 difference on Sunday), while fundamentally setting the example for the Raps’ lost art of boxing-out.
In a backhanded attempt at saving face, it is kind of difficult to attack the glass when pull-up jumpers persist to go up with the number of would-be rebounders failing to enter the half-court set before the shot the heaved. And let’s not forget the defensive side where over-compensating in help situations gave the Wizards numerous second chances.
But back to JJ. Exactly how could he not have helped the rest of this lot with his off-ball movement, his screen awareness at both ends, or on John Wall’s drives that totally ignored the chances for countless uncontested attempts from downtown. The Raps did Washington’s dirty work for them.
102 points given up by the end of the third quarter??
There is one change that is all but guaranteed, however. One would think that TSN’s experiment with Mo Pete has run its course. Please, for the love of all things good in this world, let that be true. The addition of Sam Mitchell to the broadcasting crew saved a sinking ship.
In the end, Lowry deserved to be waived to by Beal, Porter’s defence on DeMar was stifling, JV never got a true chance to make an impact, Pierce’s manipulation was masterful, JJ deserved better treatment, and Wittman out-coached Casey by a country mile.
The next Game Of Thrones looks promising. What about the offseason? Well, it will be hard (not really) to say goodbye to this version of the Raps, but changes are in order. Take it away, Boyz:
So what do the Raptors do moving forward? We need to get a real SF or PF imo. but who’s out there, available and can fill this void? Thoughts?
Drake crazy fa this A photo posted by The Truth (@paulpierce) on
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll say it: It was embarrassing,” forward Patrick Patterson said. “A horrific effort on our part. “Something happened during the season that caused the change. I’m not exactly sure what the cause was, but the effect obviously was us losing games, going on a crazy losing streak and then non-success, horrible play in the playoffs. So I’m not exactly sure what the biggest difference was or what happened or why.” This was a bad defensive team virtually all year long, and all of their worst qualities were on display on Sunday. They helped too much, and did not have the speed or intuitiveness to recover. They failed to communicate in transition, leaving any given Washington player totally unaccounted for. They lost various Wizards off of the ball, getting caught ball watching. They got beat on the perimeter so often that the Wizards enjoyed a parade to the free-throw line.
Even as they cruised along with the best mark in the Eastern Conference back in those heady days in December, Casey was constantly harping on the defensive slippage he was seeing. But with Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams carrying the offence, even with DeMar DeRozan injured, and the rest of the league’s teams still getting in sync with their new lineups, the Raptors rode this advantage to a stunningly strong start. It turned out to be not just fool’s gold, but costly because it came without a defensive presence that was the backbone of this team a year ago. Without that backbone, the slide began in January and, with a few exceptions, continued uninterrupted through Game 4 here on Sunday night. “To be beat like they beat us in this game — and they beat guys in the series — shows you how hard everyone in that room has to work to get better at every phase of their game,” Casey said. In Sunday’s closeout, the Wizards shot 71.4% in the first quarter as they began to pull away.
What do the Raptors really have here? What are they really building on? They’re building on a team that seemed to go out of its way to avoid playing anything resembling conscientious defence. The Wizards, who had 99 points through three quarters on Sunday, shot a murderous 48 per cent for the series. They’re building on a team that seems to go out of its way to avoid making the sensible pass. Sunday’s meagre 17 assists were the latest case in point. They’re building on a team that, all through their late-regular-season swoon, insisted they’d be ready for the playoffs, and weren’t. These Raptors told the world they could adapt their game to the playoff grind, and didn’t. To wit: Terrence Ross went to the free-throw line precisely zero times in this post-season. Even DeMar DeRozan, the team’s go-to seeker of in-the-paint punishment, only got there twice on Sunday.
That the Wizards are a good team is not the debate. The question for Ujiri – and he’s the one who needs to get the answer just right – is what kind of team are the Raptors? On Sunday night they were the worst version of what they’ve been through the playoffs, the worst-case scenario of the team that went 13-16 after the all-star break – 13-20 if you count the playoffs – and won just two games against teams with .500 records. They couldn’t shoot, couldn’t defend, couldn’t rebound and didn’t compete well enough to extend the series. “I’ll say it. It was embarrassing,” said Pat Patterson. “A horrific effort on our part. Not that we didn’t try. We wanted to bring it back to Toronto, no one wanted to go out but it was embarrassing, it was horrific, it was a let down. It was just ugly. “
Few positive results came from Toronto’s performance against the Wizards, especially on Sunday. Sure, odds were that Toronto would end up being like the 110 other NBA teams that had lost a seven-game series after falling behind 3-0. But with their playoff lives on the line, the Raptors failed to put up much of a fight.
On top of all the tangible areas in which they regressed – primarily on the defensive end, where they dropped from a top-10 team to 23rd ranked – they gradually became unwatchable. Of course, that’s a generalization. On some nights, when shots were falling and their offence was buzzing, particularly early in the year, they would entertain. But remember when they played hard every night, when no deficit was too big to overcome, when their passion spread through a city and a country in desperate need of a likeable basketball team to call their own? That hasn’t been the case in a long while. Their brief playoff showing was painful. They had coughed up early leads in each of the first three contests, succumbing to Washington’s superior play on both ends of the court, before getting blown out in the series clincher. They were out-rebounded in all four games and allowed a Wizards team that could barely execute a simple play two weeks ago to score at will from all over the floor.
The 2014-15 Raptors defended like a stable full of 22-year olds. They over-helped, abandoned routine, and failed to communicate repeatedly. That this was one of the better offensive teams in the NBA barely helped – the team even improved on its top five offensive ranking in the second half of the season, and yet that second half saw the team’s winning percentage drop significantly.
“I’ve said it the entire year, we’re a young team,’’ said Casey. “First of all, this (sweep and Game 4’s 125-94 loss) should hurt. “It shows how hard everyone in that room needs to work to get better in every phase of their game. Terrence and Jonas are both young guys. They have a lot of work to do, a lot of work to do physically and mentally to get prepared for each and every night. To play at this level, you have to have razor-like focus. “Those guys made some great strides this year and I don’t want to pooh-pooh what they did throughout the season. This level is a different level. “All of our guys, all of us, have to be ready to compete at this level.” Ross and JV couldn’t, but they weren’t the only ones. Casey rolled the dice last spring when he avoided the temptation to change his starting lineup by benching Ross. He kept rolling out Ross this spring and Casey couldn’t extract more than a spot-up three-point shooter who made six three-balls in four games, not exactly a high percentage. Valanciunas started all fours games, but showed little, to no sign, that he was starting to turn the corner. Playoff basketball is a different game, a possession game that requires a lot more than what the Raptors have to offer. The Wizards exposed the Raptors and by sweeping the Raptors, they just may have ushered in some sweeping changes to the Raptors.
By the end of the first quarter, the Wizards had a cool 36-22 lead on ridiculously good 71.4 percent shooting from the field. By half-time, it was a crushing 66-50. Pockets of Raptors fans still spotted Washington’s arena on Sunday, waving their black We The North flags and hoping against hope that their team would harness all that frustration and let it fuel them into what they used to be – a fiery underdog that made you feel something. The little the Raptors could muster in the second half wasn’t nearly enough against the impressive “D.C threes” that Washington was shooting from players all over the floor: Beal, Wall, Paul Pierce, Ramon Sessions, Drew Gooden. The Raptors trailed by a humiliating 32 going into the fourth, and a couple of rowdy Raptors fans were ejected by security as taunting Wizards fans sang him out of the stands with a chant of U-S-A, U-S-A. In a city where the trees were greener than Toronto’s for late April, the sun was brighter, and flags were waving on street-posts for two professional sports teams in the playoffs, it just seemed like fate. No NBA team has ever come back to win a playoff series they trailed 0-3, and any far-off dream of history being made by these Raptors faded shortly after tip-off on Sunday.
In some sense, potentially breaking up the current Raptors core won’t be emotionally difficult for general manager Masai Ujiri because he didn’t put it together in the first place. Remember, this team is essentially an accident—one that was on the brink of a teardown-and-tank track last year before the Rudy Gay trade unexpectedly rejuvenated the roster. Making two straight playoff appearances wasn’t the plan until surprising circumstances removed alternatives. Now, after seeing the current team fail spectacularly, Ujiri, who made tons of aggressive moves in his time with the Denver Nuggets, has a full summer to think about building a new one.
What began as a series between evenly matched teams with similar regular season arcs — a torrid start to heighten expectations followed by a second-half, buzz-killing malaise — ended up being an exhibition of two teams headed in vastly different directions. The Wizards made the Raptors’ three-game season-series sweep irrelevant by unveiling a deadly small-ball lineup with Pierce at power forward and Otto Porter Jr. at small forward. The configuration unearthed driving lanes, which produced relentless drives and a bevy of three-pointers. It was, basically, a different team with a memo for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
The rest of the team stayed true to form. Jonas Valanciunas was an efficient 7-for-10 with 16 points and 9 rebounds. DeMar DeRozan had a humble 14 points. And the rest of the usual suspects did their usual things: Terrence Ross was invisible, Patrick Patterson was inconsistent, Lou Williams shot the ball a lot, and Amir Johnson struggled on valiantly. And on the whole, of course, Toronto’s defense was terrible. We don’t need to recount it here. The Wizards, led by John Wall (again) and the sterling play of Marcin Gortat, were once again too much for the Raptors. Whether it was coach Casey’s strategy or the talent of the players, nothing worked. We’ve reached the off-season sooner than we intended. Only questions abound for this team. We’ll have more post-mortems on the season this week. But tonight, let’s get things started on the game and the series. And really, everything that’s gotten us to this point.
The Wizards aren’t running plays for Porter, he’s just finding space on the perimeter. There’s plenty of it with the Raptors defense packing the paint to prevent John Wall, and Marcin Gortat (who’s shooting 70 percent from the field), from getting to the tin. Porter’s shooting touch and regular availability on the perimeter has provided a massive, dynamic shift for Washington’s offense, which produced fewer than 17 shots from 3-point range during the regular season but is attempting nearly 24 in the first round of the playoffs. Porter isn’t the only player finding himself wide-open as a result of quick, unselfish, and productive ball movement from the Wizards. The entire team is benefiting from open looks and catch-and-shoot opportunities, as well as consistent touches in the paint. “We’re making the sacrifices to do whatever it is to help the team win and that’s the key and that’s the reason why we have won three games,” John Wall said. “We wish we could do it for the regular season, but it’s even better to do it now when it counts the most.”
Well, the Wizards took the last couple of weeks in the season to get guys like Wall, Paul Pierce and Nene healthy. This is the healthiest this team has been since the first half of the season. Though everyone has their nicks, bumps and bruises, it helps to be healthy heading into the big dance. Another reason is that Wittman pulled out his big trump card–Paul Pierce at the 4. This was something discussed at length throughout the season and our own Umair Kahn called for Wittman to do it before the series started. Wittman does it, and like always with Umair, he hit the nail right on the head. The Raptors didn’t know how to handle it and we saw plenty of minutes going to the exclusive postseason lineup of Wall-Beal-Porter-Pierce-Gortat.
Drew Gooden, well, was unstoppable tonight. I can’t believe I actually wrote that sentence. DREW GOODEN. IN 2015. He scored 13 points, and he also knocked down three 3-point shots. It might not seem like a big deal, but…it’s DREW GOODEN. They aren’t ordinary threes. It’s like, Brian Cook on steroid threes. Gooden has become the ultimate “No, No, No, No, YES!” player.
The Wizards went 0-3 against the Toronto Raptors during the regular season. The first game in November was a 19-point drubbing, but the Wizards’ January 31 and February 11 losses were by four points (in overtime) and two points respectively. Despite those close games, the Raptors had every right to be the favorite. And now, after two games in Toronto and two games in Washington, the Wizards did not just defy the odds*, but they obliterated them, and the Raptors. The numbers seem almost cartoonish in nature. The Wizards did not trail at any point during the game. They shot 71 percent in the first quarter, 44 percent in the second, 64 percent in the third, 57 percent in the fourth, and 55 percent for the game. They shot 57 percent (15-for-26) from the 3-point line and 82 percent from the foul line. The second unit allowed the Wizards’ lead to dwindle to eight points with 10:08 left in the second quarter, but the sharp shooting of Otto Porter and Drew Gooden took that lead back to double-figures and the lead was never less than 11 points for the remainder of the night. Paul Pierce gets to avoid customs, Randy Wittman gets to keep his job, and, most importantly, the Washington Wizards get to rest while the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks go to battle for at least two more games.
It had been a rough one for Kyle Lowry in this series. He went into Game 4 with series averages of 9.3 points (23.8 percent FG, 18.8 percent 3FG), 5.0 assists, and 4.7 rebounds. The assists and rebounds were right about where he performed against the Nets in the first round loss last year, but the scoring was roughly 12 points per game lower than those seven games. In Game 4, Lowry ended up with decent numbers if you look at the box score without context. He finished with 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting (2-of-7 from 3) to go with eight rebounds, four assists, and six turnovers. In reality, Lowry was just as bad in this game as he was in the previous three contests. He committed three fouls in the first quarter, taking him away from the carnage of what the Wizards were doing to his team until about halfway through the second quarter. He put up some points, but the majority of his minutes in this game ended up being meaningless. He was a part of a perimeter attack from the Raptors that failed all series but put up some window dressing in the final box score of the series in this blowout loss. We don’t know if Masai Ujiri will tear this roster apart this offseason, just make a coaching change, or try to figure something else out, but this team only had one meaningful victory in the final 65 days of their regular season.
Defence: Z- Don’t you dare mention hyperbole. If there was a letter after Z, you’d see it on your screen. The Wizards came into this series with a bottom-10 offence, yet they looked unstoppable. Terrence Ross in particular offered little resistance, an indictment of his game at this point. What a train wreck.
The Raptors need help on the perimeter and inside, and Ujiri has roster spots to fill. Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough will be free agents in July, and there’s no guarantee the Raptors retain any of them. The backcourt of DeRozan, Lowry and Vasquez are locked in for next season, and Terrence Ross is a restricted free agent. But who is untouchable on the roster? Even if they retain those players, the Raptors need help on the wing. Center Jonas Valanciunas is a promising big man, but didn’t make enough progress from last season to this season, and with all those free-agent big men, Toronto will be in the market for forwards and centers. This is an important summer for Ujiri, who not only has to assemble a roster that can return to playoffs but assemble one that can get out of the first round. Change is coming. How much is not clear.
Derozan is a good player and there is still a place for high volume scoring in the NBA but I’m concerned about his contract status with being a lock to opt out in summer of 2016. With the high bidding market of the new CBA I assume he will get maxed out. Yes it’s not like trading for a 1 year UFA is any less of a problem for other teams but some non FA destinations may feel if they go into summer 2016 looking to sign a UFA straight up, all the good targets will be snapped up by better destinations and they won’t be able to get anyone, so trading for a player like Derozan early could make a major positive difference in resigning him
With the loss, the Raptors’ 2014-2015 campaign comes to a close with 49 regular-season victories, a second consecutive Atlantic Division title and an 0-4 record in the playoffs. This was not the way they envisioned things unfolding when the series started nine days ago, but it will be what they think about over the summer while training for next year.
Was last night the final time we see Amir in a home uniform? I still say this series goes 5-6 games, but the way we’re playing who knows. Does anyone think MU will re-sign Amir this summer and use a chunk of our cap space on a broken down Amir Johnson. I used to think he would stay here, retire here but right now i just don’t think that happens even if we were to make a miraculous comeback and get to the second round.
This was a nightmarish way to end the season for the Raptors, who set a franchise record this year for wins in a season. Unfortunately, 49 wins do not mean anything in the playoffs. The Raps looked defeated from the onset tonight, clearly not motivated to try to defy the odds and make the series more interesting. For the second year in a row, GM Masai Ujiri has to reconcile losing to a lower seeded team in the first round. After two years of bitter disappointment, change will be swift this summer. Players who have been with the club for a long team will be shipped elsewhere and a new coach will likely be hired. This will all be in the hopes that the team can find a way to get past the first round of the playoffs next year.
It’s not like it’ll make a difference to the score…
It’s just so fucking sad how I spent all my time, my fucking money on this team. I can honestly say I only missed one game of the regular season, and watched every minute of the playoffs.. and this is what we get?? I know theres other fans out here similar to me and I wanted to say sorry, sorry we both had to go through a season for nohting. Sad part is, we fans.. Not even the Raptors in general but, we Toronto fans, show up, we fucking cheer our hearts out to these teams and in the end we end up with dissapointment and sadness.. and we cant do nothing about it. nothing. We always get laughed at for being so bad but we aint the players, we aint the coaches, we aint the GMs.. All we Toronto fans can do is fucking get heckled by other people for “being too passionate” “being so obnoxious”.. I dont know.. im just fucking tired of being a toronto sports fan
Thanks for the great year, guys! It was our pleasure.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
We had three tough games into tonight. We knew, that if things didn’t go the right way, adversity may hit. And we didn’t fight through it.
We were just emotionally drained, and gave into their onslaught as the game went on.
Once they hit us with the haymakers, we didn’t have enough emotional fortitude, or whatever it was, to sustain it.
Hey coach, how did Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas fare? Here’s your chance to lay some blame on them.
Terrence and Jonas have a lot of work to do. To play at this level, you got to have razor-like focus. I don’t want to poo-poo how much they grew throughout the seaosn, but again, this level is a different level, and all of our guys, all of us have to learn how to compete at this this level.
Does this roster need a major change?
I don’t think so. That’s not my department. My job was to, er, is to get us ready to play and develop, continue the process, that’s my charge, my goal.
The next step this team and organization has to make is probably going to be the toughest, to get to that next level. To go from just making the playoffs, to continuing in the playoffs and playing for a championship. I know how hard that is. We won it in Dallas. It took us three years to get to that level. Our guys are just scratching the surface where we need to be to get to that level.
Seriously, what happened? Who’s fault is it? Say Jonas and Ross, please
The way we played in the entire playoffs was not us, as far as execution offensively, execution defensively, we didn’t get it done as a group. I don’t think you can pinpiont one person, it was all of us, us coaches, we’re in this together.
Does he regret any strategic or tactical decisions?
No, we tried everything. We made adjustments, we tried to make every proper adjustment, according to their small lineup, their big lineup, their pick ‘n roll game, their post-up game. The only thing we didn’t implement, and it was tough for us to get in, was our zone. Everything else, we switched, they exploited that.
Why did the defense suck this year?
One thing hurt us this year was DeMar’s injury, going out 22 games. I don’t know what our numbers were defensively, I thought they were pretty good before he went down. And then we became ‘how are we going to score’ [type team]. Got caught up in that game, playing a little bit faster, taking quicker shots. And somehow, somewhere, your defense is going to suffer.
It was hard for me, as a coach, to get the horse back in the barn.
I usually comment a lot more on these quotes but today I’m just drained. Only thing I’ll comment on is the quote about strategy. From one angle, I think it’s crazy that he thinks he couldn’t have done things better when dealing with Bradley Beal’s movement, Paul Pierce’s hot stretches, the defensive rebounding, or the looks he gave John Wall. On the other hand, maybe he’s just not a good enough coach to know that there are other possibilities out there when dealing with a good-passing big man in Gortat, combined with a lightning quick guard in John Wall.
I don’t think the Raptors ever made it difficult for Wall, we should’ve sagged off of him to force him to shoot, we should not have had Kyle Lowry check Bradley Beal under any circumstance, and two of our best wing defenders in James Johnson and Landry Fields (yes, he does exist) weren’t even utilized. We didn’t even think about bumping Gortat off the offensive rebounds or even offer him a different look for five minutes. In the regular season, Chuck Hayes had success against Marc Gasol where he held him away from the boards on account of his strength, not even something like that was tried, if only to slow him down for brief moments to quell the storm.
So, when he says he has no regrets, it blows my mind. On the DeMar DeRozan injury affecting the defense, the stats do support that. Up until the injury, the Raptors were 9th in defense, and since they’re 25th. So, there you go. The new working theory is that the defense sucked because everybody tried to compensate for DeRozan’s offense and forgot about defense. The coach couldn’t correct that approach, as he admits with the whole horse/barn thing.
I recorded an hour long podcast with Andrew and Will, which was really turning out to be something, only for the power on my street to go out. No word on whether the Raptors suckage from tonight created a wind tunnel so strong that it knocked out power lines in Toronto, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.
Instead of a three-person podcast giving varied views on various topics, you now have to settle for me. Just me.
As you can imagine, the players weren’t thrilled with how the season ended.
They Raptors really wanted to get a head start on their vacation plans.
This page will be updated constantly up until tip-off. For our game preview, click here.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 26, 2015
Patrick Patterson’s true shooting percentage in this series? .880 Kyle Lowry: .308. Lou: .409. Amir: .717. DeMar: .455
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 26, 2015
Kyle Lowry returns after anthems.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 26, 2015
— Kat Stefankiewicz (@MatterofKAT) April 26, 2015
Kyle Lowry just walked back to the locker room … rest of Raptors shooting around
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 26, 2015
— Matt Devlin (@Matt__Devlin) April 26, 2015
Same starters for Game 4. Bruno's inactive.
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 26, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 26, 2015
Casey: "Whatever happens this summer, we have no control of… but we can control our effort, focus & what we're doing the next 48 minutes"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 26, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 26, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 25, 2015
I’m going to do something a little unorthodox here. I’m going to talk about slim chances without employing the Lloyd Christmas clip from Dumb & Dumber. Of course, there’s a Drake lyric in the title, so I’m already a cliche, but hey, small victories.
Speaking of small victories, maybe the Toronto Raptors will win today and extend their series to a fifth game so my homie Nav (and 18,000 others) can use his tickets for Game 5 on Wednesday. Maybe they’ll win two and keep us interested through the week. Maybe they’ll even win three and force a Game 7 back home a week from today. Probably not, but maybe.
I laid out some causes for optimism in the pregame for Game 4. As a quick refresher: The Wizards have been torrid from outside (39.4 percent after shooting 36 percent during the season). Kyle Lowry (shooting 23.8 percent) can’t possibly play worse, much as he’s working his tail off. There are a few clear adjustments the Raptors can make to swing things back in their favor.
And most importantly, the Wizards and Raptors were both frustratingly hot-and-cold this season. It takes a while, but you can talk yourself into the Raptors getting hot again and the Wizards cooling off at exactly the right time. If the Raptors can win Game 4, they’d still need to win three more, yes, but two of those would be at home. The two starting lineups the Raptors have used have combined to outscore Washington by 13 points in 45 minutes. We’ve never really known why the Raptors’ offense works sometimes and not others, so maybe that fleeting, ethereal chemistry will return at just the right time, as the Wizards hit one of their patented down turns (#PlayoffWittman be damned).
None of this is likely. Teams that fall behind 0-3 in a series are 0-111 in NBA history. Only three of those teams have even forced a Game 7, best I can tell. It’s hard to imagine the Raptors are, to steal a Paul Heymanism, “The 1 in 1-111.” I don’t think anyone is expecting that, even the most remote recesses of their minds. But I also don’t think people are as ready to give up on the season as it’s seemed on Twitter and in the comments – if the Raptors can pull out Game 4, we can at least stretch this out for another week of enjoyment and (false) hope before a long offseason begins.
As always, it helps to get the perspective of people watching with an unbiased eye. I reached out to a couple of pals keeping a close eye on the Eastern Conference to get their thoughts, asking what they see the chances of the Raptors extending the series to seven are.
Eric Buenning, BrewHoop: I give the Raptors somewhere between 0-5 percent odds to force a game 7 (sorry, Canada!). I just don’t think it’s possible. I don’t think the Raptors can suddenly start playing amazing defense, especially against #PlayoffWittman and the three-happy Wizards. I’m sorry. I want to root for you, but I just can’t do it.
So, how could they get to a Game 7? Lowry and DeRozan are going to have be the better backcourt the rest of the way by a clear margin. They can’t afford to just go toe-to-toe with Wall and Beal, they’ll have to completely control them. Also, taking a bat to Paul Pierce’s knees wouldn’t be the worst idea!
The reason I pick Lowry and DeRozan though is because that’s where your offense will likely stem from. It’s not just them outscoring Wall & Beal, it’s how they’d affect the other players. Wall’s ability to gash the defense and kick it out to those shooters is just as valuable as his scoring. You see what I’m getting at here?
Michael Pina, Literally Everywhere: 10%.
The biggest problem for Toronto right now, besides Kyle Lowry’s questionable health, is that Washington doesn’t look like the same team that stumbled into the postseason with an aimless, unwatchable offense. Instead, they look like the team most thought they’d be all along, and then some.
They’ve attempted more threes than the Houston Rockets in these playoffs. Paul Pierce is shooting 55.6% from deep. Otto Porter is at 50%. Drew Gooden (!) is at 40%. Throw in the fact that John Wall is far and away the best player in the series, and the Raptors are in a hole they simply aren’t good enough to climb out of.
The good news is Toronto is murdering Washington’s starting lineup. But when Pierce goes to power forward (whether beside Marcin Gortat or Nene), all bets are off. Dwane Casey’s yet to solve that problem at either end of the floor. If he can, and Washington’s ungodly three-point shooting simmers down, then a seventh game is…possible? But not likely.
Raptors Twitter is not optimistic
I also made the mistake of reaching out on Twitter to get a general feel for how easily people can talk themselves into a comeback.
@BlakeMurphyODC if they had a 50-50 chance of winning every game, the odds of 3 in a row would still be p low
— Rudeboy Gobert (@Cam_Oflage) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC lol k
— William Lou (@william_lou) April 25, 2015
— Crazy Cashew (@andrewsaid) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC infinite. They would have to overcome their kryptonite in pierce! 1000 to 1?
— Coach Crewe (@coachstake41) April 25, 2015
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC also, stop doing drugs
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 25, 2015
— 6Man (@Marcolantouris) April 25, 2015
— Raptors Fan Zac™ (@ZacCanada) April 25, 2015
— TRR (@therajraj) April 25, 2015
— Shane D. Bartlett (@ezz_bee) April 25, 2015
— Hope Is All I’ve Got (@joeymwilson) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC 5 percent
— The Glue (@jovoscrapper) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC Somewhere between 1 and 1.2%
— Mark R (@MR_Malice14) April 25, 2015
Playing with Odds
The percentage of teams who come back from down 0-3 to win a series: 0%
The percentage of teams who come back from down 0-3 to force a Game 7: 2.7%
The percentage of teams with home court who come back from down 0-3 to force a Game 7: I have no idea. I’m not willing to sort through 111 playoff series. But I’d imagine the odds are slightly higher, considering two of the final four games would be home affairs (including one of games 4-6).
Basketball-Reference still has the Raptors with an 11.7-percent chance at winning the series, a number that’s almost surely inflated by their early-season success.
These are not great odds if you’re Toronto. Even if you assumed they have a 50-percent chance to win each game, a loose assumption, their odds of forcing a Game 7 would be just 12.5 percent (1-in-8) and their odds of winning the series would be 6.25 percent (1-in-16). Those are bad odds but good enough to dream on.
But the Raptors don’t have a 50-percent chance to win each Game. They’re a -240 underdog in Game 4, implying roughly a 29.5-percent chance of winning on Sunday. They were four- and five-point favorites at home in Games 1 and 2 but are likely to be closer to a pick-’em in Game 5. If we assumed win probabilities of 29.5 percent, 55 percent, 40 percent (hey, they’re hot!) and 55 percent, the Raptors would still only have a 6.5-percent chance at forcing a Game 7 and a 3.6-percent chance of winning the series. In a less optimistic scenario (29.5%, 50%, 35%, 50%), those odds are 4.4 and 2.2 percent. In a more optimistic scenario (29.5%, 57%, 43%, 57%), they’re 7.2 and 4.1 percent.
In each case, these odds aren’t good. They’re not even remotely good.
But they’re greater than zero, and at some point, the NBA is going to have their 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs or 2004 Boston Red Sox. It’s not going to be the 2015 Toronto Raptors, but until the odds are zero (hopefully not until Wednesday, at least), then they’re not zero.
Being a fan of a sports team is often like being married to a philanderer. Sure, you can ignore all the signs you want and pretend everything is fine, but eventually you’re going to end up with that burning sensation when you pee and some uncomfortable questions from your doctor.
We’ve been witnessing that burning sensation during the last three Raptor playoff games and those uncomfortable questions have been coming fast and furious by writers and fans alike.
The thing is the signs have been around since the beginning, they’ve just been mostly ignored.
Sure, you can blame Dwane Casey and his poor coaching, or Kyle Lowry and his drop off in play since New Year’s, or Valanciunas’ inconsistent play, or Amir Johnson’s physical decline, or DeMar DeRozan’s willingness to force too many shots, but you’d be ignoring the bigger picture.
This team was flawed from the start.
And it’s not the first time we’ve witnessed something like this. In fact, it’s astoundingly similar to when Bryan Colangelo was running the team.
– Both Colangelo and Masai Ujiri surprised everyone by leaving successful teams where they had won Executive of the Year by building exciting, fast-breaking teams that focused more on offense than defense.
– Both took over a young Raptor roster that had become a perennial lottery team, coached by tough-minded coaches for the previous two seasons.
– Both Colangelo and Ujiri immediately made an impact by making some popular trades and both teams ended up surprising everyone by winning the Atlantic Division in their first year and winning a franchise record number of games (well, technically Colangelo’s team won a record-tying number of games).
– Both teams lost hard-fought first round series against lower seeded teams in the playoffs in the first year, but followed it up with a disappointing second season (the Ujiri Raptors improved on their record, but played so poorly after New Year’s it would definitely be described as disappointing).
– Both teams flamed out in their second playoff appearance against teams with big, burly centers who had their way with the team.
The similarities are eery.
Don’t worry, though, I’m not suggesting Ujiri is the second coming of Colangelo. But it should be a warning. A warning to Ujiri that repeating the same mistakes of the past aren’t going to lead to success. And a warning to Raptor fans to stop mistaking competitiveness for success.
When your franchise has only been able to reach 49 wins in a season (once) in twenty years, it’s not a reason to celebrate. It’s a reason to demand things change. Just to highlight how bad that is, in the last twenty years, only one other franchise failed to win 50 games in a season. Washington. The same Washington Wizards that are one win away from booting the Raptors out of the playoffs. And it will be their third visit to the second round in twenty years compared to just once for the Raptors.
When fans accept mediocrity, there’s little pressure on management to do anything but build a competitive team1 similar to the current one.
Raptor players and fans alike didn’t like it when Paul Pierce claimed that the Raptors simply didn’t have “it”. But he wasn’t wrong. Pierce saw what Raptor fans, players and apparently even Masi Ujiri didn’t. And he became public enemy number one in Toronto for saying it. Then he went out and proved to everyone he knew what he was talking about.
Back when Colangelo took over the Raptors, he decided to surround Chris Bosh, a player no one was mistaking for a top ten player, with a bunch of role players and then drafted a 7 footer who couldn’t rebound or play defense. No one in their right mind would think this was a team built to actually win anything of significance. But fans ignored the flawed roster and rejoiced in the franchise record-tying 47 wins, the Atlantic Division title and the first playoff appearance in five years.
In reality, no one should have been surprised that a team full of mediocre to decent players became anything but a mediocre to decent team. Bosh realized that this philosophy was doomed, and no one can blame him for jumping ship.
When Ujiri took over, hopes were high, and after trading Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay away the team’s sudden competitiveness gave Ujiri pause. And that was how he made the same mistake Colangelo did, which lead to the situation we find ourselves in right now.
Let’s be clear, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are good players. They’ve both been All Stars and would start for just about any team in the league. But if they’re your two best players, you’re not going very far. And surrounding them with mediocre to decent players isn’t going to have a different effect than when Colangelo did it.
It’s natural to want to look for quick fixes for the team. Firing Dwane Casey is a no-brainer, but a new coach isn’t going to turn DeRozan into a good defender, raise Kyle Lowry’s basketball IQ or make Valanciunas a better passer. Adding a solid veteran big man could definitely help push the Raptors above the 50 win mark, but this would just be a continuation of the same strategy.
While it’s not going to be a popular approach, Ujiri needs to start again. Contenders are built on talent, defense and high basketball IQ, all of which are in short supply on the Raptors roster. No one on the roster should be safe, including longtime Raptors like DeMar DeRozan or Amir Johnson. Even Valanciunas, previously untouchable, should be considered simply a moveable asset.
The Raptors may win a game or possibly even two before they start their summer, but this isn’t about them losing a playoff series. This is about years of poor planning and accepting less than we should.
And we, as Raptor fans, need to say ‘enough’.
There are, as it turns out, reasons to remain optimistic about the Toronto Raptors entering Game 4 against the Washington Wizards on Sunday. What could be the final game of the 2014-15 season tips off at 6:30 p.m. on TSN from the Verizon Center, where the Raptors are tasked with beating a team that has looked far, far better than themselves in three consecutive games.
As a recap: Despite a pretty abhorrent second half, most of us talked ourselves into the Raptors righting the ship enough against an equally inconsistent Wizards team to take the series. I picked the Raptors in 7, an outcome that now seems almost impossible – teams that go down 3-0 are 0-111 in history, and it feels as if the Raptors are more rule than exception, with 0-and-Peaches-and-Cream on the way.
Game 1 saw both teams play terribly but Washington play slightly less so, stealing a 93-86 victory at the ACC. Game 2 was less open to your interpretation of variance, and the Wizards embarrassed the Raptors 117-106 on Toronto’s home turf. Game 3 saw the Raptors fight back, tooth and nail, hit some insane shots…and still come up short, 106-99 in The Capital.
In Games 1 and 3, the Raptors have done some things well enough but still been outplayed. The Wizards have been better in each outing and far better for the series. The Raptors have failed to adjust their difficult shot mix in the face of a strong Wizards defense and they still haven’t figured out how best to handle fairly simple one-five pick-and-rolls when the Wizards have a shooter at the four. If an answer for John Wall’s speed and passing exist, the Raptors don’t possess it.
The series is almost certainly over.
Still, with how much time we all invest in following the team and how high our hopes were for this season and this series…should we really just be giving up now?
I get it. 0-111. But even The Undertaker lost at Wrestlemania. The Raptors may not have a Brock Lesnar – Ed Sterner is absolutely Paul Heyman, by the way – but there are reasons, however faint, to hold on to just a modicum of optimism for Game 4.
The foremost reason: Why the hell not? Are you going to just not watch what could be the last game of the season? Are you going to actively root for the Raptors to lose? Of course not. Turn on the TV or get to Jurassic Park, and cheer your ass off while you still have the chance. Even if it only serves to prolong the inevitable, don’t you want a few more games, and the opportunity to be a crazy fan a little longer, talking yourself into a 1-3 comeback, and then a 2-3 comeback? Yes, you do. Stop being a fuddy duddy.
Another reason: The Raptors and Wizards have both been terribly hot-and-cold all season long. There remains a chance, however slim, that the Raptors could get hot and the Wizards cold at the same time, and things could change. It’s not at all likely, but again, the slightest reason for optimism.
More reasons: Kyle Lowry can’t keep shooting this poorly. The Raptors have to eventually get some things right on the defensive end. #PlayoffWittman might be a mirage. Bruno is yet to be unleashed.
And so on. I opened it up to reasons for optimism on Twitter, but people were mostly just assholes. Rightfully so, but assholes nonetheless. Here are the responses to my fruitless request for hope:
— Scott Campsall (@ScottCampsall) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC The Raptors have been in 2/3 of the games in the 4th, and Kyle Lowry is shooting 24%.
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 25, 2015
— Arun Srinivasan (@ASports89) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC – The pressure might be off now that no team has ever come back from 0 – 3. Maybe they’ll move the ball around on Offense.
— mystery_sean (@Mystery_Sean) April 25, 2015
— Brad Henry (@bhenry05) April 25, 2015
— Phallics Rios (@the_Zubes) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC Raps losing convincingly enough will give Masai licence to blow up the team, if he wants.
— Aaron Biderman (@AaronBiderman) April 25, 2015
— Abby ツ (@transform01) April 25, 2015
How you look at Game 4 is entirely up to you, but even if the series is pretty much closed, I’m gonna hope they figure it out for 48 minutes and give us one more home game. For my boy Nav.
In terms of adjustments, it remains the same story.
James Johnson should probably play. Even though the Raptors played poorly in his Game 2 minutes, he didn’t check Paul Pierce and remains the team’s best bet to guard him when he plays the four.
There were occasional instances of the Raptors actually guarding the one-five pick-and-roll alright down the stretch of Game 3, at least for partial possessions. They did well in daring Wall to shoot on some possessions, and Bradley Beal’s man remembered he’s guarding Bradley Beal in most cases. The problems remain when Jonas Valanciunas gets turned around, or when the help from the strong corner isn’t followed by the man from the strong wing dropping between the two outside shooting threats.
This is where examples would have gone, except I was having some issues making GIFs at 2 a.m. and had to just give up. Apologies. Please believe me that the defense was mostly bad but was occasionally actually alright, including one particular play that stood out around the 6:07 mark of the fourth, if you’re so inclined to go look.
Offensively, it’s the same story as ever the Raptors. You can bet on their guys just making shots, but the refs have been conservative with their whistles and the Wizards do a terrific job of keeping drivers out of the paint without sacrificing the integrity of their coverage on Raptors bigs.
You combat that by running more complicated actions, and I don’t mean elaborate, Spurs-ian plays. Even simple high pick-and-rolls that force defenders to make decisions provide an opportunity for a defense to make mistakes. Isolation plays do not, save for foul calls the Raptors just aren’t getting as much as their accustomed to.
Dwane Casey loves this fairly simply Loop 4 play and Will did a nice job breaking down some of the Raptors pet plays before the series.
None of this is ground-breaking stuff, and it’s not as if the Raptors haven’y run plays, but consider this:
*With 255, the Raptors are averaging fewer passes per playoff game than any other team.
*They’re 14th in points created by assists per game with 45, just 46 percent of their points.
*They’re 13th in catch-and-shoot attempts per game with 19.7 and first in drives with 35.7, but their shooting 41.7 percent on drives and are 13th in free throw attempt rate.
*They’re 15th in zero-dribble field goal attempts per game (shooting 44.2 percent) and 2nd in seven-plus dribble field goal attempts per game (shooting 25.6 percent).
I could go on. The message, of course, is to pass the damn ball and stop thinking that after three games of evidence to the contrary, shots will suddenly just start dropping and the foul calls will come. They very well might, but it’s not exactly a great gamble to make with your season on the line.
One other change may be to crash the offensive glass more. This seems counter-intuitive given how good the Wizards are in transition, but Toronto has a woeful 17.9-percent offensive rebounding rate in the series, last in the playoffs by far. The Raptors are somehow getting plenty of second-chance points off of those limited offensive boards, and much as it’s risky, it may be worth it to try to extend offensive possessions and get some easy baskets. This goes doubly if the team’s go small.
The Raptors are 5.5-point underdogs for the game. Everyone sees this series as over and it probably is. It definitely is. But there are at least 48 more minutes left in the season, and I see little point in throwing in the towel (you’re a towel).
And so, much as all logic suggests my attitude should be otherwise, with the season on the line, I leave you with this, a clip from a movie that the Raptors deserve a clip from, but one that resonates anyway:
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan keep taking first-side, contested shots. The starting backcourt for the Raptors accounted for 51 of 99 attempts in a 106-99 loss in Game 3 Friday. They only made 16. DeRozan said afterwards that he thinks they were mostly good shots.
You can point to that third-place ranking in regular-season offensive efficiency as a counter-argument to this assertion, but we’d say drawing a ton of fouls and shooting a massive amount of threes will skew the metrics positively — for example, those positive traits can cover up for a lot of this team’s most-troubling tendencies. Like horrific shot selection. Only a handful of teams had a lower assist rate than the Raptors and that’s because the roster is dotted with one-on-one scorers, players who eschew moving the ball, preferring to hoist up tough shots on their own. The majority of them don’t seem to recognize the issue either, and head coach Dwane Casey feeds into it by insisting they are “good shots” or “shots they would normally make.” While they might make some of them, they aren’t “good” shots. They are tough ones that leave the other three or four players on the court out and when they fail to fall, it leaves the Raptors exposed to fast-break points at the other end. There is a fundamental problem here and it dates back to when Rudy Gay was still a Raptor.
Porter, however, has been able to keep DeRozan from getting on a hot streak. DeRozan was never able to make more than two consecutive shots with Porter defending him. I don’t know if Porter coming off the bench contributes to his better defensive performances against DeRozan since he would have fresh legs. Even if this plays a part toward that, it doesn’t fully explain why Porter has been much better defending DeRozan than Pierce. Therefore, this trend may make some wonder whether Porter should start. If he does, Porter can be on the floor from the beginning like DeRozan — and put a clamp on his early hot shooting performances. If Porter can do that, there is a good reason to believe that the Wizards could be off to a better start on Sunday’s game than they have in each of the last three in this series.
Field-goal-percentage-itis wasn’t just a Lowry problem. The Raptors as a whole took 23 more shots than the Wizards did Friday, yet finished with only one more made field goal. Lowry’s face, at least the parts of it visible behind his hands, showed how acutely he understood the futility of his 15 points. He’d been sniffling and coughing off and on, prompting at least one Toronto reporter to opt out of the scrum in front of his locker (to paraphrase, everyone else could take their chances holding mics up to Lowry’s face, but this guy would rather wait for the transcribed quotes than risk getting sick). When asked whether the flu-like illness had affected his play, Lowry insisted it had not. “It’s nothing to worry about, I know that. At the end of the day, I still have to go out there and play. And yeah, I don’t worry about [being] snake bit or whatever it is, because it’s part of why we get paid to play.” The guard didn’t have as firm an answer when asked about the Raptors’ struggles on offense. “[Washington] did a good job of forcing us to take shots contested like they’ve been doing all series, but we got some open looks and we missed some shots. I had some open threes that I missed and DeMar [DeRozan] had some open looks, two-pointers, that he missed … But yeah, our offense hasn’t been on the same [level] as it was earlier in the year.”
The contradictory explanations make sense, as it is much harder for the Raptors to admit the real reason for the loss: they just aren’t a good enough basketball team. Not stylistically, but they remind me of the post-Carmelo Anthony Nuggets teams, in that they have a collection of good but not great players. Kyle Lowry is the closest thing they have to a superstar, but he isn’t, and DeRozan, Williams, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, James Johnson and the rest are all good too, but none of them strike fear into opponents’s hearts. And with free agents as lukewarm about Toronto as they are about Denver, that’s going to be awfully hard to change. As for the Wizards, most of the pieces are already there. John Wall is a top five point guard and top 15 player, and they have no obvious weaknesses either. They lack another star player to slot alongside Wall—if you’re optimistic, Bradley Beal will still develop into that player—but not much else. The Wizards’s biggest barrier to success has been coach Randy Wittman’s tactics. But all of a sudden, in the playoffs, he’s a new man. Wittman has Paul Pierce playing at the four, he’s giving Otto Porter legitimate minutes, and he isn’t sitting Marcin Gortat for the entirety of fourth quarters anymore. At this point, you’ve got to think they have a shot against the Hawks in the next round, right?
The Raptors thought they could pull that magical switch. This group is incapable, some would say delusional in believing their game would elevate come playoff time, because the Raptors aren’t built for the post-season. “I always felt we were a better team than our record showed,’’ said Pierce. “We could’ve easily been a 50-win team. “We’re showing our growth, we’re showing our potential here in the playoffs. Where people thought of us in the first half of the season, I think people see it right now. “We’re locked in, we’re more focused. Sometimes you’re going to have your mental lapses. The young guys are young. “A lot of them don’t have kids, so they have good times on the road. They go out, party sometimes. That’s the way it is. I was a young guy, did those things. Sometimes, you’re not locked in the whole 82.” Three games into the playoffs and the Wizards are locked in, matching shot for shot in the opening quarter on Friday, making all the big shots in the fourth. Toronto would take 10 more shots than Washington in the final period, but made three fewer baskets.
On the one hand, it’s discouraging that the best effort didn’t result in the Raps celebrating a win, but that hasn’t stopped the Raptors from taking whatever positives they can wring from the experience. For starters, the game-turning shots the Wizards hit in the final three minutes were more likely to miss than mark than hit it. “They made big shots,” Lou Williams said. “(Friday night) we were fighting. We played like a desperate team. Otto Porter makes two huge shots and Paul Pierce makes two huge shots and even still after all that happens we still cut it to three points at 40 seconds and then Paul Pierce makes another big three. You gotta tip your hat to them. They’re making big plays and we’re fighting like hell just trying to get a win.” All four of those threes were contested. Pierce, in particular, barely had a view of the basket with the hands in his face when he launched, but they went in. On the other end, the Raptors had a stellar quarter out of DeMar DeRozan in the first and then not much at all from any one guy in particular over the next three quarters. “That’s what’s keeping our hopes high,” DeRozan said. “We still haven’t played a complete perfect game like we normally had — not just myself getting hot, Kyle (Lowry) getting hot, Lou getting hot, other players running off a couple points, and just had that complete rhythm going. We haven’t had a complete rhythm.”
The Raptors passed the ball less and with less efficiency than nearly every team in the NBA during the regular season and are last in the playoffs so far with just 255 passes a game and they rank 13th out of 16 teams with points from assists in the playoffs. That lack of passing means tougher shots for those expected to take them. In the regular season Kyle Lowry, DeRozan and Williams were the only trio of teammates in the NBA to take at least 11 shots a game while shooting less than 42 percent from the field. Only 12 players in the entire league took at least 11 shots at that rate while playing at least 2,000 minutes this season and three of them were on Toronto. The trend has continued against Washington as Lowry, DeRozan and Williams have taken 149 shots – compared to 122 for the rest of the team – and shot just 32.2 percent, compared to 51.6 for the remaining seven players. The playoffs may be about adjustments and the Raptors have talked about the need for their primary scorers to make plays for their teammates, but it hasn’t happened yet and might not.
In response to Washington’s strech 4 lineups, Dwane Casey has done very little. He’s stuck with lineups he deemed functional in March, all of which don’t include the team’s best individual defender and plus-minus hero James Johnson. Johnson wouldn’t be a cure-all in this series, but his playing just seven minutes in three games tells you all you need to know about Casey’s stubbornness on this issue. In the end, this lack of ability to make adjustments has taken “effort” out of the question. The Raptors can shove, smack, and scream all they want – if they’re in a system that doesn’t work for their personnel, there’s no chance at success. Other NBA teams have figured out that the Raptors are in a defensive system that gambles too much. As a guy whose pedigree was on that end of the court, the Game 3 loss could be the last straw for Casey as Toronto’s head coach. The Raptors are also truly lacking in veteran leadership. Lowry and DeRozan make a great bromance, but neither has the intangible swagger that comes with playoff experience.
Ujiri hedged his bets, left his options open. Instead of adding some desperately needed veteran help up front — Indiana’s David West would have been exactly what the doctor ordered in this series — Ujiri declined to move a first-round pick or Terrence Ross at the trade deadline. A year earlier, the Wizards moved a first to Phoenix to get Marcin Gortat and he has been a destroyer against the Raptors and is about to be a key factor in a second-straight playoff series win for lower-seeded Washington. Ujiri wasn’t interested in doing the same. Even in the summer, with the buzz of the team’s stirring, seven-game battle with Brooklyn still lingering in the air, Ujiri hedged. Sure, Kyle Lowry was re-signed, but that was a no-brainer. Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson were given short, moveable contracts instead of long commitments. Bruno Caboclo, who looks every bit of ESPN’s “two years away from being two years away” prediction, was selected 20th overall, instead of more NBA-ready help Even Dwane Casey only got two guaranteed years, plus a team option, whereas most coaches who had helped turn around a program like Casey had would have received an extra guaranteed year. Keep your options open, because in the NBA, things can go sideways. Fast.
The best player? Ujiri was poised to trade Kyle Lowry only a season ago. And now, in Lowry’s first all-star campaign, it’s obvious enough why. A little too short and a little too slow, Lowry is looking like a D-League stumbler in the matchup with uber-fast Wizards counterpart John Wall. Give Lowry a pass for being racked with late-season injuries if you like, but ask yourself this: Is he going to be a better, more durable player next year, when, at the tail end of a checkered run of dubious body care, he’ll turn 30? And as for the coach: It’s true that Casey is a fine man who just led the team to consecutive franchise-record seasons of 48 and 49 wins. But all of that means little when you remember that Ujiri, back when he was GM in Denver, fired head coach George Karl less than a month after Karl won the NBA coach of the year award on the heels of a 57-win campaign. Karl’s sin? He couldn’t win in the playoffs.
The problem is that Casey is a stubborn in-game tactician, usually electing to leave his team’s strategy unaltered, regardless of what their opposition is doing. For example, in game two, Casey left Greivis Vasquez on the court even though he was getting destroyed by John Wall. Wall was able to blow-by Vasquez, so he could pretty much score from wherever he wanted. Propelled by Wall’s efficient scoring, the Wizards took control of the game and never looked back. Wittman, who is often criticized for his questionable decisions, has looked like a genius in this series. He has found mismatches that Casey has not been able to address. Casey may simply be the wrong guy to help the Raptors continue to develop into an elite team. If the Raps lose tomorrow, expect Ujiri to quickly fire Casey to renew some faith in the fans, players and front-office staff.
Casey’s game is all about defence and the Raptors are among the NBA’s weakest defenders. The roster doesn’t help. And general manager Masai Ujiri is in a strong economic position over the next two seasons to remake the team as he invisions it. But eill asey be part of that remake? He has at least one year guaranteed remaining on his contract and close to $4-million owing. Around the team you have to wonder: If the Raptors are swept out of the playoffs, will Casey be swept out with them?
Watson: While the series isn’t officially over, and no, they won’t be the 1st team in NBA to come back down 0-3, there’s a chance to salvage some decency. Ultimately, I don’t think his team did him any favors, but the Raptors inability to play and reflect the style and philosophy of their head coach is telling. Read: Defence. Strickland: Pretty much. While he’s been a great coach to get this team to the level of potentially being a perennial playoff contender, a change in voice and philosophy in the Raptors locker room seems necessary to take the next step in in GM Masai Ujiri’s master plan. With seven players coming off the books, including the longest standing Dino in Amir Johnson, Toronto will look drastically different in 2015-2016 from athletes to bench boss.
This team relied heavily on its guard rotation and their ability to make shots this season and it worked well enough to get them to a franchise-best 49 wins. In the playoffs, however, that strategy just isn’t getting it done. Player FGA FG% 3PA 3P% DeMar DeRozan 22.3 38.8% 2.7 37.5% Kyle Lowry 14.0 23.8% 5.3 18.8% Lou Williams 13.3 30.0% 5.0 13.3% Terrence Ross 8.7 38.5% 5.0 33.3% Greivis Vasquez 6.0 38.9% 3.0 44.4% It’s hard to fault DeMar DeRozan’s effort, considering how much he’s been trying to will his team to victory with a line of 22.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists in a whopping 41.7 minutes per game, but it gets shady after that. Kyle Lowry, Lou Williams, and Terrence Ross, by comparison, have all been from bad to abysmal. Terrence Ross gets a bit of a pass for at least being better than last year (yay?), but the Raps would have needed their All-Star and this year’s Sixth Man of the Year to shoot over 30 percent from the field and 20 percent from long range to have stood a chance in this series (groundbreaking theory, I know). Vasquez has been halfway decent on offence, but he’s been a sieve on defence, as the Raptors have allowed a robust 8.2 more points per 100 possessions when he’s been on the floor than when he’s been on the bench.
This was supposed to be the year they went further and improved upon that first-round exit last year versus the Brooklyn Nets. But now they sit after just three playoff games with their series on “life support,” as Coach Dwane Casey called it after Friday’s game. But maybe, that takes off all the pressure. “There’s a freedom and also added pressure on their part,” said Casey, putting it back on the opponent. “One of the hardest things to do in the NBA and all the series I’ve been involved in is to close out a series. That’s going to be the pressure they have on them.”
Casey said the second-year player looks like a different person than the one the Raptors saw in the regular season. “He’s the guy who has made big plays,” Casey said. “Not only shots, but big plays, winning plays, rebounding, defending.” Although the final minute was deflating, the Raptors went through Saturday’s practice focused on how they can steal a win in Game 4 and move the series back to Toronto. “We’ve just got to go out there and try to get one game,” Lowry said. “Whatever it takes. Try to get one game. We know close out games to win the series is always the toughest game to win for the other team. We’ve got to go out there and make it as tough as possible.”
The Wizards have outrebounded the Raptors in this series 151 to 117 throughout the first three games, but they allowed 22 second chance points from the Raptors in game 3. They also turned the ball over 17 times and that, coupled with 10 offensive rebounds, gave the Raptors 23 more shots than the Wizards in game 3. It’s great that the Wizards were able to withstand losing the possession battle and still win the game, but that isn’t traditionally how things work in the NBA. The Raptors bailed the Wizards out with some awful shots and they also allowed seven offensive rebounds themselves, but the Wizards can’t allow them to generate extra possessions like they did and win the game.
“Regular season is a completely different animal than the playoffs. That’s one thing,” Lowry said. “Two, these guys are playing extremely well. Their guards are playing well, their bigs are playing defense well and their game-planning has been on point.” Teammate Lou Williams has been off as well. Named Sixth Man of the Year during this series, Williams has shot 30.0 percent from the field and 2 of 15 from beyond the arc. Perhaps the biggest difference maker for Washington has been Paul Pierce. In his 12th postseason appearance, Pierce has scored 16.0 points per game, up from 11.9 during the regular season, and has twice come through in crucial late-game situations.
In NBA history, there have been 110 instances where a team fell behind 3-0 in a playoff series. In those 110 times, no team trailing has rallied to win the series … Washington has taken Lou Williams entirely out of Toronto’s offence, as the current NBA Sixth Man of the Year is just 12-for-40 from the field and 2-for-15 from three-point range … With 17 assists in Game 2 and 15 assists in Game 3, John Wall is the first player to have at least 15 assists in back-to-back playoff games since Steve Nash did it in 2010 … The Raptors have won to extend a playoff series five times in their history … DeMar DeRozan has scored 20 or more points in 10 playoff games; Vince Carter holds the franchise record with 11 games of 20-plus points.
Shootarounds were introduced by teams so that players would be forced to come in early and hopefully not party as late the night before. That’s the sole reason they exist, because from a basketball point-of-view, shooting casual open jumpers in the morning isn’t going to influence what you do at 7:30 PM that night. In light of that, the Ratpors have cancelled shootaround, and a cynical view of it might be that they’ve folded:
Raptors scrap shootaround for Game 4.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 25, 2015
Nevertheless, there’s some quotes coming out from Washington which paint a picture of resignation more than fight.
Amir on no pressure now: "We've got nothing else to lose … We have to get it by any means, or else it's curtains."
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 25, 2015
DeRozan said he got 2 hours of sleep last night. Amir said he had some chicken wings, milk & cookies, which put him "right out" (actually)
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 25, 2015
DeRozan was asked whether he regrets responding to Pierce before the series began:
Asked DeRozan if he could go back would he have not responded 2 Pierce: "Nah Nah. It’s part of the game Why not? Nothing would have changed”
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 25, 2015
Nothing would have changed? Maybe, maybe not. In any case, master troll and future Hall of Famer, posted this on his Twitter:
— Paul Pierce (@paulpierce34) April 25, 2015
Please notify the burn unit. Seriously, though, I would love to have a character and veteran like Pierce on our team. They’ll probably get killed by Atlanta, but man, to do anything in the playoffs you need someone with his swagger and confidence, because that sort of thing rubs off on everyone in the locker-room.
Dwane Casey spoke as well, first conceding that he was surprised by Otto Porter Jr., and then going some ways to clarify the ‘do or die’ phrase, just in case we thought he meant that the players were going to literally die if they lose Game 4.
Casey: "For us, it’s do or die…. And die doesn’t mean we’re going to die, die means the series is over"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 25, 2015
Casey on Otto Porter: "He's really improved. From when he played at the beginning of the year to now, he's a different person"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 25, 2015
Props to these guys:
— Kat Stefankiewicz (@MatterofKAT) April 25, 2015
I’ll leave you with some Casey quotes from last night as well:
Dwane Casey on Paul Pierce at the "four". pic.twitter.com/CajHFRKDMk
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) April 25, 2015
Dwane Casey: "Our game plan was good…our defense was solid" (Wizards shot 47%)
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) April 25, 2015
Whatever. See this Breaking It Down post I made. That’s apparently good defense and not being beaten because of a failure to matchup against the four.
It can’t be said that the Raptors didn’t show up for last night’s game with everything they had. No fan can rightly claim to have been left wanting for effort, focus or desire. It has also become unfortunately clear that no one claim that the Washington Wizards aren’t simply better than the Toronto Raptors. The Wizards have a much higher ceiling than the Raptors, and they’ve elevated their game towards it, while the Raptors remain unable to even make it back to the plateau they found months ago.
The Raptors came out strong, playing about as well of an offensive first quarter as they have in them. They were able to drive to the basket and DeMar found the breathing space he’s been gasping for all series, scoring 20 points on 11 shots in the opening frame. Washington was able to keep pace offensively though, and they quickly slammed the defensive door shut shortly into the second quarter.
The storylines from game 1 and game 2 again played out throughout game 3. The Raptors were simply unable to contain John Wall, who tore them apart getting to the rim at will, dishing to open shooters whenever the Raptors would collapse as a group to try and stop him and picking apart the Raptors slow footed bigs in the pick and roll. Jonas Valanciunas looked lost and confused throughout the first half trying to choose between sticking with his man and picking up one of the speedy Washington guards in the pick and roll. While Valanciunas was either better or on the bench in the second half, Patrick Patterson become the Wizards victim of choice, as he spent much of his defensive minutes scattering around from high to low, desperately trying to close a gap between him and the ball handler or shooter that he was always a step or two too many away from. Washington figured out how to score on the Raptors before the series started, and the Raptors bench brain trust has been either unable or unwilling to adjust to the small ball Wizards. James Johnson remained stubbornly on the bench, as the Raptors were unable to contain Paul Pierce, Otto Porter or Drew freaking Gooden. Drew Gooden! Otto Porter! Drew Gooden was out of the league 16 months ago and Otto Porter’s fate looked optimistically as a fringe rotation player just months ago. Both of those players have been a better in their roles for Washington than anyone short of Amir Johnson for the Raptors. And the Raptors have made it easy on them, assigning Tyler Hansbrough or Patrick Patterson to defend them. Neither one of those players is put in a position where they can succeed when they’re forced to float too far away from the basket to be relevant inside and forced to sprint out to challenge a shot that they either can’t make it in time for or foolishly leave their feet at a pump fake on only to watch their cover dribble unabatedly to the basket. Playing the same scheme on both sides of the court and hoping for better results based purely on ‘effort’, as Casey implied was the problem in an earlier press conference, is madness. The results are in on these matchups, and they don’t came out in our favor.
Offensively, the Raptors ran out of steam. Lowry is clearly playing injured, and apparently sick as well. His jump shot has no lift, and while he can throw himself around the floor for rebounds, loose balls and on defense and still see results, the lack of power in his legs has everything he puts up from outside hitting the front of the rim or even air balling. DeMar found a bit of breathing room in the first quarter, but the Wizards smothered him moving forward, taking away any semblance of a good shot, knowing that DeMar would take some bad ones and that sometimes the lack of movement and spacing in the Raptors offense would force him into others. Lowry and DeRozan were both inefficient again in the pick and roll, not even looking for the roll man, who in Amir Johnson’s case was wide open for an easy layup several times, and were instead swallowed by the Washington pick and roll defense which has operated against the Raptors as essentially a two man trap, with both big man and ball defender selling out to take away the ball handlers shot. Grievis Vasquez didn’t have a particularly strong game, but he was the only Raptors wing thus far to try going hard away from the screen to counter the Wizards stacking the driving lane, and he found a bucket and an assist in the two chances he got to try it. This is the kind of adjustment the Raptors needed wholesale a game and a half ago if they were to make something of the series.
Credit goes to the Raptors for fighting, hanging on and somehow almost tying this game late in the 4th quarter last night. They badly wanted it. But that’s probably as close as they can get if Washington is going to play hungry and engaged, as they did for the final 3 quarters. The Wizards have arguably gotten 5 of the best 6 performances in the entire series, with Amir Johnson being the only Raptors player you could make a case for playing better than one of the Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat or Paul Pierce trio. The Wizards have adjusted their own game from the regular season and adjusted to their opponent. The Raptors haven’t made an adjustment since training camp. If you’re expecting the results to be different in game 4, I’m really not sure what your justification for thinking so is. If you’re looking to feel better, then watch this clip of a puppy playing the drum solo from ‘In the Air Tonight’, because there isn’t any good news to be found here.
Blake asked me to write a Breaking It down segment, so here goes. I loathe to do this to you
I’m going to focus on how the Raptors, in crunch time, couldn’t deal with Marcin Gortat screens. Gortat had 24 points on 11-15 FG, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks, and had a virgin sacrificed for him after the final whistle.
What’s this dribble-handoff you speak of?
You’d think the amount of dribble-handoffs the Raptors run they’d know how to defend one by now. Just look at how much they overplay the ball-handler (try not to laugh at Ross’s jump), and they’re still not able to prevent him from getting to the rim. Amir Johnson, after overplaying has no communication with Ross and his move to get back to Gortat provide enough space to Beal to get to the rim as DeMar DeRozan’s drop-down isn’t quick enough. If Beal had managed to pass the ball back to Gortat, he would’ve had either a layup, or a pass back out to Pierce for an open three. The heart of the Raptors defense here is completely broken by a dribble-handoff.Direct Link
The silent quadruple-team
Here’s another Gortat screen, and both defenders go under it (what?) and there’s zero ball-pressure on Wall. To make matters worse, Patterson is sagging off of Porter and showing help on Wall even though he’s 10 feet away, leaving Porter wide open. For that matter, even Ross is coming down from the corner so Wall basically has his choice of shooter to pick out. This is essentially a quadruble-team with John Wall (based on minimal action) consuming Amir Johnson, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, and Terrence Ross. This is possibly the easiest basket Washington got all night, and it happened with the game on the line.Direct Link
Weak-side switching is in fashion
Another Gortat screen. Amir Johnson gets caught in no-man’s land, he’s not guarding Gortat or pressuring Wall, and on the weak side there’s immense confusion between Ross and Patterson who are switching for some reason. This weak-side switching is typical of the Raptors defense and always backfires. Weak-side switching is a dangerous thing because it’s usually caused by secondary action in the offense to create an open look for an off-the-ball man, and it’s alarming how easy it was for Pierce to get this wide open a look in crunch time.Direct Link
You can’t spell rotate without spelling rot
Another Gortat screen, this time played relatively well to start by Johnson as he’s at least blocked Wall’s path. The release-valve is Gortat, and DeRozan collapses on him as Johnson’s still getting back. Gortat’s pass to Pierce is a simple one and it’s an easy three. The rotation back out to Pierce is never made – my guess is that’s either Lowry or Johnson. This is basically one possible outcome of the first play shown in this post. Washington wants you to trap the big, so that they can free up their perimeter shooters, and the Raptors never really understood this.Direct Link
All of the above is very basic. The Wizards are running an offense about as complicated as a middle school team, and the Raptors have proven ill-equipped to handle even initial action on sets. The aggressive trapping of the ball-handler is continually costing the Raptors because they’re not sharp enough to recover from that initial shift in the defense. Lacking defenders with instincts is a problem, and couple that with being asked to trap/rotate, the probability of missed rotations and fatigue rise.
Kudos to Randy Wittman for realizing that the Raptors had serious trouble, 1) having the PG stick with John Wall on a high screen, 2) the big making the rotation down to Gortat after trapping the ball-handler, and 3) making a secondary rotation in the event of help collapsing on Gortat.
I can’t write more. I’ve been flogging this horse for four months now.
After Game 3, I don’t feel angry. I don’t feel wronged. I don’t feel sad. I don’t feel frustrated. I only feel disappointment because I believed in this team.
“What is it,” DeRozan said, “like 0-111 or something like that?” Actually, it’s 0-110 but by Sunday it could be 0-112. As in the times a team has come back to win a series after falling going down 0-3. Never. The Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans will try to avoid sweeps on Saturday before the Raptors try to win some respect Sunday. Yes, there’s a first time for everything and when they drag themselves back to the Verizon Center Sunday the Raptors will try to buck themselves up with such motivation. But the reality in this moment is that they’re all but done and the defeat was setting in. If they lose on Sunday they will feel some relief that it’s over, they’ll have reached a level of acceptance over the following 48 hours. The sting of realization can sometimes be sharper than the final blow.
Pierce, who finished with 18 points, pushed the Raptors to the brink of elimination by showing them, along with his young Wizards teammates, what “It” exactly is. Entering the playoffs, Pierce ruffled the Raptors organization by telling ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that he didn’t fear Toronto because the Raptors didn’t have “It.” The Raptors said they didn’t know what Pierce meant by “It.” They should know by now. “It” is drilling a 3-pointer when your team is clinging to a one-point lead with 6:39 left against a desperate team looking for any life in this series. “It” is delivering yet another back-breaking trey to push your team up 98-90 with 1:58 left.
“I thought Kyle played his heart out,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Again, his shot didn’t fall. That’s basketball. He’s our leader and he set the tone for us early. He played like the old Kyle — except his shot.” At one point in the third quarter Lowry had missed eight consecutive shots and DeRozan had missed 10 in a row. The rest of the Raptors tried to make up the difference. Toronto took an 85-84 lead with 6:01 left in the fourth quarter after a dunk by Amir Johnson, who was one of the Raptors’ few bright spots. He made 6-of-7 field goals and had a game-high 12 rebounds with three assists.
“In this situation, we’ve never been in it,” Lowry said. “It’s like a Game 7 for us every single game starting Sunday. We’re down 0-3 and everyone knows the history of it.” Another fast start gave the Raptors hope they could creep back into the series, but a 10-point first-half lead vanished even before the two teams headed to their locker rooms at halftime. Point guard John Wall finished with 19 points and 15 assists to lead Washington and forward Marcin Gortat added 24 points and 12 rebounds. DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 32 points — including 22 in the first half.
Once Otto Porter checked into the game, DeRozan cooled down. DeRozan scored just two points in the second quarter. Porter’s used his length to disrupt him and DeRozan missed all four of his shot attempts. He even got under his skin at one point, and DeRozan picked up a technical foul. It seems like Porter became a legitimately good defender overnight. Pierce’s influence has been evident throughout the entire roster, but he’s done a great job of lifting Porter’s confidence. Toronto’s offense became stagnant and Marcin Gortat protected the rim tremendously.
“He’s rolling to the basket,” Wall said. “They’re switching up their coverages sometimes. Sometimes they’re trapping me. Sometimes they’re playing soft. And we told Marc just to be ready, sitting in the pocket, be aggressive when you get the ball and make the right reads. He made some key assists to guys to make three-pointers.” Gortat played 10 minutes, 23 seconds in the fourth quarter and has missed just nine of his 30 field-goal attempts through the three games. At the other end, he frustrated Jonas Valanciunas into missing six of 10 shots and anchored another strong defensive showing from the Wizards. “I thought Marcin was solid for us in the middle again for us,” Wittman said. “Really good.”
What went wrong for the Wizards: Simply put, the third quarter was a rough one for Washington. Four straight turnovers, three straight misses and four surrendered second-chance buckets allowed Toronto to take the lead late in the period despite its own offensive issues. The off shooting extended to the foul line, where the Wizards went 22 for 31 and kept the streaky Raptors in contention until the end. Rather than rely on what got them the lead — the pick-and-roll and pushing the tempo — the Wizards lived (see above) and, indeed, almost died by the three, with 17 misses. With Washington failing to dominate the boards as it had been through the first two games, those long misses made for quick, wasted possessions. Their 17 turnovers did them in on other occasions, many of them a product of stagnant play.
John Wall is the best player on the floor in this series, and it’s not close Listening to someone pick a team to win a playoff series because they have the “best player on the floor” can get tiring after a while, mainly because there are so many cases where the team with the best player on the floor doesn’t end up winning. But when that happens, it’s usually because they can limit the “best player on the floor” in some way from doing what he wants to do. It’s much, much harder to beat the team with the “best player on the floor” when you can’t stop him. Through three games, it’s clear the Raptors can’t stop John Wall. Even though Wall had a rough night shooting (he was 5-15 from the floor) he had complete control of the game. Don’t just look at the 15 assists. Don’t just look at how well Marcin Gortat benefitted from Wall. It’s a shame that we’re not getting to see a full-fledged Wall vs. Lowry battle in this series, as it seems pretty clear Kyle Lowry isn’t fully healthy.
Drake showed up fashionably late at the Verizon Center and was booed lustily as he walked to his courtside seats. He seemed to enjoy the attention … This is what Washington does that the Raptors don’t: One basket in the first quarter, the Wizards passed the ball nine times before coming up with an easy bucket … Kyle Lowry started strongly for the Raptors even though there was some discussion his pre-game illness was going to keep him from the game. He hit two three-points shots within the first three minutes and no more shots in the first half, finishing the half with six points, below what’s generally expected of him … Amir Johnson isn’t supposed to be the Raptors’ most complete player, but he was again Friday night
DeMar DeRozan started hot, but lost all of his momentum after Q1. He had a franchise-record 20 points in the first quarter, ending the contest with 32 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Unfortunately, DeRozan couldn’t keep his composure late, earning a technical foul after pushing Otto Porter. His unseemly foul was indicative of the whole team’s frustration.
The Raptors played with more backbone on Friday evening. The process was not sound, but they clearly looked like they cared. “As far as our compete level, I thought it was big time,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We played extremely hard,” Kyle Lowry added. And it did not matter. This team, as currently constructed, is plainly not good enough, with an offensive style that is not yielding clean looks and a defence with no structural integrity. The Washington Wizards took Game 3 106-99, and now the Raptors are down 3-0. If they are to come back, they are going to have to defy 110 previous teams that have tried and failed to come back from that deficit.
Defence: C+ Toronto didn’t lack effort on defence tonight as they were able to force the Wizards into committing 17 turnovers. What killed the Raptors on defence was their inability to close out possessions and their over-help on the ball-handler driving to the rim. The coverage on Marcin Gortat was slack all game until Tyler Hansbrough came in the game and really provided that interior grit the Raptors are always lacking. Second possessions really hurt the Raptors as well, for the Wizards were able to capitalize on those opportunities and get their crowd into the game.
It was clear out of the gates that DeRozan took his own words to heart, putting forth an historic offensive onslaught. His 20 points were a Raptors franchise record for a single quarter in a playoff game, surpassing Vince Carter’s 19 in the second quarter against Philadelphia from 2001. It wasn’t enough to cover up Toronto’s defensive issues, though, as Washington only trailed by two at 35-33 after 12 minutes of action. The Wizards shot a scorching 58.3 percent from the field, with Marcin Gortat contributing 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.
As is their way, the Raps fought to the end, but Pierce sank a ridiculous three with a hand in his face after Kyle Lowry had rung off five straight to pull Toronto to within three. “He’s been doing it since he got in the league,” said a dejected DeMar DeRozan, who saw a 32-point performance go to waste. “He is who he is. Next time, we’ve just got to run him off and finish at the basket.” Pierce scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth while Marcin Gortat added 24. A clearly ill Lowry was 5-for-22 for 15 points.
Pierce didn’t factor much in the Washington win in Game 3 until it really mattered. Until the game was on the line. Until it was crunch time. Then he did what he has always done. He made a difference. At the age of 37. In his 17th season. In his 151st playoff game. He hit one three-point shot and then almost-death shot with just seconds left to provide Washington with the win. “Those were big moments,” said Randy Wittman, the Washington coach. “That’s why we brought him here. He’s not scared of the moment. He’s never been scared of the moment.”
Every time a Raptor went up to the charity stripe, the video board promised fans a free sandwich from Chick-fil-A if he missed the pair, so the place got deafeningly intimidating. Washington veteran Drew Gooden was physical and provided key points. Still, the Raptors manufactured some key turnovers and kept scoring on pace. A Lowry-to-Amir Johnson alley-oop dunk put Toronto in the lead, then seconds later, Washington’s dominating big man Marcin Gortat delivered a put-back to steal it right back. Porter and Terrence Ross traded monster three-pointers. The tug-of-war was relentless. In the final three minutes, Washington just dug in harder, punctuated by big shots from Paul Pierce, ones that put the game too far out of Toronto’s reach.
It Was Over When: Paul Pierce drilled a three-pointer with 16 seconds remaining to put the Wizards up six. Pierce’s shot came after a long three from Kyle Lowry to make it a one-possession game with 40 seconds remaining. The victory gives Washington a 3-0 series lead. Turning Point: After DeMar DeRozan got off to a sensational start — setting a franchise record for points in a quarter with 20 in the opening period — the Wizards put Otto Porter on him. Porter’s length gave DeRozan trouble and he was unable to get back into the groove he had to start the game. The second-year player has been huge for Washington in the series on both ends of the floor.
“They’ve done a great job of keeping the ball out of me, Lou and DeMar’s hands, and making us take tough shots,” Lowry said after it was over, speaking of teammates Lou Williams and DeMar DeRozan. “Our offence hasn’t been on the same cylinder as it was early in the year.” When Lowry’s team has needed him most, in a crucial game that could have transformed the series from futile to hopeful, he simply couldn’t deliver a marquee-worthy masterpiece. Instead, he produced a third straight dud that even a career playoff high 32-point night from DeMar DeRozan couldn’t paper over. In the first two games, Lowry was undone by foul trouble. In Game 3, save for some late fireworks that kept the Raptors within a possession in the dying moments, he was simply foul.
DeRozan was hitting some impossible shots early on: a pair of three-pointers from the elbow, a spot where he only hit one during the entire regular season, a tough runner off of the glass and a series of mid-range jumpers. He scored 20 points in the first quarter, a franchise post-season record. When that disappeared, the Raptors were left with precious little. On the second-last possession before the half, DeRozan sized up Wizards swingman Otto Porter, who has done such an excellent defensive job this series. DeRozan waved his hand, signaling for his teammates to clear out. He attempted to shake Porter with the dribble, failing. He then attempted a fall-away jumper with a foot on the three-point arc. It drew nothing but air. “I just missed shots,” DeRozan said about what changed. “They didn’t do nothing at all. Every shot I took felt good, or I rushed it a little bit. They just didn’t do nothing.”
The Raptors are in a 3-0 series hole to Washington, and Andrew has been summoned to the pod from the back of a bar to explain why that is the case.
|Amir Johnson, PF 33 MIN | 6-7 FG | 2-4 FT | 12 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | -3 +/-I love Amir. He’s been the heart of the team for so many heartless seasons. Despite his body breaking down at an incredibly worrying rate, I still fear that his time in a Raptors uniform may be coming to a close. I hate seeing him run though…my body has sympathy pains. Either way, great effort to battle by Amir. He is not what he once was, and I think his time as an impact player is ending, but he still can make a big play here and there.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 30 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +1 +/-The Raptors as a whole concede plenty of good looks on defense simply by overrotating. That’s not the case for Ross. Ross just gets lost, caught on every screen he tries to fight over, and forgets where is man is. He makes up for it at points by getting a steal or a help block (such as early in the first quarter), but for a player who is supposed to be 3 and D prototype he leaves much to be desired on defense…and often from 3.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 25 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +2 +/-Jonas was blocked three times in the first quarter…two by Drew Gooden. I felt like crying. He was abused all night by Gortat and looked two steps slow on all of his rotations. Huge disappointment.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 38 MIN | 5-22 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | 0 +/-Lowry came to play early, which was a pleasant surprise considering the reports earlier in the day of him being ill. His shot wasn’t falling, but he was flying everywhere and easily had his best game of the series to date. Granted, that’s not a huge accomplishment considering his first two performances, but he was clearly more mentally engaged tonight.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 41 MIN | 11-29 FG | 7-7 FT | 6 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 32 PTS | -6 +/-DeRozan hit all three of his shots from deep in the first quarter. I almost called my doctor to set up an appointment for my eyes. I have no idea how DeMar goes through bursts of such success from three, and then struggles to hit anything.
Scoring 20 first quarter points (a franchise playoff record for points in a quarter), dominant doesn’t begin to describe how good DeMar was to start the game. The same cannot be said from the remainder of the game though as he would go on to score just 32 points despite starting with 20 in the first.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 12 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTS | 0 +/-Hansbrough and Nene seemed at points to be playing their own game: Who can successfully rip an arm off the other without getting called for a foul. Great battle that led to very little, but still the biggest contribution that Tyler offered.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 27 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -13 +/-Shot well, but not regularly, and didn’t rebound: The Patrick Patterson Story.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 17 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -8 +/-He wasn’t terrible. So that’s an improvement. His performance was so unmemorable that ESPN had him listed as “Has Not Entered Game” yet in the third quarter.|
|Louis Williams, SG 18 MIN | 3-11 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -8 +/-The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year was missing in action. The man seems to either light the world on fire or fails to show up. Tonight we got bad Lou. Can’t defend well, and yet also couldn’t score.|
With his level of play, Valanciunas in no way deserved to play through his foul trouble, and yet Casey gave him that opportunity. I’m done trying to figure out how Casey makes his rotation decisions. My hope is that this move will pay dividends in the years to come as a learning opportunity for Jonas. I think the Raptors have better odds at winning this series than Casey has of returning to the Toronto bench next season.
Five Things We Saw
- The Washington crowd started the night with class by booing the Canadian anthem. I’ve got no beef with booing the opposition and making your home court difficult for the opposition, but booing an anthem is classless. Just because Canada set fire to the White House so many years ago, doesn’t mean you have to respond like this Washington. Can’t we be friends until tip off? At the very least the fans should realize that the Raptors are largely made up of American players.
- I hate Paul Pierce…I hate him so much. He wasn’t even very good and I was still distracted by how much I hate him.
- Beal is exceptional at drawing non shooting fouls. He clearly understands that his shooting forces his guard to chase so closely around screens, then he occasionally will just slam on the breaks and force his man to run straight through him. Vasquez in particular was taken advantage of this way.
- Drake was seen walking to his courtside seats halfway through the first quarter, and was met by resounding boos from the hostile Washington crowd. Clearly he didn’t win any of them over with his dap to Paul Pierce.
- Someone is inevitably going to complain about the officiating and blame it for the loss. Granted, the game was called poorly, but this was the case for both teams. The Raptors were simply outplayed and overmatched. If you let Drew Gooden dominate you then you deserve to lose, and now they likely have just 48 minutes remaining in their season.
Terrence Ross had a rough first half. He was burned off the dribble, consistently caught cheating off his man, and finished the first half with just 5 points and 1 assist. Ross seems to be doing his best to play his way out of the heart of even the most loyal fan.
At least he had one highlight in the first half, a big slam over Gortat in transition.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 25, 2015
Oh Terrence…why can’t I fully quit on you?
This page will be update constantly right up until tip-off. For our game preview, click here.
Just about an hour to tip-off and DeMar DeRozan writes on the Raptors blackboard: "Fuck It, Let's Get It." It's time to play Game 3.
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) April 24, 2015
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) April 24, 2015
Red, white and blue pic.twitter.com/c928K1y5Js
— alex (@steven_lebron) April 24, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 24, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 24, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 24, 2015
— theScore (@theScore) April 24, 2015
Takeaway from Raptors shootaround here in DC: Kyle Lowry has a sniffle and a cough to go with the bruised shin and bad back.
— Dave Feschuk (@dfeschuk) April 24, 2015
Casey's message to his players today: "If you’re not going to Washington to compete, dont come out to the airport…" pic.twitter.com/qREs11LMEg
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 23, 2015
Kyle Lowry is 100% healthy. Or not. You try to figure it out.
While December 8, 2013 may not hold any historical reference, it does hold a special significance for this current Raptors squad. On this date, a little more than 16 months ago the infamous trade that sent Rudy Gay packing occurred. It’s also the day Kobe Bryant stepped on the Staples Center Court for the first time since his Achilles tendon injury. The short-handed Raptors led by Amir Johnson (who scored a career high 32 points) beat the Lakers.
At the time the Raptors were 6-12.
From this date forward the Raptors went 42- 22 in what I coined the magical season. Highlighting this period, Toronto never lost 3 games in a row, were one of two teams who didn’t suffer a 20 point loss and became known as fourth quarter defensive specialists. Moreover, the playoff starved fan base was witnessing games in May and demonstrating their enthusiasm not just inside the ACC but outside in Jurassic Park and even took over the opponents’ arena.
When the Raptors jumped out to a quick start this season, seemingly picking up where they left off the team and fans were riding high. Almost a year after that game in Los Angeles, on December 30th, the Raptors played perhaps their best game of this season in Portland, albeit losing a heart breaker in overtime. From this point forward something changed. The Raptors have had glimpses here and there since then, but they never fully resembled the 2013-14 squad you instinctively knew would be in every game regardless of the score entering that final frame.
Sure, there have been injuries and personnel changes, but the essence of last year’s team has been AWOL since the loss in Portland.
Entering tonight, the Raptors are in as close to a must win as they’ll get. The Raptors do boast the best Eastern Conference road record over the past two seasons (shared with Chicago) with 44 road victories so it’s not a situation that will unnerve their confidence. However, a third consecutive loss would no doubt induce Wizard fans to show up with brooms on Sunday. For athletes of professional sports and a team who took such pride in their on and off court chemistry this has to be beyond humbling.
Yet, players and coaching staff comments regarding why the team is down 0-2, why they didn’t play with a sense of urgency, didn’t bring enough energy or were playing too comfortable is disconcerting. This is the playoffs after all.
Certainly, they can’t be saying they weren’t prepared for Washington are they? Or weren’t aware of the position they were putting themselves in by losing back to back games on their home court (in the manner they did) right?
Was this an admission they had underestimated the Wizards and were playing with a view beyond this series or weren’t properly prepared? Or is this simply as some pundits have highlighted over the past few days, a matter of a team with far greater talent on its roster beating us?
If its motivation the squad is seeking there are countless articles, tweets, and interviews Casey and his staff can choose from:
Agent zero (Gilbert Arenas) has been spouting off for over a month now regarding both Toronto and Chicago as if he’s expecting to pull on a jersey and run out of that tunnel himself. Most analysts, national media and even knowledgeable fans have declared the series over given the 93.9% success rate of teams who go up 2-0 to start a series.
Perhaps the greater concern is the Washington players’ statements and actions which have been allowed to garner additional media coverage simply because they are winning. We expect it from Paul Pierce its part of his game. And whether you like the “Truth” or despise him, the fact is his comments were masterful, as it obviously got the Raptors focusing on something other than the product on the floor.
But, for the young Bradley Beal to be waving goodbye and curiously spouting off about Toronto “thinking that we’re some punks” (excuse me, but where exactly is he drawing this from? Even Pierce denied this was the case when asked post game). However, it should serve as more than ample inspiration to do exactly that.
From my perspective, at least if Casey is going to continue utilizing Psycho T in his starting line-up then why not have him send a statement early, similar to how Matt Barnes has played his enforcer role for the Clippers. If he’s only going to play in the first quarter then let’s see a hard foul the first time Beal tries to go baseline.
I’m not suggesting he try to injure anyone, but a hard legal foul to set the tone might go a long way to remind Washington (and maybe even the Raptors themselves) of what the Wizards should expect moving forward. In fact, the one player I don’t mind seeing foul out is Hansbrough. Especially if it comes courtesy of doling out 6-hard fouls on the Wizards’guards to send that message.
Of note: for all his bravado (admittedly deserved so far) even Beal might know the We The North faithful is expected to descend on Washington in droves.
We can break down the stats, pull up film clips and discuss the factors why Washington appears poised to book tickets to Atlanta or we can point out one simple fact. These Raptors became successful (even facing more talented teams) because they played as a team and their chemistry ostensibly gave them an edge. They played with a chip on their shoulder knowing they were underestimated and they took to the court with an attitude of “I’ll make you respect me”.
They’ve extolled on this chemistry, and in fairness, unlike many teams we don’t hear of locker room issues in Toronto. But, given that fact the team knows a loss Friday will equate to them handing Masai Ujiri the flint to ignite the dynamite, tonight is their opportunity to respond.
So, if this team truly is as close as they say (and we’ve seen) that should be enough motivation on its own. Further, the fan base who has traveled around the league to overtake arenas in support has earned the privilege of witnessing their very best effort.
Honestly, we could care less what other people say about us. You know if it’s fans, the critics, reporters, analysts, it doesn’t matter. Had we worried about that, we wouldn’t be in the position we are now. Especially last year where everyone was doubting us, and we were able to turn things around. So, with us we understand we’re pretty much playing with our backs against the wall. Game 3, is basically a game that we have to have, plain and simple, black and white. We cannot lose Game 3, and we are all on the same page. We all understand that and we all know we all have to bring our “A” Game and focus. – Patrick Patterson
Don’t get me wrong, I actually expect the Raptors, and more specifically Kyle Lowry to put forth exactly that this evening. Notably, the last time Lowry had back to back games with less than double digit scoring it was March 18th (the last game he played prior to sitting out initially for rest) and March 24 (the game he tried to return in Detroit and played 10 minutes). It was the only time this season that anomaly occurred.
Regardless of the future coaching situation, the injuries, the whistles or the talent across from them, what needs to be present tonight is no question regarding effort, desire, urgency or focus. As much as this series may well be over, a win tonight would at least salvage some pride for this squad and more importantly showcase to the fans they aren’t just getting lip service. Besides, just like the old sports adage goes … you take it one game at a time and you never know what can happen. It is after all the Wizards, who we have had a long history of battles against (Mo Pete hail Mary anyone?)
So, as the Raptors take to the court at the Verizon Center tonight, there should be one goal and one goal only – to bring their very best and earn back some respect: from the media, from the supportive fan base and perhaps most importantly for themselves.
You’ve read plenty of excellent analysis from my fellow writers and across the internet in the past few days, so let’s get down to brass tacks with this pre-game: the Raptors are heading into Washington tonight for an opportunity to not only save their season, but also save face.
Now, I’m not saying that a win, a great performance, even a blowout will be enough to quiet the critics and stifle the talk of repairing all the holes on this roster. It won’t. But what it will do is provide validation: that this season wasn’t a fluke, that the Raptors are, possibly, better than their middling record since the All-Star break (and certainly better than they’ve showed in games one and two), and that this team’s philosophy can actually work against good teams with the intensity dial turned up to 11.
With that all being said, here’s three things I want to see, and three things I don’t want to see, in the advance of tonight’s game 3 (8:00PM EST/ESPN2/TSN):
Things I want to see
- The Raptors playing like they have nothing to lose: Because at this point, to be honest, they don’t. The last two games, we’ve seen the Raptors play like a team with everything to lose: tentative to change their game plan, afraid to show unconventional sets or looks, and, quite frankly, unable to respond emotionally to the Wizards, despite a home crowd that was much better to them than they deserved. After dropping two games at home, the series is over if we don’t see a hail mary pass – so for god’s sake, let’s see one. Standing still in this case is certain death, while going out guns blazing at least gives the possibility of a different outcome.
- Bounce back games from Lowry and DeRozan: And here lie the two men who must be catalysts of the effort. We’ve seen both of these players play the leadership role extremely effectively over the past couple seasons – to act like they can’t do it here is selective memory. Lowry, in particular, needs to up his intensity and revert back to what worked in the past. If I were the Raptors coaching staff, I wouldn’t be making him watch game film from the first two games of the playoffs, but instead, film from last season, when he managed to find that level between chucker and distributor and only took the game into his own hands when it was absolutely necessary. Even a marginal performance from Lowry would have swung game one, as bad as the Raptors played, and they’ll need a lot more than that against a volatile Washington crowd.
- Amir Johnson in the starting lineup: I don’t even care if he plays starter’s minutes, honestly. I realize that there is a case to be made that the Raptors’ starting five has been the only unit that’s been better than the Wizards this playoffs, but Tyler Hansbrough has been basically a net zero on the stat sheet, and moving Amir into the starting lineup reunites the five players who were the catalyst of this team at its best. The gesture may be largely symbolic, but could provide a spark in giving this team an emotional lift (side note: if this happens, bench Hansbrough, plug James Johnson into his spot in the rotation, go with 9, and use Chuck Hayes if rebounding/fouls are needed. I’m serious).
Things I don’t want to see
- A coach changing his game plan to the whims of the fans; or, a coach without his own gameplan: Yes, it was good to see Dwane Casey get James Johnson into the rotation during game two. However, something about the moment seemed a tad perverse. You couldn’t shake the fact that the only reason Johnson was plugged in was because of the uproar between games 1 and 2, and Casey going: ‘you know what? If everyone’s so upset about this guy not playing, I guess I should play him.’ The Raptors have had two games now to suss out how Washington plans to play them: double the three iso-heavy players on the wings, crash the offensive glass – with no discernable changes, besides the aforementioned Johnson swap, which, again, I’m not entirely convinced came from the coaches’ room. For Casey, more than anyone, this is time to put up or shut up.
- A massive Washington rebounding advantage: The Raptors have been outrebounded by an average of 15 boards over the last two games. No matter how strong the Wizards’ frontline is, that is an unacceptable number, especially when the answer (BOX OUT!!!) is so stark. This, likely, is an effort statistic, as well as a playing style statistic (the Wizards have been playing a crash-heavy style, while the Raptors’ iso game leaves more mid-range shots and long boards), but it’s something that needs to be addressed for the team to have any chance of winning tonight. Everyone will need to pitch in, as it’s not something the bigs have the ability to do on their own.
- Coasting: By this point, these Raptors are seasoned enough to know that you can’t just play well for the first and fourth quarters and expect to win a game, yet that’s exactly what we’ve seen over the past two matchups. Everything is on the line tonight. If you can’t get up for 48 minutes in this one, then what’s the point of any of this?
Vegas has the Wiz favoured by four. Give me the Raptors by 4. I don’t think Lowry or DeRozan are going to take a sweep lying down, and, quite honestly, I expect a major bounce back performance from the team that will be partially fool’s gold, but a lot of fun to watch. And hell, no matter how badly the team is playing, I’m not picking against them in game 3 of a playoff series. Are you kidding me? Ride or die. Let’s go Raptors.
“All of our shooters, it’s important that they come out with that swag, that confidence. Next shot. Next play . . . You’ve got tot have that kind of belief, when everything else, when everyone is (saying) doomsday, it’s basketball. You’ve got to have that belief, no matter what it is, that you’re going to get the job done.” So confidence, then, is what you’re saying. “I don’t sense any give-in or give-up from anybody,” Casey said. “Like I told them, if you’re not going to Washington to compete, don’t come out to the airport. We’ll get you a nice meal back here in Toronto, in a restaurant, to watch it on television. But nobody stepped forward, so that meant that everybody on the plane is ready to go to compete.” That’s how bad Game 2 was, people; it was challenge-your-manhood bad. If you need to talk about having confidence that much — and make no mistake, Casey does — then you saw something pretty awful on the tape. But beyond the need to execute basketball in a whole pile of different ways, the Raptors need to commit, and stay committed. They didn’t in Game 2, so the Wizards got to chirp.
By the end of the game, Wizards veteran Paul Pierce was laughing on the court. The 37-year-old has become an unexpected factor in the series, having scored 20 points in Game 1, and serving as a perimeter-oriented power forward that confounded the Raptors on the defensive end again in Game 2. Confidence has not been a problem for the Wizards. “They think that we’re some punks,” guard Bradley Beal told the U.S. broadcast at halftime on Tuesday. “They think they can push us around. But we’re not rolling.” Pierce, as he left the court at the end of the game, reportedly yelled at the crowd: “I don’t want to go through customs no more.”
At least off the court, this team hasn’t lost its confidence, they’re not hanging their heads. On the court however, that’s been a completely different story, as the Wizards have pushed them around in just about every way you can think of. Washington has out-rebounded the hosting Raptors by 30 in the first two meetings, including 14 on the offensive glass. They have doubled, blitzed and pressured Toronto’s all-star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Lowry, limiting them both and completely taking the latter out of this series. No one else has stepped up enough to make up the difference. On top of it all, the Wizards have acted the part. They’re talking trash and backing it up. “That’s all the game of basketball, whether it’s playoffs, whether it’s preseason, whether it’s a regular season game, whether it’s going up against your rival opponent, there’s always trash talking,” Patterson said. There’s always explicit language, there’s always pushing and shoving, there’s always a physical nature of the game. It’s just the competitive part of the game. And we embrace it, they embrace it, if you’re an athlete you embrace it.”
In the moments after a Game 2 demoralizing beatdown by the Washington Wizards, opposing coach Randy Wittman took the podium and talked about what was required to finish off the Toronto Raptors. Like every coach in the history of sport, with few exceptions, he took pains to ensure he didn’t provide any bulletin-board material for the still-reeling opponents who went from favoured and owners of home-court advantage to more or less vanquished in the matter of four days. The series isn’t over, the snore-inducing Wittman contended. From here on out every game is only going to be tougher, he insisted. It’s very hard to win four games, he continued. This was a message to his own team as much as for media purposes — but it was also about the most hopeful thing said involving the home side all evening long.
If Porter and Wall continue to hit their shots, it’s going to make it exponentially harder for Toronto to climb back into the series. Stopping Wall and Beal in transition and limiting the impact of Nene, Marcin Gortat and Paul Pierce are huge, but the Raptors know they can’t stop everything. “That was the difference in a lot of their offensive possessions, John Wall (was) making his threes, Otto Porter made his threes,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Thursday. “From a defensive standpoint, you’ve got to live with something. There are certain things they’re doing that we have decided to live with. “Now the game of adjustments, what do we do next to compensate for what they did well offensively against us. That’s part of the playoff process, but the one thing we can’t do is go in with a lack of confidence.”
NBA players have complained from the day the Raptors arrived on the scene in 1995 about the inconvenience of having to go through customs, a daily occurrence for any traveller who needs to cross the border. That’s not going to change, but Pierce’s declaration spoke to the urgency the Wizards must now embrace. They know they’ve got the Raptors on the ropes and they know how important it is to go for the jugular Friday night in Game 3. When a team is down, players of Pierce’s ilk understand there’s no room for complacency.
Pierce scored a team-high 20 points in the Wizards’ overtime win to open the series, and afterwards talked about embracing the villain role and doing anything necessary to give his team a mental edge. “He’s got the psychological momentum from last year,” Bloom said. “And now he’s pushing it a little further.” As a member of the Brooklyn Nets last season, Pierce keyed a Game 1 comeback win in Toronto and blocked Kyle Lowry’s would-be series-clinching attempt at the end of Game 7 to advance to the second round. The Raptors are more frustrated with their play on the court at this point than anything else. But after Game 1, Greivis Vasquez put an end to any more questions from the media regarding Pierce. “He’s a Hall of Famer who knows what he’s doing,” Vasquez said. “We give him a lot of credit. He’s got everybody’s attention. We don’t have any trash talkers in our locker room. Let him do the talking, and we’ll see at the end who wins the series. We give him a lot of respect. We’ll see what happens.” This series may not become a drawn-out psychological affair, especially if the Wizards finish the sweep this weekend with two home wins. But as we get deeper into the playoffs and the difference between two teams over a seven-game series shrinks, players and coaches will continue to search for that mental advantage.
Either Toronto’s role players are failing miserably at beating the Wizards. Or Lowry, DeRozan and Williams, showing little faith in their teammates, are failing more miserably by avoiding the correct pass and attempting to single-handedly beat the blanket coverage. It’s not working for Toronto, any way you slice it. Lowry, DeRozan and Williams are shooting a combined 33% from the field in the opening two games. Lowry alone is a dreadful 5-for-20. And nobody else on the squad has stepped up to punish the Wizards for doubling Toronto’s top-three scorers. It’s been ugly to watch. But the Raptors, at least, seem aware of the error of their ways. “With us, typically we start off early, we move the ball, we share the ball, we play great defence, we build up a lead. Then, I don’t know, something happens,” said Patrick Patterson, the slick-shooting forward.
Washington expects the series to become more difficult. Toronto will be fueled by desperation after losing home-court advantage. All-star point guard Kyle Lowry has been shackled by fouls, and his influence over the series, so powerful when he is on the floor, has been stifled by those whistles. Wall is able to dominate his backup, Lou Williams, and Beal is able to handle former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez, who ends up as a pseudo-shooting guard when Lowry is out of the game. Messages from each team were unified on Thursday. The Raptors called Game 3 the proverbial “must win.” The Wizards were back in chilly Verizon Center, fighting overconfidence that could come from turning the catbird seat into a full recliner. “We can play better and we’re going to have to play better,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “The experience always helps. I think going through what we did last year, winning the first two games in Chicago and coming home, Chicago brought the fight to us in Game 3. That’s going to be no different [on Friday]. Toronto’s going to bring the fight.”
“I’ve been saying it all year long: As they go, as we go,” Pierce repeated. Beal and Wall were dismal from the field Saturday but accumulated 15 rebounds and 14 assists to complement their stingy defense and refused to curb their aggression despite shooting 11 for 41. The stubborn assertiveness proved vital Tuesday, when they relentlessly attacked the Raptors’ defense instead of succumbing to traps and went berserk on offense. Wall posted 27 points and 16 assists to become the first player since Steve Nash in 2006 to compile at least 25 points and 15 assists in a road playoff game. Beal’s career playoff-high 28 points on 12-for-21 shooting were the most he’s scored since late December. “It’s a guard’s league right now, and in Washington you have two of the best guards playing,” NBA TV analyst and Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas said in a phone interview Thursday. “If they’re at the top of their game and they continue to play at the level that they’re playing offensively and defensively, they definitely can go far.”
The Raptors ranked third in offensive efficiency in the regular season. But through two playoff games, they rank 14th. Their offense was much better in Game 2 than it was in Game 1, but not good enough to keep up with their defensive issues. The problems on defense aren’t getting fixed overnight. The Wizards will continue putting Jonas Valanciunas in situations where he has to move his feet, and he will continue to not move them quickly enough. The Raptors ranked 26th defensively after Thanksgiving, and they’re probably not going to flip the switch on that end of the floor. So if Toronto is to give themselves a chance in this series by winning Game 3, they have to start looking like a top-five offense again. And to do that, they have to unlock their guards. It’s no secret that the Raptors’ offense is guard-heavy. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams were not only their three leading scorers by a wide margin, but also their leaders in usage rate (the percentage of a team’s possessions a player uses while he’s on the floor), with another guard – Greivis Vasquez – ranking fourth. The Wizards know this. The Toronto guards are the head of the snake, and that’s where Washington’s defense has been focused.
But as Gilbert Arenas said so articulately, soft? I wasn’t expecting the Raptors to still have that tag attached to them. This year, we had hoped to turn a corner with the return of Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough [a nickname he earned from his days at North Carolina, and a moniker he has successfully carried to his career in the pros], and James Johnson, a guy who was on every highlight show in North America for absolutely destroying one of the best and toughest post players in the game in Andre Drummond back in November. All seemed well, and I was convinced we had turned a corner. Then the last two games happened, and I find myself both cursing, and praising the name Paul Peirce.
The quickest resolution starts with trading Terrance Ross – when Demar was injured he had his chance to demonstrate his potential and failed. He’s been invisible both playoffs he’s been in. He’s still a young talent, he has skills and value. It would also involve trading Bruno to a team that has a NBA development team and a proper program to develop him. Sadly, Amir Johnson appears to be on the down slope of his career. If they can’t negotiate a suitable contract for him to come off the bench he should be let go. Finally, Fields’ horrible contract should not be renewed. Moving Fields, Ross, Caboclo, maybe Amir, and likely this year’s draft pick would allow the team to bring in a veteran starting small forward (through trade or free agency) that would allow the head coach to use a less taxing defensive structure. It would also give them the space to add 2-4 true veteran players with playoff experience and pedigree. That’s the quickest path for the Toronto Raptors to succeed. The longer path involves keeping coach Casey, and Ross. Developing Caboclo, even though the Raptors lack a minor league affiliate, and hoping that draft picks develop into players before the back court of Lowry and Derozan begin to age, or move on. In short, President Masai Ujiri’s future in Toronto likely will be decided by the moves he makes as soon as the Raptors off-season begins. Hopefully, they turn things around and he gets a brief reprieve from these tough decisions.
To be fair to Johnson, he wasn’t the only player who contributed to the Raptors cataclysm in the final two and a half quarters on Tuesday. As has been mentioned, Lowry got into foul trouble, Greivis Vasquez did absolutely nothing worth shimmying about and Williams added to his poor playoff shooting totals (5-13 FG; 0-4 3FG). Still, Johnson’s stat line of 4 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists for a -14 in seven minutes was gruesome. His play highlighted many of the reasons why he probably isn’t the magic elixir for the Raptors against Washington. Based on the skills that he brings to the table, and how those skills mesh with the rest of the team, there’s a case to be made that Johnson hurts rather than helps the Raptors in this particular match-up.
Game 1 was disappointing for both John Wall and Bradley Beal, who struggled all night offensively. They shot a combined 27% from the field despite taking nearly half of Washington’s shots, only to be bailed out by the clutch play of Paul Pierce and the rest of the Wizards. Game 2 however, was a completely different story. Wall had one of the best games of his career with 26 points and a whopping 17 assists (a franchise playoff record), while Bradley Beal aggressively drove to the rim all night and chipped in 28 points of his own. Toronto will be playing desperate tonight, so Washington will need its two brightest stars to have a repeat performance to hold them off. A little more trolling from Paul Pierce would go a long way too.
This might sound like a broken record, but if the Raptors want any chance to win this series, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have to coexist and play great basketball. DeRozan was able to have a much stronger game than he did in game 1, but Lowry did not improve whatsoever. Lowry actually suffered a right shin contusion toward the end of the game which has made guard play even harder for the Raptors. If Lowry isn’t healthy enough to compete with the likes of John Wall, the Raptors will not win this series. The other guards have to step up as well. The Raptors are guard heavy, and teams know that. Not only does Lowry, Williams, and DeRozan lead the team in scoring, they also lead the team in usage rates. The Wizards have built their game plan on shutting down the guards and it has worked to perfection so far. The Wizards are playing aggressive defence on the Raptor guards, not allowing them any breathing room to operate any kind of offence. You really get a sense of the Wizards defence on the guards from the photos below.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
With multiple days off between playoff games, we’re once again left to sit and stew in disappointment. We, like the Toronto Raptors themselves, appear to be devoid of solutions for how to turn this series around.
Effort? This is the playoffs. Effort can’t possibly be an issue at this juncture, and if it is, there are far deeper problems with the individuals on the team than just the fit or a fading of their once-inexplicable and intangible chemistry. Toughness? Is that even measurable, and how does it impact a game in which the team’s killed on the defensive end for long stretches at a time? Tactical adjustments? What, beyond “play better,” is a good first step?
Nobody wanted to discuss any of these questions. I opened it up for mailbag questions on Twitter yesterday, and few of the responses had anything to do with Friday’s Game 3, what amounts to essentially a must-win in Washington. Instead, it was all about looking backward and, sadly, looking forward already.
— Jake Goldsbie (@JGoldsbie) April 23, 2015
This is a good place to start. The best answer I have is that it beats reality TV, and we’re all sick, sad, depraved idiots.
Probably not, and the pick still rubs me wrong. I know the team was already going to employ Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira, and so carrying a third rookie would have been tough, but there were a handful of solid options available at No. 37 that could have contributed on a more expedited timeline. Daniels wasn’t even really on the draft radar for most, and while he looked decent enough at Summer League, his Australian stats don’t exactly jump off the page – an unspectacular 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds on 39.6-percent shooting and, most disappointing, a 34.1-percent mark from outside. I didn’t see any of that action, but the Australian league isn’t a top international league and Daniels didn’t dominate. It’s hard to pencil him in for 2015-16 plans.
— David Rouben (@david_rouben) April 23, 2015
Zarar or Will. I’m sure you can tell which day by day.
Valanciunas certainly limits what they can do defensively, at least in his current form, but he’s slowly improved over his three years, and defense is about more than just the back-end protector. It’s tough to evaluate Valanciunas as an individual when he’s constantly left to defend a steady stream of penetrating guards. This isn’t to paper over his weaknesses – he’s not exactly quick, his reads are slow and his movements methodical, and he leaves his feet far too easily – but with better perimeter defense, he may not stick out as much. I think they’ll explore all options for improving the team but I don’t think Valanciunas and a top-10 defense are mutually exclusive.
— Char-Rad (@TLOUCC26) April 23, 2015
I mean…I guess? I like Boss Davis and he looked good with the Lakers this year, but he doesn’t figure to be more than a third or fourth rotation big. If he were backing up both spots as a pick-and-roll dive threat and being kept from man-defending on the block, sure, he’d be a nice piece. But if he’s the marquee add to the frontcourt or the Amir Johnson replacement, I don’t think things have gone very well.
Get better personnel?
In seriousness, lost in the disaster of a second quarter on Tuesday was that the Raptors actually defended a few of the Wall-Pierce pick-and-rolls well. In the one-five, the key is going to be to let John Wall take long jumpers. If Valanciunas is the big, he’s not going to do much hedging out on Wall anyway, so dropping back to keep Nene or Marcin Gortat close and to prevent an easy dive or drive, while daring Wall to shoot, is the best option. (This is admittedly hard to explain with text and not pictures, and it’s far easier if Amir Johnson is the center instead of Valanciunas, as he’s quicker to recover on to the dive man after showing onto Wall. It’s also easier if Wall dribbles to Otto Porter’s side of the floor, as the corner wing can then help disrupt the play with lesser threat of a kick-out for three.)
For what it’s worth, Wall shot 37.3 percent on jump shots this season and 35.8 percent from 16 feet and out. That’s preferable to the 100 percent it feels like the Wizards are shooting once Wall and his screener can both get beneath the foul line.
— Phallics Rios (@the_Zubes) April 23, 2015
There wasn’t a major piece available that would have moved the needle a great deal without sacrificing future pieces (one of their three first round picks in the next two drafts, Terrence Ross at the low point of his value). Obviously they could have used another wing defender that Dwane Casey trusted and maybe a rim protector off the bench, but those are needs that existed in the offseason, too. Without the benefit of access to what offers the team had available, the best I can say is that doubling down on chemistry correcting itself as the team was floundering was a poor gamble.
Not white. Those giveaway shirts have been awful.
— Devang Desai (@DesaiDevang) April 23, 2015
Weird as it is to say, hopefully “very.” If this is just what Lowry is and this is a sustained period of poor performance, that’s a scary thought. If his play late in the season is due to fatigue and a few minor injuries, then we can rest a little easier moving forward. Cross your fingers it’s correctable quickly – Lowry is shooting 37.2 percent since Dec. 30.
I know this is a joke, but if the Raptors were at home for Game 3, I’d totally dress Bruno at the end of the bench instead of Greg Stiemsma. Stiemsma is never going to see the floor, anyway, and if the game got out of hand again, at least Bruno would get the experience and bring the crowd back into the game. There’s no point on the road (or at all, if I’m being honest), though.
— Brian (@bkblades) April 23, 2015
The fundamental core issue is that the team doesn’t have good defenders. Lowry has been worse than his usual standard, Williams and Vasquez are bad-to-brutal, DeRozan is in the neighborhood of average, Ross is maddeningly inconsistent, and Valanciunas is a poor fit as the rock behind a shaky frontline. Some of this is on Casey for being inflexible in a hyper-aggressive scheme that doesn’t fit the personnel, and at this point it’s difficult to tell whether he’s actually a good defensive coach who’s been dealt poor hands or if he’s living off reputation and the inconsistent results paint an accurate picture. So…a little of Column A, a little of Column B (hot take, I know).
My guess would be that they don’t trust the passing instincts of Valanciunas at the elbows and because they want the ball in the hands of their guards. You occasionally see nice dishes from Johnson or Patterson out of pick-and-roll action, as each, especially Johnson, is a decent enough facilitator for a big. It’s just not how the Raptors’ offense operates, and you could replace “high low big to big” with any numbers of fun actions and ask why the Raptors don’t run them.
— Zoltan Tar (@ZoltanTar) April 23, 2015
I’m not sure it’s a forgone conclusion they go power forward there. Were Williams to talk, there are a number of quality point guards that should be available in that range, too. If they go power forward, I love Lyles – he’s Canadian, he might be able to play a little wing at the next level, I think his stroke is pure enough to venture out to the 3-point line defensively, and I think he’ll be a better defender in the post than he was on the wing in college. Unfortunately, I don’t think he gets to No. 20, nor do I really think Kevon Looney makes it that far (I’m a UCLA guy, so I’d be all on board with that), nor does Bobby Portis (who I think is going to be a really solid, if somewhat unspectacular, rotation big).
I like Harrell enough but his lack of a jump shot makes him a poor fit with the current core. Wood will be around, and I like him a lot, even if he doesn’t necessarily fit the Raptors timeline as someone a year or two away from reaching his potential. He can hit from the mid-range, he’s a terrific shot-blocker, and if used properly on defense, his lack of strength can be masked. Of the names you listed, I’d go: Lyles, Portis, Looney, Wood, Harrell, but I don’t think the Raptors will be choosing from that entire group.
@BlakeMurphyODC How does Amir as FA impact Raptors going forward? Should Raptors bring him back or find replacement? What’s a fair contract?
— Matt Shantz (@m_shantz) April 23, 2015
— David Bassily (@TRILLBASSILY) April 23, 2015
All of the offseason questions to come require a lot more space than I’m going to commit here, but the short answer is that I have no idea. My gut tells me that MLSE, seeing the All-Star Game on its way and the Leafs in for another bad year, will want to add to the core to ensure a quality team is out there, while Masai Ujiri likely sees this team for what it is and would like to begin shaping it in his own, non-Colangelo image.
As to your specific questions, I think Ross will be back (without an extension, heading to RFA) because it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to deal him at the very low point of his value. Let him play out a fourth year at a reasonable price, and make a call on his future with the team closer to next year’s deadline, when there’s a little more certainty as to his true talent. Johnson is a tougher one, because the team could use a power forward upgrade, but everyone would surely be sad to see Johnson go. If Johnson is willing to play along, I could see the Raptors feeling out the market for a power forward and then, if it bears no fruit, doubling back to Johnson on a shorter deal with a higher annual salary than he could get elsewhere. He may not be amenable to that, but I wouldn’t be comfortable opening the offseason with a new deal for Johnson in the ballpark of what he makes right now, much as I love him and he may be worth that dollar amount in a vacuum.
One thing about the offseason I want to be clear on: I would not trade this year’s pick or either of the two 2016 picks unless it can land a serious impact player. With the cap set to explode in 2016 without a resultant increase in the rookie wage scale, hitting on any draft pick could be such a huge financial competitive advantage that it would take a lot for me to part with a pick. A quick illustration, using stated cap estimates and 120% of scale for incoming rookies (also a loose assumption that Raptors will pick #20 in 2016 and the lesser of Knicks/Nuggets pick will be #10; again, just for illustration):
|% of Cap||2012-13||2013-14||2014-15||2015-16||2016-17|
|Ross (#8 pick 2012)||4.42%||4.56%||4.43%||5.34%|
|Valanciunas (#5 pick 2011)||6.08%||6.18%||5.83%||7.01%|
|Bruno (#20 pick 2014)||2.31%||2.29%||1.79%|
|Bebe (#16 pick 201||2.80%||2.77%||2.16%|
|#20 pick 2015||2.27%||1.77%|
|#20 pick 2016||1.76%|
|#10 pick 2016||2.89%|
The relative value of a productive player on a rookie contract is going to be extreme for at least the 2016-17 season and likely beyond (even if there’s a lockout in 2017 and rookie scales are adjusted, it seems unlikely the existing rookie contracts will be adjusted). Get even a capable player with the No. 20 pick this year and you’ve filled out a piece of your nine-man rotation for 2017-18 for less than two percent of your cap space. Those picks are still movable and they represent some nice trade currency, but they’re also valuable roster-building tools if Ujiri believes in his ability to work the middle of the first round.
Probably not much. Ideally, the Raptors will get an exclusive D-League affiliate in place by then so that they can have full control over the playing time and development of both when on assignment. Bruno’s trips to the D-League this year were a joke – that’s OK, because at his level, simply practicing and watching NBA basketball for a season probably developed him a great deal – and there’s little sense in using the feeder system if you’re sharing it with a dozen other teams. The D-League has said it won’t expand for 2015-16 but I’m hoping they budge or an exclusive affiliate becomes available, because regular playing time at a level close to NBA competition is the next step in the development of each. They combined to play 46 NBA minutes and 142 D-League minutes. They need to play, but it won’t be much at the NBA level yet.
When people think of arrogance they are immediately filled with images of people with an outsized ego forcing their will on everyone around them. They think of people with a fundamental lack of empathy, of people closed-off to opinions other than their own and of people with their chests puffed out and voices that dominate everyone in the room.
There are subtler forms of arrogance, though, and they can be far more pervasive if they are allowed to seep through the bloodstream of a closed-off group of individuals like, say, a professional basketball team.
The Toronto Raptors are an arrogant bunch. They aren’t arrogant in an interpersonal way — the Raptors are a mostly congenial group that get along well together and support each other — but as a basketball team they are one of the most arrogant groups Toronto has ever fielded.
Up and down the roster and through the coaching ranks, arrogance has been a defining characteristic of this club all season long. This team plays arrogant basketball. They play the game like they know something that no one else does, and they do it despite their near total lack of practical accomplishments. They force one-on-one offence even when defences suck the oxygen out of their free space. They refuse to box-out despite getting routinely manhandled on the glass. They reach against penetrating guards rather than moving their feet, which allows any halfway decent player to have a career-night against Toronto’s half-hearted stoppers.
During the regular season, the players sloughed off these inadequacies by implying that they were always one win away from turning it around or that once the Playoffs started none of this would even matter. They felt they were above their own inadequacies, or that they simply didn’t represent them like their self-perceived strengths did. They barely managed a .500 record after January 1st were a sub-.500 team after the All-Star break, and yet they continued to arrogantly assert that nothing was wrong. They continued to play in a way that demonstrated a total lack of understanding as to why they were losing so many games, and now that they Playoffs have arrived, that arrogance is making them look like they don’t even belong on the same court as their opponents. Their total (admitted) lack of urgency Tuesday night in a must-win game two contest speaks to the depths of their arrogance, with the roster figuring they could just show up and play as if they were playing some random game in February, not the most important game of their season.
On Tuesday night, Washington looked like a Playoff team. Their best player, John Wall, was utterly dominant, his supporting cast executed the team’s game plan to perfection, especially on the defensive end, and they routinely pounded Toronto in all of the ways a scouting report would have suggested that they should. The Raptors, meanwhile, looked like an over-matched scrimmage opponent. They haphazardly threw themselves at Washington, insisting on going one-on-one against the NBA’s fifth-best defence, they refused to box out despite getting pounded on the boards (again) and five players had four-or-more fouls because everyone would rather reach and grab than move their feet on defence. It takes a colossal amount of arrogance to continue to play like that while 20, 000 people are watching you get embarrassed, but that’s these Raptors, arrogantly refusing to alter their style of play in the face of all reasonable logic.
You could excuse some of this if a) this was this group’s first trip to the Playoffs or b) if the Wizards had one or two superstars that simply defied any attempts at game-planning against them. Neither of those things are true, however. Last year was supposed to demonstrate how they have to conduct themselves in the postseason so that they’d be ready this year, that was what cushioned the blow of losing to a lower-seeded team. Washington has exactly one All-Star level talent (to Toronto’s two) and the regular season sweep of the club would suggest that Toronto has the personnel to at least put up a fight.
That’s what arrogance robs you of, though. It robs you of the ability to maximize lessons learned. It hardens you against outside influence. It reenforces the echo chamber in the locker room that everything is fine and that they are one game away from turning it around. It’s what lets Paul Pierce taunt DeMar DeRozan into distraction on the eve of the postseason. It’s what lets Kyle Lowry stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the way the refs are calling these games, getting himself into dire foul trouble in both contests. It’s what allows Dwane Casey steadfastly stick to the strategy on the pregame whiteboard rather than adjust to the realities of what is happening on the court. It’s what allows Jonas Valanciunas to think demonstrating frustration is more important than moving on to the next play. It’s what allows Lou Williams to treat a double-team like it’s a dare. It’s what allows the entire roster to act like getting back on defence is beneath them. It’s what allows a division champion to lose two games at home, effectively ending their season four days into the postseason.
All year long we’ve watched this team act like they’ve accomplished something that they haven’t. We’ve watched them turn up their noses at the thought that they might not be as good as they think they are, or that they might have to work harder to get to where they think they deserve to go. If that’s the attitude that they decide to maintain, the Playoff motto will tell them where they actually deserve to go.
Win or Go Home.
God forbid we have an early playoff exit this season, but if so Masai’s got his hands full this summer and really does need to re-evaluate his team. (players & staff) Thoughts?
Kyle Lowy’s struggles and his frustration with himself have been well-documented in this series. His return from back injury during the last four games of the season saw him play heavy minutes to the tune of 33, 36, 35 and 37 in games that were, more or less, meaningless. After picking up a contusion in Game 2, the Raptors star-guard is now struggling for form and fitness, and not helped by facing a backcourt that has proven to be too quick and too nimble for Lowry. (BTW, anybody remember the “best backcourt in the East” argument which just sounds plain silly now).
There is no defensive relief for Lowry, either he’s matched up with John Wall who has no trouble getting past him, or he’s switched onto a bigger guy like Bradley Beal. The latter has made it a point to use his three-point threat to setup drives, all the while making his defenders run through bruising Nene and Marcin Gortat screens. Facing elite competition, Lowry has had no place to hide on defense, and coupled with his lingering injury, mismanagement of his return from that injury, he’s left to find his offense without being at 100%.
Lowry’s offense is predicated on short bursts of speed that get him past defenders, hard pull-ups to setup in-rhythm shots, and three-point shooting. Right now he doesn’t have the speed to blow-by defenders, his pull-up is out of rhythm, and his three-point shot is being contested with an offer to drive at the heart of Washington’s formidable frontline. In the absence of a structured offense where he could play a part instead of being forced to star, Lowry’s left to find his points in a context he’s very unfamiliar with and unprepared for.
All form is temporary, and you can attribute his subpar performances to bad circumstance. What’s been more disappointing, however, are the mental mistakes he’s making, and his reaction to making mistakes. I’ll forgive him for his Game 1 performance and write it off to playoff jitters, but it’s very difficult for me to look past why he made the same mistakes in a must-win game with three full days to think about things in between.
Incessant gambling aside, the three fouls he picked up in Game 2 jeopardized his team and were all avoidable if only minimal precaution and thought would have been taken.
Let’s look at his first foul, where fairly early in the game he’s one-on-one with Wall who has just caught the ball. Instead of laying off Wall, he’s forcing him baseline and bodying him, which is a call a ref will make 10/10 times. In space, nobody in this league can guard John Wall, let alone Lowry. His recognition of his surroundings here is poor and Wall coaxes him into an easy foul. Remember, the Wizards after Game 1 were publicly saying how they made it a point to get Lowry out of the game, and even with that knowledge, he’s made a silly error.
His second is a drop in concentration. There’s no reason to trail John Wall this closely through tight spaces. You’ve already picked up one foul, you know how early foul trouble hurt you in Game 1, and you still invite Wall to draw the easiest foul ever – all Wall has to do is slow down and there’s a trip. Again 10/10 times this gets called. John Wall took him to school here, and Lowry’s frustration after the fact isn’t to do with disagreement with the call, it’s really with himself for allowing to be baited like that.
The third is possibly the most frustrating of the three, because it shows just how disorganized the Raptors defense is. Why DeRozan and Lowry have opted for a switch on the weak side is plain weird, because it’s resulted in Sessions being checked by DeRozan, and the bigger Otto Porter Jr., by Lowry. Porter’s great movement results in a 1-v-1 underneath the rim, and Lowry’s on the wrong side of Porter. He reaches and again, 10/10 times this is a foul. DeRozan’s reaction says it all – he’s frustrated like us.
These mental mistakes are what are plaguing Kyle Lowry, and hurting the Raptors.
With 14 games to go in the regular season, Casey made it a public point to prepare his team for the post-season by tuning up their defense and concentration levels. What we’re seeing right now is a complete failure in preparation, both situational and game-level, and how little we accomplished in those last 14 games despite plenty of warning signs.
As with anything in this series, I don’t have much hopes of the Raptors correcting their ways, because at this point you are what you are. The goal of the regular season is to develop good habits, establish repeatable patterns for success, and sharpen reflexes to deal with adversity, and the Raptors haven’t done that. They’ve rode the heat wave to a record 49 wins, and when circumstances have turned south, their answer is “more of the same, but only better”. To repeat that in a 7-game series where a set of scouts, assistant coaches, and video room guys have had a chance to dissect your simplistic style of play, the odds are stacked against you.
My call for this series was Wizards in 6 and I’m sticking to it, because there’s a good chance that the Raptors, like they have all season, will get hot just on account of having good individual offensive players and the law of averages. It just won’t be for long enough to accomplish anything meaningful.
Nick and Barry are back just in time for the collapse! The welcome, friend of the show Curt Russo and discuss…
*Fans leaving early
*Kyle Lowry is broken
*The first two games in Jurassic Park
*How many games will the Raptors win?
Plus another glorious edition of the Chuck Hayes minute.
Thanks for listening during this difficult time.
The Game 2 loss to the Washington Wizards wasn’t your typical Toronto defeat. It wasn’t heartbreaking. It wasn’t last-minute or last-second. It wasn’t could have been or should have been.
It wasn’t something we’re going to talk about 10 years from now.
It felt more like a punch to the solar plexus. The kind of punch that buckles your knees. The kind of punch that leaves you gasping for air, without answers, without time, and without a sporting chance for recovery.
This wasn’t the kind of defeat we’re used to here in Toronto. We’re used to heartache. We’re used to almost. We’re used to Kyle Lowry having a last-second shot to win a series, having it blocked, getting knocked down, and then spending years talking about the series the Raptors almost won.
It was one of the lowest of the lows for the Toronto Raptors, and the morning after DeMar DeRozan summed it up best. "If being down 0-2 shouldn't stimulate urgency, then I don't know what would," DeRozan said. Yet through two dreadful playoff games against the Washington Wizards, they've been missing just that. The Raptors dropped a horrendous 117-106 decision to the Wizards on Tuesday night, and head to Washington desperate to avoid elimination in four games. They studied video Wednesday morning and came away with one glaring message.
They aren’t rolling over, but the Wizards may just be rolling into the second round. Still, while they are comfortable talking trash, none of the Wizards want to get too comfortable with their series lead. “We’ve got to play like we’re down 0-2,” Beal said of Game 3. “Nothing changes. We can’t stop being aggressive.” Wizards coach Randy Wittman echoed Beal’s comments. “It’s hard winning four games in a series,” Wittman said. “And as you continue to move on, the harder it gets. Game 3 on Friday is going to be harder to play in than these first two games. It just gets that way as the series moves on.”
“Toronto’s cooked,” Barkley said on TNT’s postgame show. “Listen, Washington to me has been disappointing. This is what we thought we were gonna get the entire season after they made the great playoff run last year. You’ve got Curry and Thompson in Golden State, but the next true great tandem is Wall and Beal. Beal has just been hurt all season. But he played fantastic tonight. And Toronto, they’re pretty much done.”
PLAY SOME ZONE — It’s clear the Raptors can’t guard Washington’s players one-on-one. John Wall has been doing whatever he wants and Bradley Beal rallied from a bad Game 1 to dominate in Game 2. The big men have gone to work as well (partly because the Raptors frontcourt members have had to help far too frequently, leaving them out of position). Casey has designed some excellent zones in the past, both in Toronto and before that in Dallas. This team has the foot-speed (a few players aside) and athleticism to cover a lot of ground. Beal can beat a zone, but Washington doesn’t have many other shooters. Take your chances letting Wall fire away.
Trevor Ariza might've been a better fit during the regular season, but Paul Pierce is better for the postseason. This isn't a matter of who is better at this stage of their career. But Pierce, aside from being able to create his own shot even at 37, has infused the Wizards with an attitude that they lacked. Though Ariza also won a championship before he came here, his personality type is more subdued. A superb defender, he always has been a role player. With Pierce, a career alpha dog, he can teach each day (with his words) and occasionally show (with his play) John Wall and Bradley Beal how to carry a franchise.
Despite losing the first two games of the series, the Raptors faithful are expected to once again head down south for the team’s playoff run in Washington, with some taking advantage of hotel and ticket packages offered by tour companies. Alex Gibbins, 27, a lifelong Raptors fan who had never seen the team play on the road until last year, decided to book a package through Elite Sports Tours to head to Brooklyn last spring. The intensity of Games 3 and 4 was at a whole new level for Gibbins. “It was electric,” he said. Bad behaviour by NHL playoff fans to the road team’s supporters has been a topic of conversation this year. But Gibbins didn’t fear for his safety, since being part of a larger group of Toronto fans made him feel like he had “backup” to deal with the inevitable heckling from wearing a Raptors jersey in Barclays Center.
It really was a case of “be careful what you wish for”, when it came to the Toronto Raptors. Whether they admit it or not, it appears they did everything possible to avoid a potential second round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers or Chicago Bulls. (At least, that’s what I surmised from resting DeMar DeRozan in the second-to-last regular season game, with 50 wins and positioning still up for grabs.)
After dropping a second-straight home game to the Washington Wizards, the Toronto Raptors' chances of advancing to the conference semifinals have fallen to 16 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information's Basketball Power Index. Here's a deeper look at the stats. 16 percent – Raptors' chances to advance past the Wizards 6.6 percent – Raptors' chances to advance to conference finals 1.8 percent – Raptors' chances to advance to NBA Finals 0.3 percent – Raptors' chances to win the championship
The veteran has spent all season trying to pass along wisdom to John Wall and Bradley Beal and make them better leaders. In Game 1, the two guards had off shooting nights but still made contributions in other areas to help Washington take the opening game. In Game 2, Pierce beamed after seeing Wall and Beal combine to score 54 points. Wall, and particularly Beal, played with attitude. “I saw their focus before the game, even at halftime those guys were very vocal, very intense,” Pierce said. “I saw it in their eyes.” “I think a lot of the stuff that y’all see coming out I think has always been there,” he added when asked specifically about Beal’s edgy play. “I just think I kind of manifest it to another level.”
Yes, that was embarrassing. Members of the organization were shocked at the lack of response, of fight in the biggest game of the season. Maybe it was for the best, in a roundabout way. “It’s not really one thing we can pinpoint,” said Lou Williams, who is Toronto’s second-leading scorer in the two games, and is shooting 31%. “We didn’t play with the energy that we needed to, we didn’t play with the urgency that we needed, down 1-0 at home. I felt like we should have competed harder. Games like that don’t really come down to Xs and Os, it comes down to guys just wanting to win and competing. I think they just did a better job than we did.”
Following the team’s film session on Wednesday, coach Casey said Lowry needs to keep playing with a post-season intensity, while working to avoid situations that could put him in foul trouble again. “He’s smarter than that,” Casey said. “I know he is and he’ll do a better job next game.” DeMar DeRozan, who starts alongside Lowry at shooting guard, said it’s “extremely frustrating” to see his partner in the backcourt benched with too many fouls, but that he believes he can bounce back from a rough start to the playoffs. “He feels like he’s letting us down, in a sense. But we all got to stay together, no matter what,” DeRozan said. “Sometimes you just got to be there as a teammate more than anything … We’re all going to be by each other’s side.”
“We’ve got to trust the pass. We’ve got to trust our bigs,” Casey said of the Raptors’ ball-handlers. “They’re not guarding our bigs and they’re making them make plays. And they’ve got to make plays out of the double teams, out of the blitzes, out of the corrals. … The first game Amir [Johnson] was excellent in making the right reads. [Tuesday] night was a little stagnant and what we’ve got to do is make the play out of that, quarterback. And the guy with the ball has got to trust, ‘OK, we’ve got to burn them with the pass, now they take the traps off.’ That’s the mentality, instead of the guy with the ball saying, ‘OK, how can I score, how can I score?’”
As for raising Lowry’s level of play, that is a big more of a mystery. Lowry is shooting 5-for-20 from the floor in the series, has not hit a three-pointer, and has collected more fouls (10) than assists (eight). He has looked oddly flat, and his foul trouble led to the Raptors’ downfall in the second quarter on Tuesday. “Don’t put yourself in that position,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of Lowry’s fouls. “He’s a smart player. He’s one of our smartest players. He understands that he can’t put himself in that position, to put the team in that position, to take a foul. We just had the same thing on Saturday. It happens. It happened. He’s smarter than that.” Do not expect his teammates to try to pump him up with a motivational speech, either. “He understands what needs to be done at this point,” Lou Williams said. “Sometimes, you (have) just got to be there as a teammate for him more than anything,” DeMar DeRozan added. “And sometimes not saying nothing can be better than saying something.”
The lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Pierce, and Marcin Gortat has played 18 minutes and outscored the Raptors by 11 points while shooting 45% from the field and 44% from three-point range. When looking at this unit's production per 100 possessions, they're crushing the Raptors with a 127.5 offensive rating and a 26.8 net rating. The second lineup of Wall, Beal, Porter, Pierce, and Nene Hilario has outscored the Raptors by nine points while shooting 53% overall and 50% from three in nine minutes. This unit is posting a 138.1 offensive rating with a 75.1 net rating. Neither of these lineups played more than 10 minutes during the entire regular season. Again, these are small sample sizes, so the numbers can be skewed. But the small-ball formula seems to be the difference in what was expected to be a close series between two teams that have been struggling.
"I think the difference was Wall hitting his threes," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "(Bradley) Beal came off his pin downs and knocked his shots down, even his threes. They were 4 of 9 between them and once they saw the ball go in the hole I thought that was the difference and got us spaced out a little more."
Looks can be deceiving. Sure, it appears that Bradley Beal yelled "Don't f*** with me, Kyle!" last night, but it could have been a lot more innocent than that. "Come dance with me, Kyle!" "Get pho with me Kyle!" "Buy pants with me, Kyle!" "Feed ducks with me, Kyle!" "Starbucks, Kyle?!"
That is the face of a fiercely competitive dude who has been prevented, by a bunch of stupid foul calls, from responding to a challenge directly, fruitfully, on the court, and is now being asked to respond to it indirectly, impotently, in the locker room. It is the face of a man whose body will begin glowing like the heating element on an electric stovetop soon, if the refs keep standing between him and the opponents whose asses he is dying to kick. It is the face of the most frustrated man. Maybe let’s all leave Kyle Lowry alone until Friday.
Charles Barkley, you’ll recall, said after Washington’s Game 2 first-round win over the Bulls last year that the Wizards would sweep. He was off by one game — the Wizards won in five — but he’s consistently been among the loudest Washington advocates for two seasons now. And he was at it again Tuesday night. “Toronto’s cooked,” Barkley said on TNT’s postgame show. “Listen, Washington to me has been disappointing. This is what we thought we were gonna get the entire season after they made the great playoff run last year. You’ve got Curry and Thompson in Golden State, but the next true great tandem is Wall and Beal. Beal has just been hurt all season. But he played fantastic tonight. And Toronto, they’re pretty much done.”
Well. That was embarrassing.
Like me, you’re probably reeling a little bit from last night’s loss – both losses so far, honestly. No matter how cynical a Raptor fan you were during the second-half swoon, I don’t think anyone was prepared for consecutive soul-sucking losses on home court. Now, with the Raptors facing the daunting task of winning four of five games in order to take the series, with three on the road, you may, like me, find yourself slipping into “I can’t wait for this season to be over” mode.
Well, I’m here to tell you: don’t. Not just yet.
Being a sports fan, unfortunately, can suck sometimes. The same things that make it amazing: caring too much about people you’ve never met, analyzing and overanalyzing situations with no bearing on the real world, getting to gloat to your friends when things are going well; these are the same things that can make fandom so infuriatingly, irrationally frustrating. Think about this: the collective Raptors hivemind was SO frustrated about James Johnson not entering game one, we essentially forced our head coach’s hand last night, gave ourselves a standing ovation, and were quickly reminded that we aren’t as smart as we tend to believe we are.
In the moment, sure, look at that as a precursor to an ugly blowout – a game that showed the Raptors’ many fatal flaws in high definition, and one that very likely spelled the death knell on what has been a memorable season in all kinds of ways. In the grand scheme, though, look at it a different way: we collectively cared so much about the 10th man on our team that we willed him into a game. How many fan bases can do that?
It’s moments like that that bring the bigger picture into clearer view, here. Sure, we can be frustrated by Lowry, and Casey, and Lou Williams, and Greivis and Jonas and God knows who else, but we don’t cheer collectively for individuals. We cheer collectively for the Raptors. And the Raptors are still playing this season, and I’ll be as optimistic as I can be until the inevitable, bitter end, dammit, because that’s what we do. Care way too much.
In recent years, we’ve seen the negative effects of this on another local sports franchise: the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose fans care so much (and so loudly) that they’ve developed a reputation as a difficult place to play. To say it hasn’t negatively impacted their ability to attract marquee players would be naive, and I’m acutely worried that the same thing is happening with the Raptors: as soon as the team acquired a taste of success, the expectations grew, and the fan base (myself included), inevitably, began to turn. I’m not saying their isn’t room for cynicism, or criticism (I mean, you’re on Raptors Republic right now), but there’s room for a bit of blind faith, too.
Sometimes, it even gets rewarded. I’m a Canucks fan, too, and during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals run, I remember going up 3-0 to the Blackhawks in the first round, feeling like everything was sealed, and then losing three not-so-close games in a row after that. After game 6, I remember being so mad at the inevitable collapse in front of me that I set NHL 11 to the easiest possible difficulty and just pounded the Blackhawks over and over. I was SO SURE that things were going to end in disappointment.
Then, the Canucks won. Sometimes, these things turn around. Sometimes, they even turn around twice in a series. You never know what could happen, and it’s foolish to pretend like we do.
That being said, in all likelihood, we’re staring at a first-round playoff exit, here. There haven’t been many bright spots in the first two games, and I don’t think anyone in Raptorland would be shocked if the team went quietly into that good night in Washington, and we all got to spend a few days mourning and then a couple months hoping Casey gets the boot and Sam Dekker somehow falls to us in the draft.
But that’s what I’m saying, here. That part will be there, no matter the result. And no matter how cynical, critical, or exasperated you get, don’t tune out, and don’t stop cheering. Our best asset isn’t Kyle Lowry, or Jonas, or DeMar, or Masai. It’s #WeTheNorth.
It’s time for another “Notes and Quotes” segment, which is basically where I sift through 8 reporters tweeting out the exact same thing and condense it into one somewhat-readable post.
We start with the under-fire Dwane Casey, whose powers of deduction have reduced the cause of the 0-2 hole to transition defense and blow-bys:
Casey on transition D "We were back, but we weren't communicating. [We were there] in spirit."
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 22, 2015
Casey: "We had 17 blow-bys, which creates a whole multitude of problems." Yep yarp yorp
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 22, 2015
The Raptors haven’t been able to stop blow-bys all year, and they’re not going to fix them now, especially not against Washington who have John Wall and Bradley Beal, two pretty quick guys I’d say. Might want to focus on what happens after you blow-by, or reduce your chances of getting blown-by rather than asking players to stop blow-bys. This is especially the case if said player is Greivis Vasquez.
He also revealed that the team generally blames Jonas Valanciunas for their pick ‘n roll woes on defense, but concedes it wasn’t the case this time.
Also criticizes bigs impacting ball on pick-and-roll. "Usually we blame JV, but it wasn't JV."
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 22, 2015
I’ll be honest. I have no idea what he’s talking about. We have trouble defending pick ‘n rolls because we rarely sag back and instead hedge hard, and our bigs aren’t mobile enough to prevent guards from stepping out and then turning a corner after the hedge. Essentially, we stretch our defense out by pressuring and then fail to recover back and get into sound positioning, leaving us scrambling. I’m quite positive I’ve written that exact same sentence about 10 times this year.
The update on Kyle Lowry is that he’s fine:
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) April 22, 2015
Dwane Casey on Kyle Lowry: "He's fine." Said he's bruised and getting treatment. Okay!
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 22, 2015
A bruised leg isn’t going to keep him out of a playoff game, c’mon.
DeMar DeRozan feels that he’s been hounded by Washington defenders, and something needs to be done about it:
DeMar DeRozan: "Whenever we run a play, I see three guys coming at me."
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 22, 2015
Yes, other than the first 5 minutes of Game 2, DeRozan saw multiple defenders and varying looks. Problem is that his approach to them was the same as it was in the first 5 minutes of the game. Theme here: Washington adjusted, Toronto didn’t. What does he have to do to fix this?
"That's what I've realized: We've got to be a lot more physical," says DeRozan
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 22, 2015
Really? Physical? Can we ever come up with a tactical solution to things and not continually reduce them down to saying “let’s just do what we’re currently doing, only better”. We’re not going to out-physical Washington, we have to make them make decisions they’re uncomfortable with making. As an example, I don’t see why we can’t put a bigger guy who sags off of Wall, so he’s not picking us apart on drives easily. I don’t get why we’re still chasing Beal across screens instead of playing a zone variant, or switching 1/2/3, or giving him something other than the same look on defense. Actually, I know why. Because to do that you have to instill those habits over the course of a season, and we simply haven’t done that, and are thus unprepared.
I’ll leave you with Lou Will, the greatest beneficiary of this season, who was given a chance to shoot whenever he wanted in a contract year, and has made the most of the opportunity:
Lou: "I think we're still a confident bunch of guys." Also: "It's not only one thing we can pinpoint."
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 22, 2015
“You’re down 2-0 you have to be a little concerned … obviously our backs are against the wall here.” Lou Williams
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 22, 2015
He hit the nail on the head here: “It’s not only one thing we can pinpoint”. The Raptors defense and offense is busted, it’s like trying to put together a shattered vase. You don’t know where to start, and in a moment of honestly, Lou Williams admitted that.
As I said on the main Twitter account last night, the Raptors still have a chance in this series, but they just got to get hot. No strategy, no tactics. Just get hot and hope the shots fall. That’s what we’ve been doing all year, and that’s what needs to miraculously repeat itself within the vacuum of a playoff series.
Photo Credit: Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press
I entered Game 2 with optimism.
There have been times during the course of this season when that’s been difficult for me, even if it was the best regular season in franchise history. After a torrid start, the Raptors spent months playing largely uninspiring ball, with an ineffective defense and an effective yet unattractive and cognitive dissonance-inducing offense. They were never as bad as I felt them to be at times, but I was positive they were never as good as others had made them out to be.
But with the playoffs came a sort of reset button. Expectations were largely for the regular season, and with an 82-game lens, my Bayesian priors were all but confirmed – I had predicted them for 47 wins, close enough, even if the sequencing of those wins would suggest they were never at any one point a 47-win team. They were what I thought they were, which was a team that should have a good chance at winning a playoff round for just the second time in franchise history.
In the Washington Wizards, the Raptors had a similarly flawed and inconsistent opponent with roughly the same overall talent level. Even after an ugly, narrow Game 1 loss, I remained optimistic. The Raptors had played about as poor an offensive game as they could play and actually looked to have a decent idea of how to handle non-Paul Pierce members of the Wizards roster on the other end. I stood by my Raptors-in-7 prediction and was fairly confident they’d rebound with a strong Game 2.
With 8:34 to play in the second quarter on Tuesday, my optimism remained. Seven minutes and 38 seconds later, it was gone completely.
The Raptors turned a 35-31 lead into a 58-49 deficit, giving up 13 scores and 27 points over 15 possessions, a woeful showing in a 27-14 Wizards run that has effectively ended Toronto’s season.
Sure, the Raptors will probably still win a game, maybe two, maybe even three. But teams don’t come back from coughing up both home games to open a series. What’s worse, Tuesday was one of their worst overall efforts of the season until very late, with the defense essentially surrendering to the will of John Wall.
Because I am an insane person, I made GIFs of 12 of the 15 possessions in that stretch, which began with Pierce entering the game as a power forward and concluded when he was replaced with a big late in the half. That’s not to say Pierce was the driving force in the run – he certainly helped, but it was a team effort. James Johnson even got a chance to play, but Dwane Casey curiously had him guard other players than, you know, the guy he was signed to guard (not that he made a difference, anyway – the Raps were a -14 in his seven minutes).
I strongly recommend you close the browser now. What follows is depressing.
8:34 – It begins
8:14 – Pierce misses three, Porter gets outback
The Raptors play the first one-four pick-and-roll with Pierce well enough, and DeMar DeRozan is able to get enough of a hand in Pierce’s face to force a miss from outside. Unfortunately, Patrick Patterson – rightfully moved on to Otto Porter Jr. rather than Pierce with the Raptors keeping two bigs on the floor – boxes out Amir Johnson’s man (hey, at least he grabbed someone), and Johnson doesn’t take care of Porter for his frontcourt mate. Porter gets one of his four offensive rebounds and the outback.
7:18 – Porter fouled, splits free throws
No GIF here, just your run-of-the-mill foul on an offensive player who really shouldn’t be causing a defense the number of problems the admittedly improved Porter is.
6:43 – Pierce nails triple
Before this GIF starts, the Raptors actually played solid defense for the first 10 seconds of the possession. Pierce loses the handle and in the ensuing loose-ball chaos, sneaks out of the sightline of DeRozan. When Pierce gets the look in the corner, DeRozan can’t find him and Johnson is too far away to capably close out.
6:15 – Nene scores
There’s all sorts of bad here. DeRozan is stuck on Nene coming back late in transition, and he and Lou Williams play the pick-and-roll poorly, leaving Nene a clean lane to the rim. Johnson is (appropriately) too passive helping off of Bradley Beal in the corner, and Greivis Vasquez shows help from the weak corner just soon enough to duck out of the way of a Nene dunk.
5:43 – Wall misses layup
No GIF needed here, as Wall misses a transition layup attempt thanks to a nice defensive effort from Amir Johnson.
5:26 – Beal gets a transition layup
Nice effort, Vasquez. At least Johnson put his arms in the air.
4:54 – Beal gets another layup
What do you even do with this if you’re Casey? Vasquez is on the wrong side of his man to start the inbound play and is then caught completely oblivious when Beal makes a quick move for the basket. And as a bonus, look at Williams guarding the entry pass.
4:17 – Pierce sets up Beal for three
This is a great example of the problems Pierce can cause as a small four, even if he didn’t at all deserve the assist he’s credited with. Pierce flips the ball to Beal and immediately sets a screen in what’s more or less a hand-off. DeRozan shows on Beal but panics about leaving Pierce and leaves Beal too soon, before Ross can get back into position after an attempt at going both over and under a screen.
4:00 – Wall gets a layup
I’ll take Wall 1-on-2 in transition against just about any pair of defenders, but if you’re going to abandon a shooter to help, at least provide some resistance.
3:39 – Wall “outraces” Raptors for a dunk
Nice effort, Vasquez.
3:00 – It’s Gortat’s turn for a layup
Wall is absolutely ridiculous. The Raptors play the initial pick-and-roll well, so Wall just drives and spins around Vasquez. Jonas Valanciunas provides the help but leaves his feet too early, and Wall’s able to drop it off for an easy Marcin Gortat bucket.
2:39 – Pierce hacked in transition
No GIF necessary, because we’ve all seen Terrence Ross flying out of control for a chasedown block when the shooter hasn’t even left his feet yet before.
2:14 – Nene gets back in on the action
Much as he’s physically one of the best options on Wall, here’s a good example of why Ross isn’t mentally ready to guard point guards. He and Valanciunas appear to be playing a different scheme here, with Valanciunas committing immediately to preventing a Wall drive, while Ross takes the long route around Nene’s screen to chase Wall. That means absolutely nobody has tagged Nene, and with the weak side overloaded, nobody’s around to help. Valanciunas makes a nice effort to contest the shot, but that’s about as easy a look as Nene’s going to get.
1:37 – Wall hits a long two
Pierce’s draw in the pick-and-roll is on display once again, as Vasquez and James Johnson are both more concerned with a pass to Pierce than a jumper from Wall after they’ve prevented a drive. That’s the gameplan – you’ll take Wall shooting long twos over Wall drives or dishes to Pierce all day – but that’s a bit too much time and space.
1:09 – Beal puts us out of our misery
This is just a terrific play from Beal.
0:56 – Mercifully, the run ends.
7:38 of play
27-14 Wizards run
I’m really trying to keep the faith for Game 3 on Friday in D.C. It’s difficult, but I’m not quite ready to write the season off yet. They better come out and play…well, a lot better than this. It’s still too cold for draft talk.
If the words hadn’t already come out of the mouth of the most unpopular man in Toronto a week ago, we’d all probably be saying it now: the Raptors just don’t have it. Foul trouble to Kyle Lowry again played a role, but this game had the unmistakably unsettling feeling of one team separating itself to another level from its opponent. The Wizards, led by outstanding performances from John Wall and Bradley Beal, elevated their games while Toronto remained mired in the state of arrested development they’ve spent most of the last 3 months in.
The game started with promise. The starting unit opened the game with tempo, pushing the ball and scoring well. DeMar’s shots were dropping and the Raptors jumped out to an early lead. The Raptors made an attempt to better utilize their big men early, pushing the ball inside at times and utilizing Valanciunas in the pick and roll for a pair of first quarter alley-oop dunks. When Amir Johnson subbed in for Valanciunas, he became the inside partner for the Raptors guards to work with. The second quarter even saw a 7 minute stretch for everyone’s favourite bingo-dabber haired forward, James Johnson, driving on Paul Pierce, scoring and getting to the free throw line.
Kyle Lowry then quickly picked up his second and third fouls and that was pretty much the end of that. Matched up against Lou Williams and Grievis Vasquez, Bradley Beal immediately found space to shoot and John Wall single handily caught the Wizards up and then took the lead on the fast break. All of the effort the Raptors had made in the previous 6 or so quarters of basketball to contain the Washington fast break went up in smoke in a 5 minute stretch where the Wizards seized the lead and didn’t look back.
The second half saw a repeat of game 1, where Washington adjusted and Toronto was unable to do the same. On defense, the Wizards easily sniffed out the screens designed to free up Lowry, Williams and DeRozan, again throwing the Raptors sputtering offense into chaos by simply denying the Raptors ball handlers access to the ball and space, crunching their offensive possessions into a series of false starts that ended in bad jump shots. For over a year now, the Raptors have been a team unable to start any meaningful offense if you shut down the flow of their two primary guards in the side to side game. The Wizards, to their credit, did an excellent job of just that. The Raptors, out of desperation, tried to turn late to the ‘just do something Lou’ roulette strategy and even tried to live off of Jonas Valanciunas isolation post-ups in an attempt to get into the game. You know damn well from Dwayne Casey at this point that when he’s calling for Jonas post-up after Jonas post-up to try and get back in the game, he’s completely out of other offensive ideas. For him to suddenly turn to the weapon he had little interest in developing all year was fitting, as Jonas was unprepared to single-handedly carry the load.
On the other end of the court, the Wizards spent much of the second half going small with Paul Pierce at the 4, and it worked. Pierce did minimal damage himself, but with space to move, Beal and Wall torched the Raptors. The Wizard guards drained shots when Lou Williams and Grievis Vasquez foolishly dipped under screens. Those two Toronto defenders were badly exposed repeatedly, either allowing Wall and Beal to drive, step in for open mid-range jump shots or pull-up for wide open 3s. Ross struggled to find defensive positioning as well, but saw minimal time on either Washington star. Lowry fought hard, but fouls and a late knee injury again muzzled the bulldog. Lowry could do enough to hold the Raptors even when he was in the game, but even with him the Raptors never figured a way to get back in the game, and it slipped further out of their fingers every time he sat.
Washington has figured out how to take away almost everything Toronto wants offensively. That’s the problem with an offense as basic and ball handler reliant as the Raptors. DeMar can’t get to the spaces on the floor where he likes to shoot. Lowry is struggling to break free off of screens and find driving lanes and Lou Williams shots, always made with a high degree of difficulty, are that much harder when he’s trying to shoot them over starters like Beal and Wall instead of opposing bench units. The Raptors found something early by better utilizing the roll man in pick and roll and creating space for DeMar to find his shot. As soon as Washington sniffed that out, the Raptors were cooked. Jurassic Park looked last night like a pack of actual Raptors ran through it, leaving only bodies and horrified on-lookers, too traumatized to move. Two games into the series, one team has shown an ability to adapt what they’re doing and elevate their game. The other team is starting to look like they know their summer is just about to start.
Just some things to remember before ya’ll fire half of this franchise.
Whether or not the Raptors are trying — it says here that they are putting in the effort, if not exercising the necessary discipline to turn it into something productive — is one thing. However, the Raptors appear to be a team without a foundation at the moment. That is the real worry. Just like in Game 1, this one turned in the second quarter. Kyle Lowry picked up his second and third fouls early in the quarter, leaving Vasquez and Lou Williams to defend John Wall and Bradley Beal. Predictably, it did not go well. Transition opportunities got the Wizards going, but the Raptors’ inability to slow Washington’s ascendant guards turned the game into a nightmare. The Raptors’ defence, so patchy during the year, always seemed destined to fail them in the post-season. That the Wizards could exploit them to this disagree just felt unlikely.
There were no adjustments that worked, no schemes to fix it, nobody who could drag them through. The Wizards offence ranked 25th in the league after the all-star break, and they had 97 points after three quarters. The Wizards went 17-23 in the second half of the season. The Wizards made the Raptors look like punks. The franchise has steeped itself in nostalgia in its 20th season — if you played and people remember you, you probably got honoured. Damon Stoudamire was on TSN Radio Tuesday, talking fondly about his time here before mentioning he was here as a promotional thing with Swiffer, whose products he basically admitted he had never used. Still, hey, brand awareness. That’s what the Raptors have built, as much as anything: brand awareness. Drake, the Square, division titles in a time of Atlantic Division cholera. You know what the problem was with Masai Ujiri’s red-meat moment before Game 1? It wasn’t the profanity. It was that when he said, “We don’t give a s— about ‘it’,” that wasn’t the truth. As the general manager of this team, that’s exactly what he cares about. He wants to achieve escape velocity from the past. Last season, the Raptors had to race to figure out what the hell they were up against. This year, it’s a race to try to overcome exactly what they are.
Without Lowry every facet of the Raptors game seemed to fall apart. When he departed they owned a six-point lead. By the time he returned to start the third quarter the Wizards had outscored Toronto 31-14 and taken an 11-point edge. “Yeah, for me it sucks because I’m trying to help my teammates, trying to be more physical and play playoff basketball, but I keep getting fouls. It’s really holding me back from being out there with my team.” And there’s no question he is being missed. “It’s tough to lose Kyle in both games to foul trouble,” DeMar DeRozan said. “To not have your point guard, that we are accustomed to having at a certain time in the rotation, was definitely tough.” There was a brief moment of hope early in the third when the Raptors came out and erased the bulk of an 11-point deficit in a hurry, pulling to within two. Terrence Ross, who did not have a single make from three-point land in six attempts in Game 1, got his second and third in those early moments of the final half to get the crowd back in it. But that moment of belief that the worst was behind the Raptors was gone as quickly as it arrived.
When it comes to the ball that was played at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday night, it was Wall and his backcourt linemate Bradley Beal who lit things up. Though they started out soft, the Wizards sprang into the lead in the waning minutes of the first half, riding the efficient attacks of their starting guards. Wall chalked up a double-double in assists and points by halftime, while Beal was well on his way to finishing with a game-high 28 points. “They think that we’re some punks,” Beal reportedly said in an on-court interview at halftime. “They think they can push around. But we’re not rolling.” That passion showed down the stretch. The Wizards kept rolling through Toronto’s lacklustre defence, collectively shooting more than 50 per cent on their field goals, a tally that included 10 three-pointers.
Lowry had said all the right things after his brutal Game 1 performance, but his follow-up was equally troubling and was a major reason why the Raptors fell into a 2-0 hole to the Washington Wizards, one that only four of 59 teams have rallied back from since 2003. When nearly everything was rolling for the Raptors early on in this one, Lowry was the lone concern, because he was again making poor decisions with the ball, forcing the issue too much. But it got much worse. Lowry got mildly jobbed on an early foul call against John Wall, was completely ripped off when Bradley Beal tripped on his own two feet, then picked up a legit third by being out of position. Being out of position, because he was again gambling too often defensively, put the team Lowry is supposed to carry in huge trouble. Instead of playing smarter, knowing the referees were calling everything, Lowry gambled and had to sit for a long stretch. He knew it too.
When it comes to the ball that was played at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday night, it was Wall and his backcourt linemate Bradley Beal who lit things up. Though they started out soft, the Wizards sprang into the lead in the waning minutes of the first half, riding the efficient attacks of their starting guards. Wall chalked up a double-double in assists and points by halftime, while Beal was well on his way to finishing with a game-high 28 points. “They think that we’re some punks,” Beal reportedly said in an on-court interview at halftime. “They think they can push around. But we’re not rolling.” That passion showed down the stretch. The Wizards kept rolling through Toronto’s lacklustre defence, collectively shooting more than 50 per cent on their field goals, a tally that included 10 three-pointers.
The Wizards backcourt would dominate, Toronto’s transition and perimeter defence exposed, stretches when shots weren’t dropping, long stretches when Washington would make shot after shot. Washington showed its mettle, recovering from an early 10-point hole, ultimately putting the Raptors into a 0-2 series hole. Anyone believing this outcome wasn’t possible should kick themselves, the Raptors-centric base losing sight of how efficient and excellent these Wizards were in last spring’s post-season when they legitimately had a chance to play Miami in the Eastern final. When Paul Pierce said the Raptors didn’t have the it factor, he was right. Washington doesn’t exactly have it either, but there’s potential because of Wall. Just ask the Raptors.
Here’s the grim numerical truth about Toronto’s best player. He’s 5-for-20 from the field in the series. In two games he has scored fewer points (13) than Wizards guard Bradley Beal scored in Tuesday’s second quarter alone (16). Lowry, too, has racked up more personal fouls (10) than he has assists (eight). And here’s what that means for the Raptors: Unless a better, more menacing Lowry emerges for Games 3 and 4 in Washington on Friday and Sunday, Toronto’s second playoff run in as many seasons is going to be a short one. “He’s just trying to get back into the groove (after the late-season back injury), and he’s struggling,” Casey said of Lowry in the pall of a post-game press conference. “I know Kyle’s not going to say, ‘Hey, it’s my back,’ or, ‘I’m struggling getting back in the groove, getting my rhythm back.’ But that’s the difference.” There are those around the team who’ll tell you it’s not as simple as that; that Lowry, though he has clearly been set back by injury, hasn’t dealt well with the pressures of his first all-star campaign; that he’s a tightly wound individual still figuring out how to navigate life as a marquee guy. And certainly it’s never just about the statistics when it comes to Toronto’s best player — although that argument is difficult to make after a night when Wizards counterpart John Wall rampaged to a 26-point, 17-assist masterpiece.
Washington shot 64% in the second quarter, 52.3% in the first half … First-half stats: The Raptors’ starting lineup was outscored by Washington 53-24 … It didn’t get better in the third quarter, with Washington putting up 37 points in its highest-scoring stanza … James Johnson got a standing ovation and seven minutes and seven seconds of playing time in the first half. The ovation was nice: Johnson’s presence did little to change the Raptors’ fortunes. He didn’t play in the second half … The Raptors will only go as far as Lowry and DeRozan take them: Neither scored a point in the second quarter. Lowry had two first-half points and spent a good deal of time on the bench in foul trouble. Lowry made just two baskets after scoring only seven points in Game 1… TSN analyst Jack Armstrong on playoff basketball: “It’s a man’s game this time of year.” … The Golden State backcourt of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson is averaging 51.5 points a game for the impressive Warriors. DeRozan and Lowry have averaged just more than 20 points combined through two home games … The Raptors came unglued in the third quarter, down 15 points when coach Dwane Casey was called for a technical foul. It wasn’t a good night for the coach or his team.
“I thought we did a little bit better on the boards tonight but I see us getting knocked down going to the basket, I don’t see their guys hitting the floor,” Casey said. “I see them waltzing in, waving at us and laughing at us going to the basket and I don’t see us (knocking anyone down). “That’s what I challenged the team after the game. We’ve got to make sure we hit somebody and make it count . . . Don’t want to hurt anybody or play dirty but we have to match their physicality in the paint, going to the basket, going for easy buckets, that’s what playoff basketball is about.” It is hard to say which facet of the game Toronto failed greater at.
For the second straight game, Lowry was largely ineffective, struggling to stay on the floor long enough to make an impact once again. He picked up his second foul of the night just two and a half minutes into the second quarter. 10 seconds later he was whistled for his third. The Raptors were up by six when Lowry parked himself on the bench, they had led by as many as 10. At least one of the calls was highly questionable. Lowry wasn’t happy. Casey, who picked up a rare technical foul later in the game, opted to withhold comment on the officiating and save his money after the loss. By intermission, Lowry had accumulated as many fouls as points (nine) through the first six quarters of this series. “I guess [I was] trying to play physically,” he said after finishing with six points on 3-of-10 shooting in 27 minutes. “But I guess I shouldn’t play as physical as I want to.” “For me it sucks because I’m trying to help my teammates, trying to be more physical and play playoff basketball, but I keep getting fouls. It’s really holding me back from being out there with my team.” It went from bad to worse midway through the fourth quarter when Lowry was forced from the game with a shin contusion – he’ll be re-evaluated on Wednesday.
“We got to run through the finish line,” said Pierce, who tallied 10 points. “Sometimes we get a big lead, and it’s like the tortoise and the hare, just gets to messing around and chilling on the sideline. We got to run through the finish line. Simple and plain.”
When Kyle Lowry… picked up his second and third fouls within 10 seconds of each other just under three minutes into the second quarter and was subsequently provided a seat, the Raptors had a six-point lead. Washington then went on a 31-14 run to end the first half up 60-49. Everyone in, on, and around Toronto knew that Lowry needed to have a bounce-back game in the worst way for Toronto to succeed, and him having to sit was demoralizing, compounded by the fact that Greivis Vasquez replaced him on defense versus John Wall & Co. When Paul Pierce… was inserted at the 4-spot for the second time in as many playoff games with 8:35 left in the second quarter (this time replacing Drew Gooden), the Wizards were down four points, 35-31. Two Lou Williams free throws queued up before the timeout gave Toronto a 37-31 lead. The Wizards then went on a 27-12 run with Pierce at the 4 until the 56 second mark in the second quarter when Gooden was subbed back in. Nene spent about five minutes at the 5, Gortat spent just under three minutes there; Washington made 11-of-14 field goals to 5-of-10 from Toronto. These two events just about coincided. All but four of Washington’s points in that 31-14 run came with Pierce at the 4. So what more determined the game? Neither. It was Bradley Beal, who went 6-for-7 from the field with 13 points over the last nine minutes of the second quarter (16 total points in the period). Randy Wittman’s offense knew that it had exactly what it needed to win the game, a different, non-#PandaRange Big Panda (which is Beal’s nickname, in case you didn’t know). Beal went 4-for-4 at the basket during that stretch and 7-for-11 over the course of the night en route to a game-high (and playoff-high) 28 points.
Beal not only got to the basket in transition, but he did his best James Harden impression in the half-court, finding lanes to the rim all game long. Besides a few shots in the first quarter, Beal didn’t settle for many midrange jumpers tonight. Instead, he made the most of each possession, scoring 20 points in the first half. After a miserable performance in Game-1, we all expected Wall and Beal to play well tonight, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted what happened tonight. Wall knocked down midrange shots, pull up threes, and made some ridiculous passes en route to the best playoff game of his career.
John Wall and Bradley Beal combined to have a bit of a dud performance in Game 1, combining to go 11-41 from the field. And from the start of things in Game 2, it looked like they could be on track for more of the same in Game 2 as they settled for some bad jumpers early as the Raptors took control early. When they reentered the game in the second quarter, they went on the type of run fans envisioned when the Wizards drafted Beal to play alongside Wall. John Wall was getting wherever he wanted on the court and hitting tough shots, finishing with 26 points and 17 assists. He was a force on the defensive end as well. If you’re looking for a six second sequence that summed up his night, here you go:
The final says 117-106, but it may as well have been a 20-30 point deficit. The Raptors could not play defense, could not get rebounds, and despite hitting shots, could not produce enough of an efficient offense to hurt the Wizards. Wall and Beal, playing like the best backcourt in the East, finished with 26 points-17 assists and 28 points, respectively. While DeRozan and Williams finished with 20 points each, it was not enough. And poor Kyle Lowry, hounded all night by defenders and… something (expectations?), was forced to watch another game slip away from the bench, an injury taking him off the court this time. The Raptors look dead. And now we expect them to lose. It’s funny how those things turn so quickly.
“It started off with transition and not getting back. The bigs not protecting the rim nearly as good as we should have. Communication on the offensive end, just talking to make sure we close out. A couple of lapses as far as communicating on ball screens. The guards pushing them one way and the bigs caught on another way. Lack of being in the same page in that area. Just so many little things, but I think the most important thing was transition.” – Patrick Patterson
Offense: C Let me get the positives out of the way. DeMar DeRozan was strong early on (nine points in the first quarter, before finishing with 20, going 9 for 18 from the field), Patrick Patterson provided a spark off the bench (15 points, perfect 6 for 6), James Johnson actually played, and the Raptors got to the charity stripe 32 times (although they only converted 21). That’s about it. The middle quarters of this game were atrocious. Credit needs to be given to the Wizards— they really dug in defensively and made the Raptors uncomfortable following the hot start from the field. Toronto didn’t adjust, after before we could blink twice, the Raptors – who led by five after the opening frame – were down 60-49 at halftime.
This is arguable when all things are equal; in truth, there isn’t much difference between these teams. But things are not equal right now. John Wall and Bradley Beal are whipping Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams. In a series that was going to be defined by guard play, it’s not a fair fight. It will be interesting to see what Lowry says about his health when he feels he can be totally honest, whenever that might be. Whether it’s the day the Raptors clean out their lockers — and that day could be approaching quickly — or it’s in training camp next fall, it seems possible he’s going to tell a tale of how much his back is affecting him at this highly inopportune time. He’s is talking a good game, saying before Game 2 that “I feel great, I’m here kicking,” but his play is saying something different. It has been for a while now; it’s truly not a surprise. And without their bulldog point guard able to engage full scale with Wall, the Raptors are just outclassed. Lowry is a shell of his normal self, the vicious and relentless basket-attacker with an angry streak that turned him into this franchise’s player.
“I think the difference in the game was [John] Wall hitting his threes,” Casey said. “Beal came off his pin downs and knocked his shots down, even his threes. They were four-for-nine between them and once they saw the ball go in the hole I thought that was the difference, and got us spaced out a little more.” The odds are now stacked heavily against the Raptors, who will play Game 3 in Washington Friday. According to an article by Sportsnet’s Michael Grange, teams who’ve fallen behind 2-0 at home to open a seven-game series have gone on to win the series just three times in 29 tries. If this series finishes with the Raptors on the losing end, there will certainly be plenty of questions around what went wrong for a team that had such a promising start to the season. And like it or not, there will be no shortage of those pointing fingers at coach Casey. And laying a portion of the blame at the coach’s feet wouldn’t be unwarranted either.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
We’ll get you the full quotes the paper guys collect in tomorrow morning’s Morning Coffee. For now, we’ll have to rely on Twitter to get some reaction to the horrible Game 2 loss.
Sam and Zarar discuss the Game 2 loss to the Wizards, which sees Washington assert their dominance in convincing fashion.
Don’t let the score fool you. The Raptors were dominated by the Wizards and face a daunting task of winning 4 out of 5.
If the regular season taught us anything (or the history of the franchise for that matter), it’s hard to imagine the Raps coming up lame in tonight’s Game 2. That statement might be filled to the optimistic brim, but hey, inconsistency is their identity, so it only makes sense. There’s only one direction to move after such a disappointing opener. Insert fingers crossed, here.
With that said, we’ve also learned never to assume a course of action will take place, as Game 1 held a far too familiar occurrence. HE’S THE DUDE WITH THE RED HAIR, COACH! CAN’T MISS HIM!
As the Republic’s Blake Murphy pointed out in Monday’s call for a James Johnson adjustment, it would be an absolute shocker if the same lineup “plan” is upheld by Casey going forward. We’ve been dumbfounded before but even DC can’t be this stubborn, right?
James Johnson right now. pic.twitter.com/CGVNYwcbLP
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) April 18, 2015
But one has to raise an even bigger eyebrow at Casey’s “matchup” comment. If he hadn’t painted himself into a corner over the course of the season, where criticism reached optimum levels, he’s now left this fan base and onlookers alike in a state of bewilderment.
It’s almost as if he’s trained himself to give robotic answers to any questions regarding JJ. One who represented the best option at attempting to seal the cracks Washington had found. Sticking with one’s original way of thinking is one thing, but allowing Johnson to waste away on the pine with not even a sniff of action is simply inexcusable.
Sure, this isn’t breaking news, especially by the time this piece drops, but just like any other major issue that has presented itself throughout the year, the drum must be beaten by default. Besides, it doesn’t seem as if the “mainstream” media wants to play a prosecutor’s role, well there’s no worries about a PR backlash here, I’m more than happy to fill the void.
There’s Always Hope:
Allotting minutes for JJ is a forgone conclusion at this point, but there are plenty of factors that fans can only hope come to fruition.
- Washington’s control of the boards in Game 1, along with the Raps’ frustrating counter-effort would make any backer of facing the Wizards over the Bucks in the first round rethink what they wished for. As much as piling on Casey would act as tidy blame, when fundamental box-outs don’t transpire, and half-assed responsibility on switches are taken, the players must be held accountable. Let’s hope a shift in power presides.
- The Jonas Valanciunas saga continues. It’s a shame this issue still must be discussed, as JV, if allowed to grow properly during the season, had the chance to be miles ahead of where he currently is. Yet this squad’s main interior presence is still reluctant to assert himself at both ends. However, if given half the chance to do so, the dynamic of this series could change drastically.
- Which connects the Raps’ three main shooters: K-Low, DeMar, and Lou. Who collectively in a one-game bubble put up an uninspiring 26% from the field, and a disappointing 45% from the True Shooting perspective. It’s one game, yes, but a reoccurring theme over the season’s duration nonetheless. Mix in JV’s minuscule 7 shots (the majority on put-back attempts) with the same amount of free-throws as JJ’s minutes received, and you get another episode of ignoring the middle brought to you by the misguided shot-selection of the Raps’ backcourt. Ride or die by the jumper, I get it (unfortunately), but Saturday hit a new low.
- As for the fan base, we can’t be content whenever Jack Armstrong utters the words: “Amazingly, the Raps are just stuck five.” I can only hope not. But hope is a dangerous thing, and we’ve become attached to what this team is truly capable of when optimized. As much as a glutton-for-punishment outcome might await us all, I still hold it in spades.
Vasquez may have brought the house down with his game-tying clutch from downtown (my neighbours are still giving me dirty looks from the noise that shot created), but if those moments are going to be relied upon, this will be a very short series.
Expect the starting lineup to assemble back to its regular season form with Amir slotted back in. A workhorse saviour in his Game 1 reserve role, AJ’s grind-it-out performance was one of the Raps’ minimal bright spots, even though trouble handling the Wizards’ size down-low was present.
If you’re looking for the player where all of the aforementioned hope translates into expectations, look no further than the point guard who is in dire need of stepping up to the plate, Kyle Lowry.
First, let’s rewind. K-Low deserves a ton a credit as the main cog in leading this franchise to levels of respectability over the last two campaigns. There is no denying that this city has fed off his leadership and all-out style of play. And even when you combine his second-half criticism, No.7 seemingly still owns a surrounding aura that he can ultimately do no wrong.
I (like many) have been a part of that camp since the beginning, scoffing at basketball pundits who suggested Randy Foye was the better prospect coming out of Villanova. The fact that Foye was selected 17 picks before his collegiate running-mate has now proven to be a laughing matter. It was apparent that his stops in Memphis and Houston weren’t doing his talents justice, Lowry was worthy of lead-dog status, and you would be hard pressed to find a more enthused Raptors’ fan on the day the trade was made to acquire his services.
Well, a full circle moment has arrived. I shouted his MVP-caliber praise early on, only to become critical as the year progressed. But it’s time for his lofty expectations to meet his admiration at a time this team needs it the most. To put it bluntly, Lowry has become lazy, careless, and hasn’t kicked his post All-Star bad habits.
To be fair, lingering back and finger injuries (and even rust) should be taken into consideration when discussing his detriments. But that doesn’t negate his mentality, which to all appearances, has changed for the worse.
In case you missed it, I recommend reading William Lou’s article that goes extensively into KL’s gambling problems.
Perhaps I’m allowing all of the time I’ve invested into rooting for Lowry’s success to cloud the big picture. Does the letdown deserve such a callout?
I’m afraid the answer to that question might just reside in his Game 2 performance. This city needs to see improvement. The numbers don’t have to look pretty, and as long as everything is left on the court, a victory is not mandatory. The only demand is Lowry’s effort of days past.
Faith is dwindling, but still in order. It’s just now up to Lowry to hold up his end of the bargain. This is now expected. If not, the benefit of the doubt will inevitably disappear.
Last year in the playoffs, a big weakness for the Toronto Raptors was their ability to guard bigger wings. Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce took turns picking apart smaller defenders DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross.
This summer Toronto went out and brought James Johnson back into the mix for when Toronto needs help guarding bigger wings or when opposing teams go small and stick a player like Pierce at power forward.
Johnson was used sparingly this season as he started 17 games but he was ninth on the team in minutes played. Based on how this season played out, he looked like he could be a fringe player in the playoffs unless a specific matchup against a player or team called for his skill set.
Despite not logging big minutes, most fans expected that Johnson would be used more in the playoffs, especially if the team needed someone to guard a bigger wing like Paul Pierce.
It turns out Dwane Casey thinks otherwise.
“James (Johnson) will play in a matchup situation,” Casey told the media after Game 1. “Again, he could be in play later in this series. The difficulty thing to do is play all of our wings. We’ve got a good rotation with Greivis (Vasquez), Kyle (Lowry), DeMar (DeRozan) and Terrence (Ross) in that group and it’s just hard to get that fifth guy in there unless it’s just a special matchup. Again, it will come into play in this series at some point but today wasn’t the day. Believe me, I heard all the people yelling, ‘Put James in, put James in,” but, again, who do you take out? We were having trouble with outside shots. DeMar was doing a good job. Lou was a threat. So, we’ll see. There’s going to be a place for James (Johnson) in this series. I’ve talked with him about that.”
Casey echoed a similar message on Monday afternoon while also expanding his thought process a bit more.
“There are some games where we need his physical ability and then there are some games where we don’t,” Casey explained to the media yesterday afternoon. “He’s kind of caught in between with us. It’s tough and I give James (Johnson) credit. It’s a very difficult situation for him to be in but it was explained to him when he first signed here that that was kind of the role he was going to have. And he’s handled his role great. Throughout the whole year he’s handled it great.”
What makes Casey’s stance and opinion on Johnson interesting is Toronto struggled when Washington matched their smaller line-ups in Game 1. DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross did an admirable job guarding Pierce; it was when Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough were forced to guard Pierce that Toronto struggled.
“With me at the four,” Pierce said after Game 1, “I think it really opened it up for Brad(ley Beal) and John (Wall). I think when I spread the floor or be a 3-point, drive threat, we get in the lane a little bit more, find the roll man, and if they help, I’m there for an open three. It’s a little bit different for us having two bigs when they pack the lane and wait for us to drive.”
It’s clear that whatever Toronto was doing to Pierce on the defensive end in Game 1 just wasn’t cutting it. Pierce had averaged a paltry 5.6 points on 32 percent shooting in his last 10 regular season games, yet he erupted for a game-high 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting in Game 1.
According to John Schuhmann of NBA.com, “ten of those 20 points came with Washington playing small in the second quarter, and another three came on the first possession of overtime with Pierce at the four again.”
It will be interesting to see if Casey’s mind changes after he watches tape of Game 1, or, more likely, that Casey was bluffing to the media about how he plans to use Johnson in this series.
But, if Game 1 and Casey’s post-game comment are any indication, it looks doubtful that Johnson will see extended minutes in this series.
Three things the Raptors need to do to even up the series.
The Jonas clip in particular is hilarious. I’ve seen it before, but it never fails to have me in tears. From anger, to awkward, to regret, and finally into submission.
The Raptors actually made it 3 / 5 in this video, if you count the fact that Joey Crawford’s trip was hosted by the Air Canada Center.
Williams cannot tell you exactly how he suckers defenders into fouling him so far away from the rim so often. He does not use pump fakes very often. He is not a physical force. His three-point shooting was actually a percentage point below the league average, so it is not as if opponents should be rushing out to run him off of the arc, sometimes hitting him in the process. It is nothing short of NBA art. “When you make shots, teams have to guard you honest,” Williams said. “I think that’s shown with a guy like a James Harden or a Jamal Crawford and other guys that get fouled so much on shooting attempts. If you make shots, teams have to guard you honest, and you start using that to your advantage when guys want to reach in, want to be physical.” It has been a dream year for Williams. He came to Toronto with some people wondering whether he could still be a productive NBA player, and will end it as something of a folk hero. In the interim, Drake recorded a song inspired by him, and Williams’ teammates fell in love with him. For his calmness and endless ease, Williams earned the title of “coolest dude in the world” from DeMar DeRozan.
When a big shot needs to be made, Williams has often stepped up, oblivious to the stage and no fear of missing. But he does take some questionable heaves, like he did in Saturday afternoon’s Game 1. Mind you, he’s not alone. Toronto’s primary scorers in Williams, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan went a combined 12-of-46 from the field with half of Williams’ shot taken from beyond the arc. It’s bounce-back night for the Raptors in Game 2 and while an award is nice and in this case well-deserved, it means nothing come tip time. “I’m just excited about Lou, a guy who comes back from his injury, worked hard, dedicated himself to getting his body right, nobody kind of knew what he was going to bring to the table once he was signed, whether it was damaged goods or whatever,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s proved to everybody that he’s the old Lou Williams.” Williams, 28, appeared in 80 of Toronto’s 82 regular-season games, posting a career-best scoring average of 15.5 points.
“[Staying in Toronto] would be ideal for me,” he said. “Just the culture that they’re building here, just the identity that this team and this town has, I really want to be a part of it. I look forward to it. I don’t want to say hopefully we get something done, I’m really positive that we will get something done. I don’t see why not, at this point. So I just look forward to the future here.” Of course, a lot could change between now and July, when NBA free agency officially opens. It takes two to tango – the Raptors would have to be willing to pay up in order to keep Williams from moving south and with the salary cap set to skyrocket the following summer, the market figures to be an unpredictable one. For now, Williams is content with where he’s at, mostly because he remembers how hard it’s been to get to this point. He’s found a home with the Raptors and they’ve welcomed him with open arms, right from the start.
They will perhaps be surprised, then, to learn how his high school coach used him, the skills they exploited when the 28-year-old Williams was a South Gwinnett, Ga., teenager. “We started every game with a dunk play just to intimidate the other team,” Roger Fleetwood, who coached Williams in high school, said Monday after a ceremony honouring the Toronto guard. “Oak Hill (a prestigious U.S. prep school program); we’re playing (NBA stars) Kevin Durant and Ty Lawson and we started with a dunk play against them for him.” That Williams has come this far from that point, from having re-made his game to a more grounded style after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament more than two years ago, made Tuesday’s honour all the more special.
In the last 10 years, only two players put forth higher PER outputs: James Harden in 2012 (21.1) and Manu Ginobili in 2008 (24.3). His nERD was higher than either of the previous two winners, though not quite on par as some other names on the list. Either way, Williams is, by the numbers, the best Sixth Man of the Year since Harden. Lou Will can finally rest easy now that he has received the proper accolade that coincides with the melodic Drake track “6 Man” in which the Canadian born rapper boasts of Williams’ scoring prowess for his hometown Raptors. Drake is an official ambassador of the Raptors, so his message may be a little biased, but apparently the voters of the award agree with him. And, according to the numbers, they got it right.
“There are some games where we need his physical ability,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said on Monday, “and then there are some games where we don’t.” “Matchups. I’m here for matchup problems,” Johnson added. “I’m here for the long season, when Kyle [Lowry] got hurt or DeMar [DeRozan] got hurt. Those were when I had opportunities to play a lot. I’m the fill-in. And I’m OK with that.”
Among Raptors regulars Johnson had the second best defensive rating (101.9) and the fifth-best offensive rating (108.9) for the third-best net rating this season. He had the second-best true shooting percentage on the team and is the best rebounder among the wings. And Johnson has ears too. He didn’t play Saturday but got a trail of goosebumps along his ornate arms when the crowd started calling his name. “I did [hear them]. I did. I did,” he said Monday. “I love our fans. It gave me a warm spot in my heart. I got the chills a little bit. At the same time, I don’t want that to affect guys on our bench or guys that are playing in the game, distracting them from what they’re doing out there. It’s nice of them to do that. I really appreciate it. But, cheer for the Raptors.”
There will come a time when James Johnson will likely play for the Raptors in their NBA first-round playoff series, but it will be because coach Dwane Casey knows it gives his team a strategic advantage and not because people are clamouring for the little-used forward to get on the court. “It’s a strategic decision,” Casey said Tuesday. Johnson has become something of a cause célèbre with the Raptors these days; fans see a powerful forward who doesn’t play an awful lot and wonder why. Coaches see someone with significant flaws in his game — over-helping on defence, freelancing and creating spacing issues on offence — and want to pick their spots to use him.
A year ago in the playoffs, the Raptors justified starting him every game because it was best for his long-term development. He eventually started to look somewhat comfortable in Game 4 and through the final three, but there were moments there where many had to be wondering why exactly the Raptors were content to devote so many minutes, despite few results. The answer comes a year later in that Ross is now a much more complete player capable of playing in the biggest of moments. Sure there was that huge hiccup midway through the season, but through a little tough love, Casey now has a guy he can trust defensively. His offence, which has been sporadic, is a bonus. “The bench is a great motivator sometimes,” Casey said. “You don’t want to wear that out but I think he had a chance to sit back and watch and see what he needed to do and he’s done it.”
If the Raptors want to win their first playoff series since 2001, they’re not going to be able to do it without an all-star Kyle Lowry playing at an elite level. Lowry’s 7pts, 6/20 shooting, and 6 fouls are abysmal number for a player of his calibre, especially in the playoffs. I understand that he is recently back from injury so he is still not 100%, but I believe Lowry can give a whole lot more right now. And I’m not just talking about putting points on the board either. Lowry was out of sorts on the defensive end as much as he was on the offensive end. He was taking unusual risks and dangerous gambles that cost the team a couple of times (fouling out of the game is an example of how bad it was). Lowry needs to get back to basics in this series. He needs to work harder on both ends of the floor and get more flow going in the offence. His shot has been struggling as of late so it would be a good time to get his other teammates involved to get them going. Lowry also needs to put pressure on John Wall on both ends. Make Wall work on the defensive end, attack him off the dribble and maybe try and draw a couple of early fouls. And on the defensive end, Lowry should pick up Wall as soon as possible to prevent any opportunity of Wall getting to the basket. If Kyle Lowry can get back to what got him to being a first time all-star, the Raptors chances of winning game 2 will significantly increase.
The thing is, Lowry isn’t outmatched. It’s not a question of effort either. He’s one of the most determined athletes in the game. However, just like Teddy Geiger, sometimes, he just tries too hard. He wants to be the best. He wants to lead Toronto out of the first round so badly that his desires sometimes overflow into bad decision-making on the court. It’s a better problem to have then no effort at all but if the Raptors have any chance at winning this series, they’ll need Lowry at his best. He’s their emotional leader and he sets the tone on both ends of the court.
The one game that was at an acceptable time – and I was stuck with watching people taking contested midrange jumpers. Furthermore, Toronto shot 6-of-29 on three pointers – and just like the Spurs most of them were not highly contested. The problems for both San Antonio and Toronto is that, of course, even one night of bad shooting can be fatal. But at least it is better than being hopelessly matched (Hello, Brooklyn!).
Kyle Lowry is due for a bounce-back game after fouling out in a 2-for-10 shooting performance in Game 1. Lowry wasn’t the only Raptors player to have a rough outing in their playoff opener. DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams and Terrence Ross all struggled from the floor, but teammates are confident their shots will fall on Tuesday.
After blowing Game 1, the Raptors provided a bad news/good news scenario: We were terrible; we probably couldn’t be that terrible again if we tried. It’s hard to find the narrative wedge into that one. Guard Lou Williams threw them a story-arc lifeline. Early Monday afternoon, Williams won the NBA’s sixth-man award. He becomes only the third Raptor in history to take an individual season-end accolade (Damon Stoudamire and Vince Carter were both rookies of the year). As usual, Drake saw this coming. He wrote a song about Williams – 6 Man – that gets perilously close to giving away too much. Go read the lyrics – which, were they reprinted in a family newspaper, would look a redacted CIA kill order. We all wish Drake would name-check us in verse. Now we wish he’d do it in a song called Winning Lotto 6/49.
During Saturday’s Toronto Raptors pre-game show before their big opening match up against the Washington Wizards, you’ll get a chance to see a glimpse of Raptors coach Dwane Casey’s early life. In a one on one interview with Marci Ien from CTV’s Canada AM, Dwane gets a chance to look back on his days at Union County High School with some amazing pictures. The traditionally even-keeled with the media coach of the Raptors has some pretty great reactions in this teaser of Saturday’s full interview.
The thing I can’t preach enough is patience. I’ll tell you right now that you’re not going to get as much playing time as you think you should. If you’re drafted high and you don’t get that playing time, you tend to get mad at the world. You may work hard for a period of time, but it won’t last. You’ll lose that focus and ultimately that mindset that made you successful enough to make it to the NBA. You might think you’re too good to be sitting on anybody’s bench, but try to get that ego in check. Otherwise, you’ll stop showing effort in practice, which will lead to even less playing time. Then, when you actually are put in game situations, you won’t feel prepared because you haven’t been practicing at the highest level. Finally, when your first contract is up and you haven’t proven anything, no other team is going to want you. This is the cycle so many young guys fall into. And while all this might seem daunting, some of the biggest challenges you face might very well occur off the court.
“For the most part we listened to the game plan,” said Pierce, laughing because he has maintained during stretches of losing that it’s their lack of discipline, not concepts or game planning, that had been the Wizards’ issue. “We stuck with it. The trust was there. That’s one thing when I looked at the game again (Saturday) night the trust was there. A lot of times when they had players driving to the hole the next man helped. He didn’t care about who he was guarding. He had trust the next man was going to help him. That’s something that was inconsistent for us all year long. The trust was there. It was beautiful to watch.
No, we’re probably not going to win a title, and I’m not suggesting we hide our head in the sands and ignore the faults with this team, but we just completed the most successful season in 30+ years. And our best players are still young. We can be excited about what we have now and still admit that we have room to grow. It’s a matter or emphasis and pride at this moment in time. We have one of the most exciting players with the ball in his hands I’ve ever watched leading the team. A player who, by the way, has no quit in him. A player who willingly reps D.C., despite a horrible NBA history and “Wizards” as a team name. He is not lying down or complaining that we aren’t playing enough “pace and space.” That’s for AFTER the season. Right now, he’s pounding his chest and going to war. We just held the third best offensive team in the league to under 90 points in the playoffs on their home court. Yes, they missed shots, but our defense did its part also.
In Toronto, Vasquez has resumed the role he’s had much of his career. He’s a backup point guard with size, some shooting and a herky-jerky game that should last over his career since it is predicated more on craftiness than leaping or speed. This season, his first full one in Toronto, was similar to his previous four in the league. Vasquez averaged 9.5 points in 2014-15; he averages 9.2 for his career. His field-goal percentage was down slightly, his 3-point percentage up slightly. He played just more than 24 minutes per game and made 29 starts. When starting point guard Kyle Lowry fouled out at the end of Game 1, Vasquez returned to the game. His pull-up 3-pointer with 25 seconds to play tied the game and served as the cap to an unlikely Toronto comeback after the Raptors trailed by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The shot dropped, the sellout crowd boomed and Vasquez, with his freshly faded hair that included etched-out lines, shook his shoulders like he heard Elvis for the first time. Asked about his rhythm and reaction by a reporter he recognized, Vasquez smiled. “You know,” Vasquez said. “You’re from Maryland. That shimmy comes from college. But more than that, I wanted to win the game. As you guys know, I’m not afraid to take any big shot.”
Kyle Lowry is due for a bounce-back game after fouling out in a 2-for-10 shooting performance in Game 1. Lowry wasn’t the only Raptors player to have a rough outing in their playoff opener. DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams and Terrence Ross all struggled from the floor, but teammates are confident their shots will fall on Tuesday.
In an ugly Game 1, the difference was Washington’s 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. Four of the former and five of the latter came in overtime. The Raptors ranked 25th in defensive rebounding percentage in the regular season, and their issues in that regard obviously carried over into the playoffs. In some cases, the Raptors just got beat up underneath the basket. See Drew Gooden vs. Patrick Patterson on this fourth-quarter tip-in. But other Washington offensive rebounds were a result of the Raptors’ defense on the perimeter. By sending two to the ball on pick-and-rolls involving Wall and Beal, Toronto got caught in rotations and out of position when it was time to secure a rebound. So in regard to the glass, it will first be interesting to see whether or not the Raptors are hedging hard on pick-and-rolls.
Will the Wizards speed up their late game offense? There was plenty of things not to like about how the Wizards fell apart in the closing minutes of regulation in Game 1. The Wizards won’t be able to fix all the issues that popped up in the closing minutes, but there is one simple fix they can make that will give them a better shot at generating some points late in the game: Stop burning up so much of the shot clock before initiating the action. In a final possession situation, burning up the clock is fine, but you shouldn’t employ that strategy for the final three minutes. Every shot the Wizards attempted in the final three minutes of regulation came with less than 8 seconds left on the shot clock. Worse yet, on the last three possessions of the fourth quarter (where they went scoreless), they didn’t even get the ball inside the three point line until there was less than six seconds left on the shot clock.
3 KEYS TO VICTORY Trust in Jonas Valanciunas. He’s got to get the ball in the low block. Yes, he struggled to finish in Game 1, but that’s over. Start Amir Johnson. While giving Tyler Hansbrough the chance to build on his recent fine play wasn’t a bad idea, Amir showed how valuable he can be at both ends of the floor. If Paul Pierce starts to heat up, make the adjustment. Whether that means a few minutes of James Johnson or going into a zone D to give Pierce no room, do something.
”You’ve just got to embrace it,” said Pierce, who blocked Kyle Lowry’s last-second shot in Game 7 to help Brooklyn knock off the Raptors in the first round last season. ”It’s not that I’m a bad guy. That’s just the role you portray to media on the court, on the road. Everybody is booing you, no one likes you. I embrace it. It fuels me, truthfully.” Pierce saw minutes at power forward in Game 1, and that may have thrown off the Raptors. Pierce found his shot from the outside in transition and hit 7 of 10 from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range. ”It’s a unique situation having a guy like him,” coach Randy Wittman said. ”If I don’t take advantage of having a guy who’s going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer and pick his brain, then I’m not doing a very good job.” Washington lost 15 of its last 19 road games, but it has won six of seven away from home in the playoffs over the last two years. The Wizards won all three at Chicago in last year’s first round.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
The players spoke about a few things today ahead of Game 2 tomorrow, let’s see what they had to say (and what I have to say about what they have to say, because that’s how you win Pultizer Prizes).
First, we got James Johnson acknowledging that he heard the fans, was humbled, but pleads the fifth in that he’s not really calling the shots and is but a small piece of Dwane Casey’s jigsaw puzzle.
JJ heard the fans chanting for him, was humbled but does't want it to be a distraction. "I really appreciate it. But, cheer for the Raptors”
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 20, 2015
James Johnson: "When Kyle got hurt or DeMar got hurt those were when I had opportunities to play a lot. Im the fill-in. And Im OK with that”
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 20, 2015
JJ on chants for him: "I got the chills a little bit. At the same time, I don’t want that to affect guys on our bench.”
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 20, 2015
Poor guy, he’s been stifled and nobody can explain why. The issue now becomes Casey’s stubbornness, because I totally see him not playing Johnson only to be consistent. Consistently wrong, but consistent. Casey did make a ridiculous comparison of the “We Want Bruno” chants to “We Want JJ” chants, as if they were made in the same context.
Casey: "I remember one game, it was a 5-point game and everybody was (yelling) 'get Bruno in the game' and Bruno was in street clothes"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 20, 2015
Wow, is he out of touch or what? The Bruno chants were made in a 42-point blowout with the fans having a joke. The JJ chants were made in the face of Paul Pierce tearing us a new one. And this guy things they have the same context? *shudder*
Furthermore, Casey said that his options when covering Pierce were as follows:
Casey said Patterson was their first option when Pierce went to the 4, Amir was 2nd, James Johnson 3rd. Reiterated his time will come
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 20, 2015
Hmm….so this guy has Patterson (who Pierce killed last season) as #1, the immobile Amir Johnson as #2, and the ideal candidate, James Johnson as #3. Honestly, Casey needs to stop talking because every time he opens his mouth, something sillier comes out.
Casey also commented on Greivis Vasquez and his ability to fulfil his role and do what’s asked:
Casey: "He’ll run through a wall for you. Greivis will run through the wall, he won’t turn back and say, ‘What do you want me to do?’"
— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) April 20, 2015
Absolutely, he’ll run through a wall. Unless that wall happens to be a screen, in which case he’ll go under and concede an open jumper. Seriously, though, Vasquez was one of the few players that did anything noteworthy in Game 1. If there’s one thing we know that works in the Raptors offense it’s Vasquez using his size to run high screen ‘n rolls, protect the ball, and deliver a good pass. Maybe the first four plays of the second unit should be him and Johnson just two-manning Seraphin to death.
There was some reaction to Masai Ujiri’s fine, with Casey stating it was surprising and DeRozan avoiding comment altogether in fear of a fine:
Casey said he was surprised by the league's decision to fine Masai, didn't think his comments were that bad. Loves his passion
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 20, 2015
DeRozan prodded for his thoughts on Masai's comments/fine: "I ain't trying to get fined"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 20, 2015
Some reaction to Lou Williams winning the sixth man award:
DeMar on Lou: Lou Will is the coolest dude in the world. #rtz
— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) April 20, 2015
2Pat on Lou: “Drake got it right. He made the song for a reason. He predicted the future." #DrakeGotItRight
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 20, 2015
Patrick: Drake got it right. He made the song for a reason. He predicted the future. It’s a huge accomplishment for Lou. #6manlikelouwill
— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) April 20, 2015
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 20, 2015
Since the first Raptor-Wizards playoff game has been dissected to death by all the other excellent Raptor Republic writers, I thought we could look at the lighter side and view some of the texts between Raptor players, coaches, Masai Ujiri and others I happened to have come into possession of this morning.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
JAMES JOHNSON: Coach!
JAMES JOHNSON: Coach!
JAMES JOHNSON: Coach!!!
DWANE CASEY: What?
JAMES JOHNSON: Are you going to play me today?
JAMES JOHNSON: Coach?
ADAM SILVER: I thought we’d agreed you’d keep your speech clean this time,
MASAI UJIRI: I kept it clean. I didn’t say f**k.
ADAM SILVER: You said s**t,
MASAI UJIRI: I don’t think so.
ADAM SILVER: Yes, you did. I was standing ten feet away from you.
MASAI UJIRI: I don’t remember that.
ADAM SILVER: You don’t remember me standing there? You introduced me to the crowd.
MASAI UJIRI: Did they boo?
ADAM SILVER: No.
MASAI UJIRI: Are you sure?
ADAM SILVER: I’m not David Stern. Fans still like me.
MASAI UJIRI: Enjoy it. It won’t last long.
ADAM SILVER: I could say the same for you.
MASAI UJIRI: What?
ADAM SILVER: Remember Bryan Colangelo? They loved him at first, too.
MASAI UJIRI: Are you sure they didn’t boo you?
ADAM SILVER: You were there. Did you hear any boos?
MASAI UJIRI: I don’t think I was there.
ADAM SILVER: So you don’t think either you or me were there?
MASAI UJIRI: No.
ADAM SILVER: Hold on. I’m sending you a video.
MASAI UJIRI: Oh ya. I remember now. I didn’t say s**t.
ADAM SILVER: It was just blanked out.
MASAI UJIRI: No, I just didn’t say anything, so it sounded like it was blanked out.
ADAM SILVER: Whatever. We’re still fining you.
MASAI UJIRI: I think I heard boos.
JAMES JOHNSON: Coach?
JAMES JOHNSON: Coach?
JAMES JOHNSON: Coach!!
DWANE CASEY: What now?
JAMES JOHNSON: You know I can defend Pierce.
JAMES JOHNSON: Coach?
MASAI UJIRI: What’s going on with James Johnson?
DWANE CASEY: What do you mean?
MASAI UJIRI: He keeps texting me asking why he’s not playing.
DWANE CASEY: Sorry.
MASAI UJIRI: I don’t want an apology. I want you to talk to him.
DWANE CASEY: About what?
MASAI UJIRI: Why you’re not playing him.
DWANE CASEY: Matchups.
MASAI UJIRI: Didn’t you have Tyler defending Pierce in the first half?
DWANE CASEY: I didn’t want to go small.
MASAI UJIRI: Sorry. Wrong number.
MASAI UJIRI: What’s going on with James Johnson?
DWANE CASEY: We just had this conversation.
MASAI UJIRI: That was you?
DWANE CASEY: Yes.
MASAI UJIRI: And you said you didn’t want to go small?
DWANE CASEY: Right.
MASAI UJIRI: This is Dwane Casey, coach of the Raptors?
DWANE CASEY: Yes.
MASAI UJIRI: And you didn’t want to go small?
DWANE CASEY: People always accuse me of going small too quickly.
MASAI UJIRI: So you thought you’d prove them wrong in the playoffs?
DWANE CASEY: Good a time as any.
DWANE CASEY: You think I should have gone small?
MASAI UJIRI: You’re the coach.
DWANE CASEY: Yup.
MASAI UJIRI: For now.
DWANE CASEY: WHAT?????
MASAI UJIRI: Sorry. I didn’t mean to type that. My phone’s on speech-to-text.
DWANE CASEY: Oh.
DWANE CASEY: My job’s safe, though. Right?
MASAI UJIRI: Definitely.
DWANE CASEY: Whew!
MASAI UJIRI: Do you have Jeff Van Gundy’s number?
MASAI UJIRI: Never mind. James Johnson just texted it to me.
DEMAR DEROZAN: Paul Pierce just texted me a picture of himself with ‘it’ written on it.
KYLE LOWRY: What a dick.
DEMARY DEROZAN: Are you watching the Warriors-Pelicans game?
KYLE LOWRY: Yup.
DEMAR DEROZAN: Damn, GS is good.
KYLE LOWRY: Anthony Davis is having a hell of a first playoff game.
KYLE LOWRY: Think they’d trade him for Jonas?
DEMAR DEROZAN: LOL
KYLE LOWRY: Pelicans are getting smoked.
DEMAR DEROZAN: You realize that would be us if we played in the West?
KYLE LOWRY: That’s messed up.
KYLE LOWRY: Amir played well for an old man, today.
DEMAR DEROZAN: You realize he’s younger than you.
KYLE LOWRY: For realz?
DEMAR DEROZAN: Yup.
KYLE LOWRY: Man I wish we had Davis.
DEMAR DEROZAN: I wish we had Curry.
KYLE LOWRY: Yup. Wait, what?
DEMAR DEROZAN: Gotta go.
BEBE NOGUEIRA: Jonas era horrível hoje
JONAS VALANCIUNAS: ???
BEBE NOGUEIRA: Sorry. Thought you were Bruno.
DEMAR DEROZAN: Heads up. Drakes texting people to go out with him.
AMIR JOHNSON: Thanks. I’ll turn my phone off.
GREIVIS VASQUEZ: You watching Rockets game?
JONAS VALANCIUNAS: No. Just watched Paul Blart: Mall Cop
GREIVIS VASQUEZ: How was it?
JONAS VALANCIUNAS: I didn’t understand why it’s funny.
GREIVIS VASQUEZ: It wasn’t funny?
JONAS VALANCIUNAS: It must be an American thing.
GREIVIS VASQUEZ: James Harden is taking a million free throws.
JONAS VALANCIUNAS: Must be nice.
GREIVIS VASQUEZ: Maybe it’s the beard.
JONAS VALANCIUNAS: No, it’s obviously not the beard.
Playoff series are all about making adjustments. Unlike the regular season, where you have only a handful more than a dozen or so proper practices all season long and too many scattered opponents to focus in on a single target to game-plan your strategy specifically for them, the playoffs allow for a more nuanced approach to your opponent and yourself. Based on what we saw from game 1 and, really, what we’ve seen from the Raptors since Christmas, they would be best served to focus on what they’re doing instead of adjusting for the Wizards.
Dwayne Casey joked before the series started about going 1-on-1 with Randy Wittman. Regardless of how you feel about Casey, there were surely few of you who weren’t confident that Casey could beat Wittman, even if it ended up being more of a checkers match than chess. Game 1 didn’t offer any ringing endorsements from either bench. Casey’s play calling and game management were curious to say the least, while Randy Wittman spent most of a 20 second timeout trying to remember how to use a clipboard. But Wittman did make one adjustment that put the Raptors off their game-plan and proved a problem: he stopped playing two big men together and went long stretches in the second half with Paul Pierce at power forward.
A large part of the Raptors fanbase and the writers who cover them were clamoring for the Wizards in round 1 because of the matchup where they play two bigs. The Wizards rarely played small throughout the season, and often took their jumpshots from a few steps within the 3-point line. This kind of approach greatly mitigated the gaping hole in the Raptors defense: guarding small teams who work the ball around for outside shots. The nicest way to put the attitude regarding Randy Wittman around the league is that he isn’t someone people would be afraid of when considering the factors in a series. But it was foolish of the Raptors and their fans to not think that the Wizards would come in with adjustments! The book on the Raptors is clear, and it’s been out for months now. Teams looked at what the Nets did to the Raptors in the playoffs last year and started emulating that basic strategy early in January, and it often killed the Dinos.
The Raptors run everything through their guards. The first couple of actions in almost all of their offensive sets are designed to free up one of their wings to get the ball in space on the wing. The Raptors pick and rolls use the roll man as a decoy or last option far more often than a finisher. The Raptors would starve on isolation and mediocre jumpshots if not for their heavy diet of free throws. Washington looked at those factors and made simple, smart adjustments to take them away. First, knowing that everything the Raptors wanted to do was through DeRozan, Lowry or Lou Will, they did a good job of trying to deny the dribble handoffs that the Raptors love to initiate those plays with. The Raptors offense is simple, and if you make them spend 5 seconds just bringing the ball up the court and another 8 seconds just trying to get a handoff and screen on the wing that isn’t there, the Raptors will almost always devolve into a bad jump shot with time expiring or a tough isolation set. Smart teams have been doing this for months, and it was silly to think that Washington doesn’t have a scouting department.
The next thing Washington did was play the pick and roll with the knowledge that the ball handler was probably going to be the shooter. The bigs often cheated a half step towards the ball handler and many of the Raptors attempts at the pick and roll ended up looking like a guard trying to push a shot up in a two-man trap. The pick and roll is supposed to get you an open shot, not a double-team. The Raptors predictability here is a serious problem.
Pierce was the story from game 1, but it’s worth noting that Washington did not play a stellar offensive game by any stretch of the imagination. Even with the small lineup, the Wizards didn’t score at a rate that simply forced the Raptors to adjust because they couldn’t keep up. Getting caught up trying to adjust to what the other team is doing can take away from what you want to do. It’s important to try and dictate the matchup dynamics yourself. If Washington wants to play old man Pierce 37 minutes at the 4 spot, we should be ok with that, and trying to expose it. Having Patrick Patterson or another wing player hanging out on the perimeter on offense makes life easy for Pierce. Put a traditional big man out there and force Pierce to bang with him. I don’t think that Pierce can play 37 minutes a game over a whole series with Amir Johnson leaning on him and battling for position, with James Johnson driving at him and with him trying to recover as the middle man in a pick and roll. Pierce is more likely to wear down and lose the legs that he needs to make his 3s at that rate than he is when we adjust to them and let him sit on a stretch 4 type. Again, the Wizards offense was nowhere near close enough to win even a game as bad as game 1 without a lot of help from the offensive boards. It wasn’t the Wizards big men grabbing all of those late boards, they came as a result of the floor being open, the Raptors being predictably scattered and them not having a big enough lineup to clean the glass. Valanciunas played between 10 and 15 minutes less than Patterson, Amir or any of the other starters, but in his 23 minutes he was still able to handily lead the team in defensive rebound chances, per nba.com, meaning that he was in the position to grab an available defensive rebound more often than anyone else.
The Raptors don’t just need their bigs in order to rebound though, they need to play them and incorporate them into the offence. As mentioned earlier, the Raptors wings who are normally bad at involving the roll man during the season were especially bad in game 1. All 3 of the Raptors bigs scored efficiently this season when used as a roll man, putting up over a point per possession in scoring. James Johnson was one of the league leaders in this stat, and using him to cover Pierce and bend the Washington defense away from the wings could be particularly effective. The problem is that the Raptors wings don’t look for the pass enough, don’t trust the big man, or they hesitate too long looking for their shot and the defense is able to quickly take away the space. With the exception of Lou Williams, all of the Raptors guards have been between shaky and abysmal shooting as the pick and roll ball handler. DeRozan is the worst offender, averaging 0.77 points per possession as a ball handler. Compare that to Valanciunas 1.12, Amir Johnson’s 1.16 or Patrick Patterson’s 1.17 points per possession as a roll man and the difference between the two is roughly double the difference between the Philadelphia 76ers offence and the Golden State Warriors. It’s a problem! The Raptors need to trust their roll men, and they need to use them. It will score points, and doing so will open up space for Lowry, DeMar, Lou and Vasquez to drive. The Raptors also need to do whatever they can to make the Wizards defense scramble. The athletic trio of Wall, Beal and Porter were able to be patient and rely on help in swarming the Raptors wings, knowing how simple the Raps offense is. This resulted in less than 10 free throw attempts for Lowry, Williams and DeRozan combined. If that particular stat keeps up, it will be hard for the Raptors to win a single game. They need to make the defense bend away from their 3 priority scorers and ball handlers so that they can attack scrambling defenders and help defense that isn’t already set. That’s how they’ll get back to the foul line. Washington gave up an above average number of free throws during the season; the opportunity is there.
If the Raptors are going to win this series, they need to finally start addressing some of the simple and long-standing issues with their own offense. By getting into the offensive sets quicker, it will allow them the opportunity to work the ball from side to side before the shot clock forces a bad shot. If they can do this, and do so while better utilizing the roll man, they should be able to scramble Washington’s currently well set defense. That will make shots, open space, and put them back on the line. Forget old man Pierce, the Wizards are not an offensive juggernaut. But if we allow them to become a defensive one because of our own unwillingness to adapt, the series will be over all too quickly.
A Drake song and some truly stellar bench play really did the trick.
James Johnson is not a savior. He’s not a star. In some matchups, he might not even be a player you want on the floor.
But James Johnson has a very particular set of skills, skills he’s only figured out how best to use recently in his career. Skills that, when engaged and focused, can make him a nightmare for people like Paul Pierce.
It’s those skills – mainly, the ability to capably guard multiple positions on the floor, on the perimeter or on the block, with some passing and transition offense sprinkled in – that made him a target of the Raptors this offseason. General manager Masai Ujiri saw the Raptors’ lack of a defensively capable combo-forward as a weakness that needed to be filled from outside the organization, and he brought the mercurial Johnson back on a two-year, $5-million contract, this despite Johnson essentially getting booted from the team at the end of the 2011-12 season.
The gamble made sense, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of it at the time. My concern was that Johnson appears a volatile and combustible element, and adding him to a team that succeeded largely on the basis of an inexplicable chemistry seemed too risky. That hasn’t necessarily manifested itself, and Johnson has been mostly good when he’s played.
But something has obviously come up with Johnson and Casey again this season, as the red-haired, neck-tattooed Johnson has seen his minutes fluctuate wildly over the course of six months.
Some of this had to do with injuries and, I suspect, some of the late season decline had to do with Casey wanting to get Terrence Ross going as best he could ahead of the playoffs. Reserve player minutes also just happen to swing based on the flow of the season, how others are playing, how the reserve himself is playing, and so on. It was frustrating to watch a generally productive player play so little at times, but this kind of pattern is at least understandable over an 82-game season.
And as Casey said following Game 1, Johnson is somewhat of a matchup player.
There are some situations in which Johnson is far more valuable than others, and much as he’s been a net positive overall – the team was 5.8 points per-100 possessions better with him on the floor in the regular season – he does take some things off the table. He shot 21.6 percent from outside this season and is a 25.8-percent 3-point shooter for his career, making him tough to play at small forward alongside DeMar DeRozan and two non-Patrick Patterson bigs. He’s a quality rebounder for a wing, but not a particularly adept one for a power forward. He can also be frustrating on both ends, as he tends to gamble and occasionally plays outside of himself.
At the same time, he brings a lot to the table, particularly against a team who may have their own weapon playing a combo-forward role. Johnson is quick, long, athletic, strong, and versatile defensively, allowing him to guard multiple positions, switch between assignments with ease, disrupt passing and driving lanes while recovering afterward, and generally be a positive on defense (the Raptors had a 101.9 defensive rating with him on the court, better than anyone on the team save for Tyler Hansbrough).
Offensively, he’s a quality scorer and passer in transition, he can handle the ball and distribute well enough to put the ball in his hands (and, theoretically, operate some funky wing-guard pick-and-rolls), and he was the league’s very best finisher on drives this season.
Again, he’s not a star. He’s a quality role player with some flaws in his game and some specific skills, skills that were exactly what the Raptors believed they needed for another potential playoff series against a team with a Pierce, a Joe Johnson, or a LeBron James. Flawed though he may be, his Game 1 usage is mind-boggling:
Again, Johnson was brought in specifically for opponents like Pierce. In Game 1 of a playoff series against Pierce, one in which Pierce was hot offensively and several Raptors struggled to guard him, Johnson sat on the bench.
Not that Pierce, Joe Johnson, and James are identical players, but they fit the bill of hybrid forwards, the type of which the Raptors struggled against last year, and against whom Johnson is most valuable. A quick look at how they performed against the Raptors highlights Johnson’s value against this player type.
Other than whatever the heck happened to the Raptors’ defense during the Johnson-Johnson matchup, this is strong evidence in James Johnson’s favor. Joe Johnson shot much worse, he and Pierce both scored less frequently, and the team’s defense was far superior against both the Wizards and Cavs with James Johnson on the floor.
Of the 85 lineups the Raptors used for more than 10 minutes this season, 33 contained Johnson, including six of the 11 best defensive groups and 13 of the best 25. That’s against all opponents, and I’d guess that with richer data (and far more time to explore), we’d see Johnson’s groupings rise to the top against players like Pierce.
And again, the look at this data is only to confirm what was plainly obvious when Johnson was signed: He was brought in for matchups like this.
Johnson isn’t the only option on Pierce, of course. Patterson has shown himself to be a capable defender and is, for the most part, quick enough to stay with him on the perimeter. Hansbrough tries his damndest but is an exploitable check for Pierce. You don’t want to remove Amir Johnson as a rim-protector. DeRozan has been steady and has improved in the post. Ross can be disruptive and played better than expected on Saturday. Even Landry Fields would probably do a decent job on him, in the event he were to once again exist.
But if the Raptors’ best options on Pierce are listed out, James Johnson ranks number one (and for the purposes of team defense, it’s worth noting that he probably ranks number two for John Wall).
Defense wasn’t the core issue in a 93-86 overtime loss, but the Wizards worked their system better than the score or offensive rating would indicate, and they’re eventually going to knock down those shots. The quality of looks needs to be altered. And the reasons not to start Johnson – spacing and rebounding – are difficult to lean on when the team just shot 6-of-29 from outside and surrendered a third of their defensive rebounding opportunities.
You can also negate the spacing threat by playing him with Patterson and inverting their roles on offense, though that’s a risky pair for rebounding unless Valanciunas is with them. That trio was a plus-3.4 points per-100 possessions in 191 minutes on the season despite the 73.4-percent defensive rebounding rate, better than the plus-0.5 and 72-percent marks for the Johnson-Patterson-Johnson trio. In any case, playing James Johnson is workable, and it’s something Casey did plenty at times this year, to generally positive results.
This isn’t to say Johnson needs to start, or even play heavy minutes. Casey is going to want to push the offensive pace – with shooting threats – when Randy Wittman taps three or more reserves at a time, and Johnson probably isn’t going to be a part of those groups for Casey. But he should be the first wing off the bench in this series, and should see time checking Pierce at both the three and the four, because he’s their best option to do so, and it’s why he was signed in the first place.
A playoff series will see both teams go through plenty of adjustments. This one is the most plainly obvious for Tuesday.
Come and take part in the pre-game chatter over on the Raptors Republic forums and discuss Tuesday night’s match-up.
“I have no doubt that Kyle Lowry will come back and play at a level that he’s played at and has made him successful,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That’s who he is. He’s a guy who plays better with a chip on his shoulder. He’s been doubted all his life since junior high school, so I think he’ll bounce back. I don’t think shooting is where you rate him, I think making winning plays, defensive plays, draw and kick, not turning the ball over, those are the winning plays that he’s excellent at.” But it is those plays where Lowry looks flat, though. He fouled out late in the fourth quarter Saturday on a Bradley Beal jump shot off of a curl, a play Lowry totally misread. On a Raptors’ possession early in the fourth quarter, when they were down by 15 points, Lowry got the ball at the top of the key, trying to ignite his team. Instead of using his killer spin move or finding one of his teammates after drawing some attention, Lowry bowled into two Washington big men and missed a shot. For Lowry, such a calculating and cunning player at his best, it was all very aimless, and certainly flat.
Kyle Lowry knew what kind of day it was. The kind he didn’t expect to experience. He knows what he can do. He knows he can change games. He knows he can make a difference. He did none of that in Game 1. And he sat, almost an hour after overtime had ended and the Raptors had lost, with a black towel covering his head and a good deal of his body. It seemed as good a place as any to take refuge after a day like this one. There was some momentary comfort beneath the towel. There was none of that on the court in Game 1 of the NBA playoffs for the Raptors’ best player. There was only layers of doubt. “For me, personally, it’s frustrating,” said Lowry, who didn’t score much, turned the ball over, didn’t establish a whole lot of offence and fouled out with the Raptors down four points with two minutes, 36 seconds to go. “Very mad,” he said of his feelings. “And very upset. “I’ve got to do it. It’s something I’ve dealt with before. It’s not going to keep being like that. It comes with who I am. At the end of the day, a bad game is one bad game. I’ve got another (game) Tuesday.” When asked what it was like to be on the bench in overtime, unable to contribute, he answered: “It sucks. But it’s a situation I put myself in.” Lowry couldn’t find his game Saturday afternoon, which in some ways can be attributed to the kind of defence the Washington Wizards play. But with Lowry off, with DeMar DeRozan struggling, with Lou Williams missing shot after shot, the Raptors had an opposites kind of run in Game 1. Their scorers didn’t necessarily score.
If Paul Pierce is the Wizards’ leader — the last few days have been a delight with him speaking up, backing up his words with a 20-point outing on Saturday, messing with Masai Ujiri after (“I can play the psychological war a little better than he can”) and basking in the glory — Lowry is the Raptors’ engine. It’s his image emblazoned on the side of the Air Canada Centre with his arm on DeMar DeRozan’s shoulder, not the other way around. It’s time for him to hold serve. Lowry knows it, so when the ball goes up on Tuesday, Lowry intends to come out running, if not gunning. He’s not putting pressure on himself to score, but he is putting pressure on himself to lift the Raptors with his energy and pace. The Raptors only had six fast break points on four attempts, which is about half of what they managed in the regular season. The Raptors don’t play at a particularly fast pace this season as they ranked 21st in the NBA, but need to play faster than slower. “Honestly our tempo has to be different,” he said. “We have to play our game. I think yesterday we really bogged down and played too slow. That started with me from the beginning of the game. I should have been pushing more and pushing the pace.”
But sitting, and losing, is never fun. After the game, Lowry sat alone on the bench, head in his hands. “Super difficult,” Lowry said, when asked to describe what the final minutes of Game 1were like for him. “Just fouling out in general. Not being able to be myself and helping my teammates is definitely more frustrating than I wanted it to be. But that’s Game 1, you learn from your mistakes and you get better. That’s what the playoffs is about, adjustments.” The Raptors have defeated the Wizards six times in the past two seasons, but the two losses have followed a similar pattern: Lowry fouls out, the game goes beyond regulation.
Paul Pierce torched the Raptors with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting (4-for-7 from downtown) in Game 1 and six of those shots (five makes) were uncontested. Johnson plays the same position as Pierce and is known as a defensive stopper, yet the matchup wasn’t “special” enough to get him on the floor? And Johnson might be known as a specialist on defence, but his driving game is also an important part of the Raptors’ offence and is often overlooked. He led the Raptors in both field goal percentage (63.7 percent) and points per 48 minutes (8.4) on drives this season, easily one of the league’s best in both cases. With the Raptors “having trouble with outside shots” (6-for-29 from downtown), putting him into the game to facilitate attacking the basket wasn’t even considered? Throw in the fact that Johnson grabs 10.8 percent of available rebounds when he’s on the floor, compared to Ross’ 6.2, and Casey’s explanation for gluing Johnson to the bench goes from head-scratching to simply infuriating. When you lose a game because you couldn’t contain Paul Pierce, you got embarrassingly out-rebounded, and your offence was inefficient, you can’t say that your team’s best wing defender, rebounder, and most efficient driving option didn’t fit the matchup. Casey’s adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2 will be heavily scrutinized. Ross’ development is very important to the team and its future, but it’s not worth losing in the present. If he doesn’t have it during the playoffs just yet, the Raptors will simply have to find someone that does.
By pretty much any advanced metric, James Johnson was one of the 5 best Raptors this season. The entire reason he was brought to this team last summer was to guard big wings that Terrence Ross couldn’t handle (like, oh…I don’t know…Paul Pierce?), but he’s contributed in more ways than ever imagined. Look where Ross is on all of those metrics. Now look at where James Johnson is. Ross started yesterday and got 22 minutes. James Johnson had 0. When asked about it after the game, Casey shrugged it off by saying that he’s a “Matchup player”. It’s sad when a coach doesn’t know who his best players are. The only time I can remember where my opinion on a player or coach changed so much over a year as it has with Dwane Casey is when Andrew Bynum flagrantly took out JJ Barea in the playoffs several years ago. I loved Casey last year. The defensive mindset that he instilled was great and he seemed to be a good leader. Now his inflexibility is putting a ceiling on how far the Toronto Raptors can go in the playoffs. I don’t like calling for anyone’s head, but if he can’t properly evaluate the talent he has on the floor, then the team needs to get a coach that can
There is another way of defending Washington’s small ball lineup. PLAY FREAKING JAMES JOHNSON. It seemed like Dwane Casey decided before the playoffs to shorten the rotation and not play James Johnson. I get that Casey didn’t think Johnson would’ve made a difference in this game, maybe he’s right. But don’t you have to see if he can play? The Raptors were down by 15 at some point. At that point, you just have to try stuff. I’m not saying Johnson would’ve been a difference maker in Game 1, but Casey should have considered playing him at power forward, and see if he could make a difference. Luckily for the Raptors, it was only Game 1.
“We need to make some adjustments and we will,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “But we’re not going to scrap the offence and go to a different offence. We’re not going to scrap the defence and go to a different defence. “It may be a matchup. It may be which way we force a guy. It may be a subtle way of changing the size of the floor with our offensive plays to get better spacing. Different things, little subtleties like that.” But to try to do more would be a panic move and Casey is not panicking. He knows his team got pounded on the offensive boards during their series-opening 93-86 loss to the Wizards at the ACC. He knows his team got caught over-helping on a few plays. All of that was addressed Sunday and, as the Raptors have shown both this season and in the playoffs last year, they are a team that is good at making adjustments. As for coming up with an answer to the Wizards’ impressive job of holding Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams to a collective 26% shooting night from the field on Saturday, the answer lies in setting the pace. “We have to get out and get in transition and shoot the shots we normally take,” Lowry said. “For me, I have to start off the game with a faster pace and getting up and down a little bit more.”
“When people say making adjustments is when I laugh,” Casey said yesterday after the Raptors had a film and relaxed work session at the Air Canada Centre. “Going all the way to the championship (as a Dallas Mavericks assistant in 2011) we changed very little, maybe a substitution and we still won. “That’s when I laugh when people say, ‘He beat him because he made 50 adjustments.’ You can’t do that. I’m not that smart by the way. I don’t know what coach is.”
After the game, Pierce let it be known that he was happy to embrace the role of “villain” in this series for the Toronto fan base but he added that he has a ton of respect for the crowd – and noise – north of the border. He said the Raptors’ faithful are among the best and loudest he’s ever had to deal with. But the outcome of this game was about far more than Paul Pierce. Toronto’s defence held Washington to just over 39 per cent from the floor. It was finishing plays. It was offensive rebounds (19-10 for the Wizards) and second-change points. It was decision-making. All of that did-in the Raptors. “They had 20 second-chance points. That’s the game,” said Raptors head coach, Dwane Casey. “It’s not just our big guys, it’s everybody. We start watching when a shot goes up. We have to get in and clean up the boards. We know that. “Until we make it a priority it’s going to be hard for us.”
“What he’s doing is motivating his team, talking trash, so why would we talk trash?,” Vasquez asked. “We don’t have any trash-talkers in our locker room. So, you know, he does what he does. We respect that. We give him a lot of credit. He’s got big balls.” “Good for him,” Vasquez said. “We love his game. I’m a big fan. I’ve got a picture of him, too. He’s an animal. So that’s it. We’ve just gotta play. Paul Pierce is going to be Paul Pierce. I think that you guys have gotta stop asking all of us questions about Paul Pierce. Let him do the talking, and we’ll see at the end who’s going to win the series.”
Pierce would refer to Ujiri as “Yuri.” Last year, he confused him with former GM Bryan Colangelo – who’s a tall white guy from Arizona, while Ujiri is a tall black guy from Nigeria. No one’s that stupid. Least of all Pierce. After he’d won the first encounter for the Wizards, Pierce was told about Ujiri’s comments. He smiled. “I think I can play the psychological war a little better than him.” He’s right. Few have ever played it better. Pierce is a great player, and a much greater provocateur. At 37 years old, the latter is compensating for any slips in the former. By Sunday, the Raptors were furiously trying to defuse the figurative bomb in their midst.
While a 3-4 record is not outstanding, two of the defeats came by a single point and it sure beats the 1-7 mark in openers, following Saturday’s loss against Washington. Toronto is 2-0 at home in the second game of a playoff series. Here is how every Game 2 has gone down:
Nene and Marcin Gortat are beasts in the paint. And yes Drew Gooden is a wily, old veteran with size on his side as well. But giving up 19 offensive boards in a game and finding a way to win are pretty much mutually exclusive events. Unless the Raptors rebounding improves, not even a solid defensive effort like Saturday’s is going to save them. The good news is the Raptors talked about it ad nauseum after the game and again Sunday and are tweaking things to ensure that the second and sometimes third chances these offensive boards led to are cut down drastically. It’s going to start with the Raptors bigs but the guards are going to have to do their part too. Keeping themselves between the basket and their man or as Casey describe it Sunday: “It’s about putting your forearm in somebody’s chest, getting your butt in their knees and going to get the ball.”
“I have the deepest respect for Commissioner (Adam) Silver and the NBA, and while showing passion for our team and fans I will choose my words more carefully in the future so as not to indicate otherwise,” Ujiri said in a statement. “I apologize and have acknowledged the fine with the Commissioner. I consider the matter closed.”
Ujiri’s salary is about $3 million a year, and these fines are probably worth it to him for how much they endear him to the Raptors’ fanbase. You want a GM who will stick up for your team publicly. It was also the absolute right move for the league to fine him for it.
Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Masai Ujiri has been fined $35,000 by the NBA for using the word ‘shit’ when addressing fans prior to game 1. No word on yet whether he got the notification on his Blackberry Passport, but if he did, he probably swiped left on that thing since MLSE would pay the bill anyway and that’s just how Masai rolls.
In addition, the Raptors were fined $25,000 because, well, because Adam Silver’s trying to pay off this mortgage which just won’t go away. Just joking, all fines go to a charity or something. That something being Adam Silver’s mortgage.
Here’s Ujiri addressing fans:
The exact language was:
“People want me to say something about Paul Pierce but, we don’t give a shit about ‘it’”
The real reason this fine happened was that Rod Black snitched to Adam Silver during halftime of Game 1.
The full quotes from today’s media availability will be in tomorrow’s Morning Coffee (which we’re considering renaming to Morning Shot of Hard Liquor) but here’s some select quotes and a reaction to those quotes, since embedding Tweets alone does not make for Pulitzer Prize winning journalism.
We had Grevis Vasquez putting an end to the Paul Pierce talk, and soon after, the talk shifted to basketball matters.
Patterson: "I sense they're trying to win the psychological war but as far as physicality, no. I don't think they're more physical than us"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 19, 2015
Depends on how you define physicality. If it’s in muscle and strength, then yes, Washington is more physical than us. But if you define it in terms of…um…say…like…who can open a jar of pickle first, then that’s up in the air. On a more serious note, jars of pickle can be quite a pain and it’s no shame if your girl hands you one to open, and you struggle and sweat.
Maybe Patterson’s referencing whether the Raptors are willing to get down and dirty with the Wizards in the paint, and in that sense, I agree. The Raptors aren’t afraid to get physical and compete on the glass, it’s just that they have a strength disadvantage which they have to overcome through energy and tactics, which didn’t happen in Game 1. Patterson, in fact further clarified:
2Pat: "We know that they are a stronger, taller team than we are. We have to use our youth … and energy to our advantage."
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 19, 2015
Casey was asked about the whole Hansbrough/Pierce matchup and whether he knew what was going on:
Casey: "i didn't get off the last potato truck. I knew Paul Pierce was at the four."
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 19, 2015
Awesome. So he consciously had Hansbrough guard Patterson. I would’ve settled for an answer like, “Yeah, that happened way too quickly and we didn’t adapt well enough”. That would’ve made more sense.
Here we have some quotes about the Raptors wanting to run in Game 2:
"I think we really bogged down and played too slow," Lowry says.
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 19, 2015
Casey and Lowry want team to run more. "Push the ball push the tempo. That's on all of us."
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 19, 2015
Casey on pace: “Once you secure the ball, that’s when you say, ‘giddy up, let’s go.’”
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 19, 2015
Casey and Lowry want team to run more. "Push the ball push the tempo. That's on all of us."
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 19, 2015
In theory, great idea. In practice, not so much. Mostly because the Raptors were 24th in the league in taking care of defensive rebounds, which isn’t conducive to running, and going up against a Washington fronline that places an emphasis on rebounding, it’s hard to see how the Raptors can run on the Wizards. And running usually implies that your’e OK with an open game, which would favour Washington just based on the fact that they have the fastest end-to-end ball-handler in the league in John Wall.
Up next we got Kyle Lowry who was asked about Beal waving goodbye to him:
Lowry on Beal's wave goodbye: "I woulda done the same thing. When you get 1 of the best players off the court you should be happy about it"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 19, 2015
Like the confidence, Kyle, but when you go 2-10 and were the worst defender on the night, might not want to talk about who’s best. Lowry will play better simply because he can’t play any worse. His coach seems to see it that way as well:
Casey expresses no doubt Lowry will play at a better level from here on out. Thrives on doubt.
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 19, 2015
Having Lowry guard Beal obviously backfired even though Ross on Wall worked to an extent. Hindsight is 20/20, but going back and looking at Bradley Beal’s movements, anybody checking him would be exhausted after a couple possessions because Beal’s movements have been Rip Hamiltonesque. Maybe the focus shifts to conserving Lowry’s energy instead of hiding him against Wall, who you have to expend less energy to guard.
Before we sign-off, here’s Zach Lowe succinctly summing up Ujiri:
Masai Ujiri cursing before playoff series is one instance away from becoming like Undertaker winning at WM: have to do it out of expectation
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) April 19, 2015
I didn’t like Ujiri’s comments, because they may sound great in the 15 seconds after he says them in front of a raucous crowd, but as soon as you step back and think about it, it helps Washington and distracts everyone from the game and puts the focus on an individual.
Meh, let’s see what Game 2 offers. Neither team could play much worse, hopefully the Raptors find their way.
Greivis Vasquez has come out and said the most sensible thing in the world.
I keep getting sucked into it. I get overly excited for the moment and then have to sit through one of the least enjoyable playoff basketball games in recent memory. We took the game to overtime but certainly didn’t deserve to extend it to extra time.
Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with a list of positives from the game. It’s a lot harder than one would think. Just look at this:
This is the coach who just out strategized Dwane Casey. He can’t even figure out how to hold the whiteboard, even though a basketball court looks the same from either side of the court. Watch it again and focus in on Bradley Beal’s face. Deep confusion. So before we try to find any semblance of a positive spin on this game, let’s take a look at what all went horribly wrong:
- Lowry fouled out of what may have been his worst game of the season. He fought hard on the boards, finishing with 8 rebounds on the afternoon, but was atrocious in every other facet of the game. He made dangerous passes, shot just 2-of-10 from the field (0-for-4 from three), committed 3 turnovers to offset his 4 assists, ended the night with just 7 points, and was -9. Craptastic performance.
- DNP-CD: James Johnson. Casey after the game said that “James will play in a matchup situation.” If Pierce playing power forward isn’t a ‘match-up situation’ then I don’t know what is
- Casey was outmaneuvered by Randy Wittman. Randy!!! Wittman!!!
- The Raptors played their worst possible game and still managed to force overtime. This sounds like a positive, but the Wizards also played their worst possible game. As much as we can say the Raptors can’t play worse, the same can be said for the Wizards. Beal shot just 1-for-7 from three and 6-for-23 from the floor, and Wall shot 5-for-18.
- Washington had a rebounding advantage of 13, with the rebounding differential being much worse for the majority of the game. They also played tough defence for the majority of the game. Shooting can come and go, but defence and rebounding can easily be carried forward from game-to-game.
- Terrence Ross thinks they Raptors played a good game…this is a scary thought.
“We played well,” said Terrence Ross, who may think he is orbiting Mercury
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) April 18, 2015
- The Raptors are 0-2 after Masai Ujiri curses publicly at an opponent.
Now for the positives:
- Valanciunas has a defensive rating of 85.5 (second only to Hansbrough’s 84.2) and was the only player with a net rating anywhere near positive (-0.7, with DeRozan being second with a net rating of -5.1). For a man who still struggles so regularly defending the pick and roll well, that number is astounding. He also chipped in 8 rebounds in just 24 minutes of action.
- DeRozan, despite shooting just 6-for-20 in Game 1, produced in a variety of different ways. He led the team in 5 free throws, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists. A few of his shots weren’t great selections, but the majority are shots that he could regularly hit. He attacked Pierce off the dribble to try to use his speed as an advantage, while also trying to post-up and shoot over the smaller Beal.
- Patterson’s three point shot was falling, as he hit 2 from long range.
- Terrence Ross played effective defense on John Wall for stretches. I’m hoping that Casey gives this an extended try during game two, but am worried that Ross was only given the opportunity due to Lowry being in foul trouble for most of the game.
- Despite the Raptors being 0-2 after Ujiri publicly curses at an opponent, I still love it. He even did it this time with the Adam Silver standing beside the stage. The man will do what he thinks needs to be done, and that is a good sign moving forward.
- Vasquez was good? Colour me surprised. He wasn’t exploited terribly, and mostly took reasonable shots. He was easily our best point guard…which is bad. Sorry I reverted into the negative for a second.
- The Raptors had 5 players score in double figures (Vasquez, Lou, Pat-Pat, Amir, and DeMar).
- The Air Canada Centre didn’t spontaneously combust.
- I work Tuesday night and will therefore miss watching Game 2.
But once again, I will manage to talk myself into being excited for game 2. It’s one of the joys of sports. Game 1 was as ugly and unpleasant as it possibly could have been, but that can change. Casey and the Raptors could come with a strategy that will change the series in their favour.
Or it could be much the same as game 1 and I could console myself after the game by eating the other half of the block of cheese.
Kyle Lowry’s wild decision making and Paul Pierce at the four really hurt the Raptors in Game 1.
“We don’t give a shit about it.”
Most thought Masai Ujiri was talking about Paul Pierce’s pre-series comments when he made that rallying cry in Jurassic Park on Saturday but as it turns out, Ujiri was talking about defensive rebounding.
There were a lot of things wrong with the Toronto Raptors performance in Game 1, but their work on their own glass is as good a place as any to start. The team’s steady decline on defense was a topic of discussion late in the year, and as it turns out, a possession doesn’t end until the defense secures the rebound, something the Raptors were wholly incapable of on Saturday. The Washington Wizards grabbed 19 offensive boards – a third of those available to them – an issue that plagued Toronto in several late-season games. The Raptors finished the season grabbing 73.3 percent of opponent misses, 25th in the league and a far cry from their top-10 mark a season ago (75.2 percent). The Wizards aren’t even a particularly adept offensive rebounding unit, grabbing 24.9 percent of their own misses, right in the middle of the pack.
Bleeding offensive rebounds is a bad look for a team purporting to want to figure out their defense and step up for the playoffs. Their woes (WOES) in that area in Game 1 are also a nice avatar for the game overall, where the Raptors played well enough at times (early, late) but had long and frustrating lapses (the entire middle, overtime). Stops, and then rebounds lost. Gaps closed, and then widened again. Nine-tenths of what’s needed to get the job done.
Nene did the most damage on the glass with seven rebounds, but it’s Paul Pierce who, naturally, grabbed headlines with his 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. The effectiveness of both players actually speaks to a concerning bit of out-coaching on the part of Randy Wittman, whose last name is a laughably poor descriptor of him as a coach. This guy made better adjustments on the fly than Dwane Casey:
Casey’s initial gameplan wasn’t too objectionable, even if you’re not a big Tyler Hansbrough fan. The Raptors wanted to play tough defense early with the Wizards’ two traditional bigs in the starting lineup, and then get their offense going when reserves began to come in, pushing the pace and exploiting Washington’s perceived lack of depth (they would ultimately play four reserves together for long stretches and survive).
That worked early on, but once Wittman realized that Pierce is a bigger issue for the Raptors at the four than he is at the three, the team’s defense went awry. Patrick Patterson only occasionally got the Pierce assignment, Hansbrough gave a solid effort but isn’t quite good enough, Amir Johnson shouldn’t be asked to come away from the rim (leaving nobody as a rim protector in the process) like that, and the Raptors realized far too late that a better bet would have been a wing on Pierce at the four and Patterson (or Hansbrough) on Otto Porter, who had a really solid game but isn’t going to exploit a one-on-one mismatch like Pierce.
Wizards lineups that had Pierce and a single traditional big were plus-1 in 17 minutes, but that doesn’t do the tinkering justice – Pierce and Kevin Seraphin were a -8 in three minutes as a frontcourt, while Pierce with Nene, Marcin Gortat or as the de facto center went plus-nine in 14 minutes. Seraphin was kind of an odd choice in the rotation over Kris Humphries, who’s a better defender and played pretty well this year, but I’d have to defer to someone from the Wizards camp as to why and how Seraphin got ahead of him in the rotation. So, yeah, hope Pierce gets paired with Seraphin often, because otherwise he was steady killing Toronto.
At least we got this:
This, on the other hand, probably only serves to fuel The Truth. The better option may be to cheer him and confuse him.
It’s really too bad that a player like Pierce didn’t hurt the Raptors in last year’s playoffs, resulting in the team signing a defensive-minded combo-forward who could help in such situations. You know, a “matchup player” who could be deployed for the exact matchup he was hired for, even if he has been somewhat erratic down the stretch of the season. But nope, nobody like that on the Raptors.
Seriously, James Johnson needs to play, like, yesterday. He’s the team’s best defensive option on Pierce and may be the team’s best option on John Wall, too, when Lowry decides to play the gambler rather than a more steady defense, like he did Saturday. More on Lowry in a second, but not even playing Johnson a handful of minutes to try to slow Pierce was inexcusable.
The key reasons not to use Johnson – spacing and rebounding – weren’t good excuses in Game 1, because the Raptors shot 6-of-29 from outside and got bled to death on the glass, anyway. It’s not as if Hansbrough’s a spacing piece, either, and Patterson has been so cold for two months that the Wizards often gambled off of him to snuff out pick-and-rolls on the strong side. Johnson has to play in Game 2, because the Wizards are definitely going to go back to Pierce at the four plenty. It doesn’t hurt that Johnson’s one of the team’s best transition defenders, too, another area where the Raptors were woefully lacking (the Wizards won the fast break points battle 13-6).
It may seem strange to be stressing about the defensive side of the ball after a 93-86 overtime loss that saw the Wizards average 0.97 points per-possession, a respectable mark for a defense. But the Wizards missed a lot of pretty easy looks, and the final score really doesn’t do justice to how well they played. Their offense is by no means pretty, and Wall and Bradley Beal in particular had poor shooting games, but Washington was able to get a lot of the looks they seek out, they just didn’t knock down shots.
That’s a concern moving forward – the Wizards won a game in which their offense wasn’t producing despite myriad second chances – but the same can be said of the Raptors.
Toronto’s key players – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Lou Williams shot a combined 12-of-46 – will play the “they’ll fall next time” card or something of that ilk, and the same shots may very well fall. This offense is based on the preternatural ability of those three players to score (or get fouled) one-on-one or out of very simple action, and at this juncture you kind of have to dance with the one that brought you. The offense isn’t changing much now, even if it would be well-served by a few more passes and a little less dribble-dribble-fire.
The Raptors ranked dead last in the NBA in percentage of field goal attempts set up by a potential assist, something that should surprise exactly nobody. Against a defense as good as Washington’s – and they played very well defensively – that kind of stagnancy, simplicity, and lack of creativity just makes things too easy. Williams is Williams, and that can be really good and really bad (yesterday’s shot selection was mostly the latter). The Wizards have plenty of decent-to-good defenders to throw at DeRozan, who needs to stay in attack mode. And Lowry, well, I’m not sure we’ve seen Lowry play a worse two-way game healthy than we did Saturday. His fouling out was actually the impetus for not only Beal’s breakout moment as a villain in this series, but also for the team’s fourth-quarter comeback.
Because, just as everyone knew would happen, Greivis Vasquez stepped up when it mattered most.
Look, nobody is going to confuse Vasquez for the player he was for long stretches last year. He’s had a mostly terrible season despite finally being healthy, he’s watched his role in the offense decline precipitously thanks to the presence of Williams, he barely sniffs the court in clutch situations, and he’s seemed generally unhappy with his lot in life. There’s a strong argument to make that he’s no longer worth having on the floor in Casey’s pet three-point guard lineup (-5 in 10 minutes), because teams just stick their worst defender on him and the Raptors only use him to spot up. He’s more useful with just one of the other guards, helping spread the floor horizontally with dual pick-and-roll options, but even then he’s struggled to score.
But the beauty of Vasquez is that despite the performance decline and decrease in role, he still thinks he’s peak Kobe Bryant, he still believes he should have the ball in his hands with the game on the line, and he maintains the ability to knock down insane pull-up threes, with the gall to shimmy afterward.
The fact that the Raptors clawed back from a 15-point deficit to be in the game enough for Vasquez’s heroics speaks to their strength as a team and the general never-say-die demeanor they’ve put forth the last two years. It also speaks to Washington’s inability to close out games, and I remain confused as to why Wittman opted for Beal-run pick-and-rolls when Wall was being guarded by Williams. It’s nice to know for future games that there’s little reason to count the Raptors out entirely until the final buzzer sounds (or until overtime starts, apparently, and the Raptors forget everything that led to their comeback).
Looking ahead to Game 2, it’s easy to talk yourself into optimism or pessimism. The Raptors played a terrible two-way game and still managed to take Washington to overtime. They’ll play better, probably a lot better, and heading to Washington tied 1-1 is hardly a death knell. While Casey can be a stubborn in-game coach, he’s shown a willingness and an ability to make between-game adjustments, and there’s little choice but to trust the Raptors will be better prepared Tuesday. At the same time, the Wizards missed a ton of good looks, found holes in the Raptors’ overall gameplan, and their best player, like Toronto’s, played below his usual standard. They’d be entirely justified entering Game 2 with a ton of confidence, too.
I’m choosing to take the optimistic side. The start to this series feels painfully similar to last year’s, but the Raptors are a bit more experienced and a bit more talented than they were then. Casey’s been through this process before, and guys like Lowry and DeRozan know how to handle the ebbs and flows of an up-and-down battle. Plus, there’s little choice but to keep yourself psyched up, as a player or a fan.
Game 1 was concerning, and incredibly frustrating, but it’s one game. There’s still plenty of time. Keep the faith.
Washington’s big men were doing exactly what we feared they would. The Raps don’t have the heft to hold these guys off the glass. Nene, Drew Gooden and Marcin Gortat grabbed 11 offensive rebounds to the Raps’ 2. With DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry a combined 4 of 13, there were a lot of boards to grab the other way, but our guys didn’t pull them down. Greivis Vasquez moved the ball well enough, but his lack of quickness was exposed. He took no shots in 12+ minutes as the fired-up Wiz were all over him. Paul Pierce wasn’t troubled by the verbal commentary from the crowd, as he scored 10 points in Q2, including a pair of long balls. The Raps were behind by four at the break, having surrendered the 4-point margin they held after 12 minutes.
Offense: B+ If I wrote this report at the end of the third quarter, the grade would not be so generous. The first half of ball was a fairly even match-up (as predicted). Patrick Patterson showed up in front of his former Kentucky coach John Calipari with 10 points off the bench. Joining Pat in the “Slightly more immune to criticism” club is Amir Johnson, who recorded eight points in the first half and finished the contest with 18. Aside from the bigs, Lowry and DeRozan put up just six points apiece at the break. As Raptor fans undoubtedly know, low energy from the backcourt bleeds into the rest of the starters and proves detrimental to offensive output. Terrence Ross shot 0-6 from deep. That should tell you enough about his decision making in this one. Jonas Valanciunas was active in the early minutes, getting deep post position against Marcin Gortat but putting up just two points at halftime.
It might be hard to believe, but there is a reason why we’re sitting on the couch while Randy Wittman is on the sideline. Regardless of whether you believe it or not, the man is doing something right even if it’s not pretty. What concerned me after our victory in Game 1 is how people are trying to find other things to bash Wittman about: -Inability to draw a play at crunch time -4th Quarter Collapse (criticism deserved) -A step late when calling timeouts -An offense scheme that rivals the era of the Raptors themselves -A laundry list of other failures people will gladly mention in the comment section.
Greivis Vasquez walked across the floor of the Raptors dressing room, glanced back at an area congregated by reporters and then said to one in particular: “They shot 35%.” It was an imperfect — but telling — comment for an imperfect beginning to the playoffs for the Raptors. It was just off the mark. The entire afternoon was. The game. The atmosphere inside the Air Canada Centre looked and sounded like a choir of missed notes. Almost everything about the Raptors seemed just a little off Saturday. Kyle Lowry knew what kind of day it was. The kind he didn’t expect to experience.
“I don’t mind playing the role of underdog or villain or whatever you guys want to call it,” Pierce said after the game. “I’m out here just trying to help my team win. Trying to get the mental edge. Just a veteran presence. Anything I can give them, I have a lot of experience in this game I’ve been around a long time, been in every situation you an probably think of. I’m trying to give us an edge somehow.” “If that’s the role you’re going to play, you’ve just got to embrace it. It’s not that I’m a bad guy. Everybody knows I’m a good guy off the court. That’s the role you probably portray to the media, on the court, on the road, everybody is booing you, nobody likes you. I embrace it and it fuels me.”
Bradley Beal scored 16 points on 6-for-23 shooting Saturday. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post) TORONTO –Paul Pierce has repeated the refrain since he arrived in Washington: The Washington Wizards will go only as far as John Wall and Bradley Beal take them. The young, dynamic guards are the franchise cornerstones, the duo selected to shepherd the organization out of a dark epoch, and the biggest reason why Pierce viewed the District as a desirable landing spot. But the Wizards needed to find their way without the guards’ best work on Saturday and they did, overcoming their shooting struggles in a 93-86 Game 1 overtime winover the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. For the second straight year, Wall and Beal began the playoffs with forgettable performances. Last spring they netted a combined 29 points on 7-for-25 shooting in Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls. On Saturday, they were worse, compiling 26 points on a ghastly 11-for-41 effort, missing a variety of open looks near and far from the basket. “It’s always tough because you want to make every shot,” said the 21-year-old Beal, who scored 16 points on 6-for-23 shooting. “I think the toughest one are the ones when you are wide open, the ones that you make every day in practice or in shoot-around in general. We know that for this team to win we have to step up.” While Wall and Beal weren’t at their best offensively, they helped stifle the Raptors’ own standout back court. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were nearly as inefficient, combining to post 22 points on 8-for-30 shooting. “It’s not just scoring, it’s defensively and I think we both did that,” said Beal, who compiled nine rebounds and six assists. “I think we did a good job of rebounding, moving the ball when we had the opportunity to because they doubled the pick-and-rolls. We just played our game, let the game come to us and just played within the flow.”
The bigger problem for Toronto wasn’t anything Pierce said, but how he played. The 37-year-old changed the game in the first half after being moved to the four position — just as he did with the Brooklyn Nets in their first-round series against the Raptors last season — and scored 10 of his game-high 20 points in the second quarter. That outburst mattered in a low-scoring game that saw both teams shoot less than 40 percent from the field on the day. Toronto saw particular scoring struggles, with key players DeMar DeRozan (15 points on 6-of-20 FG) and Lou Williams (10 points on 4-of-16 FG) playing inefficiently. But the true nightmare belonged to point guard Kyle Lowry, who shot 2-of-10 for seven points and fouled out in just 33 minutes (although his counterpart John Wall also had a poor game with 10 points on 5-of-18 shooting). Lowry was deservedly voted to his first All-Star Game this February but fell off considerably in the second half of the season while dealing with a back injury. He will need to play far better if the Raptors hope to win this series.
Playoff basketball is about toughness, both of the physical and mental variety. Casey knows that, his team is coming to understand it, but talk is cheap. “That was the game,” he said roughly four hours later. Toronto had just fallen 93-86 in overtime. The Raptors, not unlike the Wizards in many ways, had been all kinds of awful. Neither team could buy a bucket or produce anything resembling a coherent offence for most of the afternoon. None of the featured guards, on either side, made much of an impact. The list goes on but, rightly so, Casey kept going back to the top of it. Rebounding. “We talked about it,” he continued. “And it’s not just our big guys, it’s everybody. We start watching when the shot goes up and we’ve got to get in and clean up the boards. We know that. It’s been an issue. We do a good job, we don’t do a good job. So we’ve got to get consistent with it. And until we make it a priority it’
Wizards Killer, Lou Williams, led Toronto’s late finish by drilling two long range 3-pointers, causing familiar angst among Washington fans. Greivis Vasquez tied the game up on a deep three with 20 seconds left in regulation. His celebratory wiggle would have made Antoine Walker blush. After a predictable Wall isolation jumper failed, Toronto threw up a lob from the side of the court on an inbounds play with .4 seconds remaining that was almost tipped in by Otto Porter. If the Wizards lost a playoff game by their own player, poor Otto would have been enshrined in the Shaqtin’ a Fool Hall of Fame. Exhale….
“I’ve been in a lot of tough environments,” Pierce told USA TODAY Sports. “This is right up there at the top. Even last year when we won the series, I didn’t want to come back to Toronto and be in this environment. It’s a tough place to play in. “You’ve got to love these moments. These type of buildings that support their team. It was one of the best crowds I’ve ever been a part of on the road. It’s something that drives me. I enjoy going and getting a win on the road more than I do at home.” The 17-year NBA veteran proved the crowd didn’t bother him with his performance. Pierce made seven of 10 shots in a little more than 36 minutes of floor time. That included four 3-pointers, the most meaningful of which came at the beginning of overtime to put his team up 85-82.
“I’ve been in a lot of tough environments,” Pierce told USA TODAY Sports. “This is right up there at the top. Even last year when we won the series, I didn’t want to come back to Toronto and be in this environment. It’s a tough place to play in. “You’ve got to love these moments. These type of buildings that support their team. It was one of the best crowds I’ve ever been a part of on the road. It’s something that drives me. I enjoy going and getting a win on the road more than I do at home.” The 17-year NBA veteran proved the crowd didn’t bother him with his performance. Pierce made seven of 10 shots in a little more than 36 minutes of floor time. That included four 3-pointers, the most meaningful of which came at the beginning of overtime to put his team up 85-82.
“Typical Uri,” said Pierce, mispronouncing the general manager’s name either by accident or for show. “You heard what he said last year when I was in Brooklyn. I could really care less. I think I can play the psychological war a little bit better than him.” Ujiri, with his light profanity, was on brand. And so were the Raptors. Despite a late comeback, the Raptors played a poor overall game, and they did so in a lot of the same ways that they failed over the final few months of the year.
“I was aggressive; I didn’t shy away from a lot of shots I’m used to taking,” said Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan. “We missed a lot of easy shots as a team.” Beal contributed 16 for Washington, while Wall was held to 10. Amir Johnson was Toronto’s leading scorer with 18, while DeRozan had 15, and Vasquez, Williams and Patrick Patterson each had 10. Lowry had seven on 2-of-10 shooting. James Johnson didn’t get into the game. “Believe me, I heard people yelling to put James in, but who do you take out?,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “There will be a place for James in this series, and I’ve talked to him about that.” At the end of the day, being out-rebounded 61-48 stung Toronto. Allowing opponents too many second-chance baskets has been a lingering issue, and that surfaced again, as Washington grabbed 19 offensive boards.
As expected, Randy Wittman made some changes to his rotations to start the playoffs, but not all the ones we were anticipating. He went to a stretch four early, but it was Drew Gooden in tandem with Nene, rather than the Pierce-Gortat pairing many were expecting to see. But in fairness to Wittman, his hand may have been forced by Gortat picking up two early fouls, so that decision was understandable. The more confusing decision was opting to go with a lineup that featured four reserves (Sessions, Porter, Gooden and Seraphin) for the early minutes of the second quarter. As you’d expect Patrick Patterson destroyed that lineup until Wittman went to the Wizards’ White Whale lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Paul Pierce and Marcin Gortat. As you’d expect, the lineup delivered the spacing the Wizards needed, and unleashed Pierce in a role where he can be an effective scorer. The lineup was a +12 in the first half and guided the Wizards to halftime with a four point lead.
This was why the Wizards went out and got Paul Pierce. He led all scorers with 20 points and the Wizards stole game one in Toronto in overtime, 93-86. Toronto made a huge comeback late to send the game into OT, but Washington shut the door in the extra session, outscoring Toronto 11-4 to get the victory. Clutch veteran performances and outstanding defense were the story of the day for Washington. Pierce and Nene, two guys who played precious few minutes down the stretch, showed they were well rested as they starred for Washington. Pierce got hot when they needed him most and ended up leading all scorers with 20 points on 7/10 shooting, including 4/7 from deep, while Nene set the tone for the game early and finished with a double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds). Washington’s defense was in command for the vast majority of the day, as they held the likes of Lowry, Derozan, and Williams in check. Toronto averaged 104 points per game during the regular season, and managed just 86
What went well for the Wizards: Much like last year’s opening playoff game, Bradley Beal and John Wall struggled on and off, leaving it to the old guys, Nene (12 points, 13 rebounds) and Paul Pierce (20 points on 7-for-10 shooting), to bail out the Wizards with timely shots. The sharpshooting Pierce knocked down four of Washington’s six threes on the day, including one to open up the team’s dominant overtime performance. Pierce’s play also opened up opportunities for Beal (16 points) to get going during an 11-4 third-quarter run. Beal’s second-half revival helped offset Wall’s struggles from the field (10 points on 5-for-18) and complemented the play of the Wizards bench (27 points). Capitalizing on surprising faith from Coach Randy Wittman at this early juncture in the playoffs, Ramon Sessions, Kevin Seraphin (10 points), Otto Porter and Drew Gooden helped the Wizards steadily balloon their second-half lead to 15. Nineteen offensive rebounds also helped give the Wizards more opportu
HOMEFANTASYNFL DRAFTMAYWEATHER VS PACQUIAONFLMLBNBANEWSSCORESSTANDINGSTEAMSPOWER RANKINGSPLAYER STATSEXPERT PICKSODDSDRAFT RANKINGSMOCK DRAFTNHLNCAA FOOTBALLNCAA BASKETBALLGOLFNASCARTENNISHIGH SCHOOLFULL SITE ￼ Raptors lose ugly to start series against Wizards By James Herbert / NBA writer April 18, 2015 05:55 PM ET ￼ TORONTO — Lou Williams wouldn’t answer the question on Friday. Less than 24 hours until Game 1 against the Washington Wizards, a reporter asked the Toronto Raptors guard if the basket feels smaller in the playoffs. “It hasn’t started yet,” Williams said. “So we’ll see what happens. After Game 1, you can ask me that same question, I’ll let you know.” The answer was obvious on Saturday, and it was bad news for the Raptors. They bricked shot after shot, finishing with marks of 38 percent from the field and 20.7 percent from the 3-point line in the 93-86 overtime loss. Casual fans tuning in for the playoff opener would have had no idea that, in the regular season, this was the league’s third-best offensive team. For an overtime game, it was rather anticlimactic. The drama leading up to this — Washington’s Paul Pierce told ESPN that Toronto didn’t have “it” and was not intimidating, then Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri told a raucous crowd, “We don’t give a shit about ‘it!’ ” — eclipsed the action on the court. Toronto fans had a brief cause for celebration when backup guardGreivis Vasquez hit a game-tying 3-pointer in the fourth quarter and proceeded to shimmy halfway down the court, but the joy vanished shortly thereafter. In the first four and a half minutes of the extra frame, the Raptors didn’t score a single point and gave up four offensive rebounds, setting the stage for swingmanDeMar DeRozan to drive to the basket untouched and deliver the saddest dunk of Toronto’s uneven season with 29 seconds left. The Wizards didn’t fare much better with the ball in their hands, shooting 39.4 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from deep. Unlike Washington, though, the Raptors got this far on th
“If that’s the role you’re going to play, you just gotta embrace it,” Pierce told reporters after the game. “I don’t mind playing the role of underdog or villain or whatever you guys want to call it. I’m just out here trying to get my team the win.” The Wizards were certainly appreciative, especially while playing in front of a heated and hostile Toronto crowd that was still reeling after Pierce pronounced this week that the Raptors don’t have what “it” takes to succeed. Ahead of the game, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiritook to the stage in front of a horde of fans outside the arena, declaring he “doesn’t give a sh–” about “it.”
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Suddenly, in the second quarter, that venom seemed to awaken the beast. Pierce began swishing three-pointers and effortlessly tossing step-back jumpers. He rumbled for 10 fast points, and it spurred a Wizards run. Washington took a 46-42 lead into the half. The Raptors struggled to pull back in line during the third, especially as the usually sharp-shooting Lou Williams was off the mark on jumper after jumper. The Wizards took a 74-59 lead into the fourth quarter. Pockets of fans began to chant for the Raptors to bring in defensive specialist James Johnson.
Here are notes, quotes and observations from Toronto’s loss to Washington in Game 1:
- With the loss, Toronto is now 1-7 all-time in Game 1’s. Yikes.
- John Calipari was sitting Drake’s courtside seats. Turns out Drake was out of town due to a performance tonight at Coachella. He’s “probable” for Game 2 on Tuesday.
- Toronto came out with a ton of focus on the defensive end. They held Washington to 1-9 shooting from the field and three turnovers in the first six minutes of the game. They finished the game holding Washington to under 40% from the field.
- Patrick Patterson was a huge spark off the bench early for Toronto. He had 10 points (4-5 from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arc) in his first nine minutes of burn. He failed to score a point in his font 23 minutes of burn.
- Randy Wittman on using Paul Pierce stretch four: “It spreads the floor. Now, they have the ability to do that, too. (Patrick) Patterson came in and I thought he hurt us at the end of the first quarter, start of the second quarter and we made some adjustments. It gives us the ability to do that. I thought Paul (Pierce) was good at it and Drew (Gooden) gives us the ability to do that, too.”
- Kyle Lowry fouled out with seven points, eight rebounds and four assists. He went 2-10 from the field. After the game Lowry was disappointed in how Game 1 played out: “I’m very mad and very upset, but I’ve got to deal with it. It’s something I’ve dealt with before. It’s not how I want to keep play. At the end of the day, a bad game is one bad game. I’ve got another game on Tuesday.”
- Toronto gave up 19 offensive rebounds and were out-rebounded 61-48. After the game Jonas Valanciunas admitted: “They were tougher than us.”
- Lou Williams on rebounding issues: “They had 20 offensive rebounds. That’s an issue, especially when you lose a game by six or seven points. You can look at rebounds as one of the red flags. They dominated us on the boards. At the same time, they got some pretty lucky bounces. I think it was four or five that I can remember for sure where it was tipped around, tipped around, tipped around. Then Nene gets a long tip all the way back to halfcourt. Then they get an opportunity to run another play and reset their offence. Those are the kind of small things that we can clean up. The guards have got to do a better job of giving the bigs some relief in situations like that by boxing out and helping out.”
- Casey on rebounding: “I thought we did an excellent game defensively. We held them to 39%, and a lot of those times they got the rebound and they scored. They had, what? 20 second chance points? That’s the game. We’ve talked about it. It’s not just our big guys. It’s everybody. We start watching when shots goes up. People have to get in there and clean up the boards. We know that. It’s been an issue. Until we make it a priority it’s going to be hard for us. With that said, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played so it’s not over. It’s not doom and gloom.”
- Dwane Casey on James Johnson: “James (Johnson) will play in a matchup situation. Again, he could be in play later in this series. The difficulty thing to do is play all of our wings. We’ve got a good rotation with Greivis (Vasquez), Kyle (Lowry), DeMar (DeRozan) and Terrence (Ross) in that group and it’s just hard to get that fifth guy in there unless it’s just a special matchup. Again, it will come into play in this series at some point but today wasn’t the day. Believe me, I heard all the people yelling, ‘Put James in, put James in,” but, again, who do you take out? We were having trouble with outside shots. DeMar was doing a good job. Lou was a threat. So, we’ll see. There’s going to be a place for James (Johnson) in this series. I’ve talked with him about that.”
- Casey on Washington doubling DeRozan and Lou Williams when those players came off of screens: “I thought we executed well. We had 21 assists. I thought Amir (Johnson) was a benefactor of that with 18 points because he attacked out of the double-team. We did a good job of finding the pocket and we attacked out of that. We were ready for it. We went through it yesterday in practice and we were prepared for the double team.”
- Paul Pierce: “I don’t mind playing the role of underdog or villain or whatever you guys want to call it. It’s not that I’m a bad guy.”
- Pierce thrives on being the villain. Fans might want to be a little less throaty in Game 2. Just an idea…
- Bradley Beal on waving to Kyle Lowry: “I said, ‘bye-bye.’ He had six fouls.”
- Going into this game, Washington was 39-9 when holding opponents to under 100 points this season and the Raptors were 30-6.
Dwane Casey commented on James Johnson not playing in Game 1. He said:
“James (Johnson) will play in a matchup situation. Again, he could be in play later in this series. The difficult thing to do is play all of our wings. We’ve got a good rotation with Greivis (Vasquez), Kyle (Lowry), DeMar (DeRozan) and Terrence (Ross) in that group and it’s just hard to get that fifth guy in there unless it’s just a special matchup. Again, it will come into play in this series at some point but today wasn’t the day. Believe me, I heard all the people yelling, ‘Put James in, put James in,” but, again, who do you take out? We were having trouble with outside shots. DeMar was doing a good job. Lou was a threat. So, we’ll see. There’s going to be a place for James (Johnson) in this series. I’ve talked with him about that.”
Matt Shantz joins me to discuss what the hell we just saw in Game 1, as the Raptors got beat and beaten up by the Wizards.
Tell me how this makes sense:
Casey said he heard chants for James Johnson but called him a match-up player. Insists his time will come in this series, but wasn’t today
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 18, 2015
I agree with Casey, James Johnson is a matchup player. He’s supposed to matchup with other wings, especially when other wings are killing us (Pierce, leading scorer with 20 points) and when weak-side rebounding isn’t happening (Raptors were -13). In case you missed it, the ACC crowd was chanting his name hoping he would come in and at least add some balance to a very disoriented Raptors defense:
Casey said he heard chants for James Johnson but called him a match-up player. Insists his time will come in this series, but wasn’t today
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 18, 2015
Stay tuned, a podcast is coming right up.
The Raptors drop Game 1 to the Wizards after getting out-rebounded, out-hustled, and out-coached.
Amir Johnson remains on the bench and Tyler Hansbrough starts Game 1. Assuming Johnson is fully healthy, Dwane Casey is opting to ride Tyler Hansbrough’s run of form.
Dwane Casey chatted with the media about DeMar DeRozan being more ready for Game 1 this year, how Toronto has changed their defensive schemes a couple of times this season and what Lou Williams bring to the team due to his experience playing 30 playoff games.
As the hour draweth nigh, here are some tweets and last-minute news heading into game 1.
*This page will be updated regularly until tip-off
Tyler Hansbrough remains in starting lineup for Raptors vs. Washington as playoffs open
— Doug Smith: Raptors (@SmithRaps) April 18, 2015
Just walked by Raptors in the tunnel. No joke, Greivis was singing “I was running through the 6 with my woes” while pacing back and forth.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 18, 2015
Masai Ujuri on stage in Jurassic Park, "I know you all want me to say something about Paul Pierce. We don't give a sh*t about it!!" #Raptors
— Cabbie Richards (@Cabbie) April 18, 2015
Are you as pumped as Lou?
Saturday Saturday Saturday… Can't wait… Fans been waiting all year for this. #WeTheNorth
— Lou Williams (@TeamLou23) April 16, 2015
Landry Fields wants you to chip in on Get Up Bird.
— Landry Fields (@landryfields) April 17, 2015
Have no idea what he’s talking about? Refer below..
It would look awesome if the entire ACC actually went through with it.
Jurassic Park filling up fast..
Lineup for Jurassic Park as of 10 am. Extends all the way to Bay. It's going to be crazy. pic.twitter.com/UTKnkMBFeL
— Mike Ganter (@Mike_Ganter) April 18, 2015
— Megan Robinson (@RobinsonMegan) April 18, 2015
Sea of white imminent..
— Megan Robinson (@RobinsonMegan) April 18, 2015
ACC festooned in white shirts with # six on them. I presume the game Drake wants Raptors to win the series. pic.twitter.com/q3gMkQ1mlY
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) April 18, 2015
After what seemed to be an interminably long “dog days” stretch since the All-Star break, the NBA playoffs are finally upon us, and with them, the Raptors series with the Washington Wizards (12:30 EST, TSN/ESPN2). Whether you’re a member of team #Questfor50, #FireCasey, or both, there’s really nothing quite like the excitement of a playoff series, and with two evenly matched squads going at it tonight, this one should be a dandy.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time breaking down the ins and outs of the series (Blake and William did an excellent job of that yesterday), so instead, here are a few storylines Raptor fans will be watching out for during Game 1:
- How healthy are the Raptors?
Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson’s health looms large over the course of a seven-game series – arguably the two most valuable players of the “running on all cylinders” Raptors, they’ll need to be playing at a high level from the get-go, and able to play extended minutes, in order for this team to reach its potential (which, quite honestly, is fighting tooth and nail against a team as talented as Washington).
The Raptors’ biggest advantage in this series is their depth. The team’s bench unit has been fantastic this season, but the volatility of the starting lineup has resulted in some inconsistent play, particularly over the last few months. Johnson, in particular, serves as a fulcrum for a healthy Raptors squad, and even though the two games since his return have been promising, we haven’t seen him in extended minutes, which is something to keep an eye out for. Lowry, obviously, is the team’s MVP, and there’s no way a 4 for 24 type shooting night is going to cut it against John Wall and a tough Wizards defence. Put quite simply, this team’s ceiling is dramatically raised or lowered by how close to 100 per cent Lowry and Johnson really are, and it’s a question that will probably be answered by the end of the first half of game 1.
- Has the second half swoon affected the home crowd?
One advantage the Raptors should be able to count on is a raucous atmosphere – last year’s was one of the more memorable playoff crowds of the past decade. However, the mediocre last few months seem to have tempered fans’ expectations somewhat, and the buzz that surrounded this team at the outset of the 2014 playoffs is seemingly nowhere to be found. With a team that really functions at its highest level when it’s relying on an undefinable chemistry, a loud, proud home atmosphere will go a long way to setting the tone that the city, the province, and even the country are behind the Raptors, and last year’s excitement wasn’t just the byproduct of ending a long playoff drought. However, until the ball is tipped, it’s not a guarantee. I have a feeling this will be answered definitively early by the home fans, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
- Playoff rotations? (or, more accurately: James Johnson?)
Dwane Casey’s penchant for putting James Johnson in and out of his lineups, seemingly at random, will meet its ultimate test as the team solidifies its rotation for this year’s playoff run. Most teams roll with something approximating a 9 man rotation, which means that Tyler Hansbrough or Johnson is the likely man left out (or, maybe, we’ll see a 10 man). This team is, obviously, better with Johnson, and he’ll have a key role in stopping Paul Pierce, who seems keyed up to play the 2014 Joe Johnson role as a larger 3 prepared to bully DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross. Hopefully Casey will put aside his crazy pills and give Johnson a healthy dose of minutes now that the games really count.
Speaking of Ross…
- Will this be Terrence Ross’ playoff redemption?
As Raptor fans know, the budding young swingman was more or less a mess in last year’s playoffs, averaging just 5 points on below 30% shooting from the field. Ross has struggled against Washington in the past – his 6.3 points per game career average against the Wizards is his second lowest against any team – and so it will be difficult, yet necessary, for him to approximate the 3-point specialist he’s shown flashes of becoming for at least the majority of this series. Without Ross clicking from the perimeter, this team relies very heavily on iso offence from its other wings, and his spot-up shooting could do a great deal in adding at least a modicum of unpredictability to the Raptor offence.
- Could Dwane Casey really have a coaching advantage over Randy Wittman?
I’ve read this a lot the past few days, and want to believe it, but I just don’t know if I can. What would Casey out coaching someone even look like? This? Wittman is the table, and Casey is the guy eating like a whale?
Questions aside, though, I think it’s safe to say that everyone on the Raptors’ side of the fence is simply looking forward to playoff basketball. It’s something that’s still somewhat of a novelty for our fan base, and that enthusiasm could (should) be doubled after having to sit through a lacklustre second half. This, my friends, is the payoff. As for a pick, I’m obviously backing the home side, so let’s say Raptors by 6, highlighted by a great “f*ck you” performance by DeMar DeRozan.
Playoff basketball. Can’t wait.
Valanciunas is by far the more explosive player, with the ability to get the ball in the hoop in a myriad of ways. He can blow by defenders for dunks, use nifty post moves with his back to the hoop, or face-up for jumpers from close-range. JV is getting better defensively, earning just over a block each game and showing strength in the post. Plus, with his speed, Gortat won’t be able to get past him easily. In the conflict of youth vs. experience, Valanciunas may have the edge over Gortat. He should be able to contain Gortat on defence and score around him with creative moves around the hoop. This being JV’s second appearance in the playoffs, he should be far more composed and prepared to compete under the brightest lights. Expect big things.
DeRozan averaged an East-best 24.1 points per game for the month and added 4.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds. He shot 49.2 percent from the field, including a 14-of-25 performance during a 38-point effort in a 117-116 overtime loss to the Boston Celtics on April 4. DeRozan led the East with 49 free throw attempts — he made 85.7 percent (42-of-49) — despite missing one of the Raptors’ eight games. Toronto went 5-2 with DeRozan, who capped the regular season on April 15 against the Charlotte Hornets by contributing 16 points, six assists and four rebounds in a 92-87 win that gave the Raptors a franchise-best 49 victories.
YOUNG GUNS – It was a tale of two playoffs for youngsters Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas last year. Valanciunas was solid in his first post-season experience, while Ross, one of the Raptors’ most lethal scoring threats in the regular-season, wilted under the spotlight. Ross started every game, but averaged just 5.0 points. The Raptors have to hope a year under their belts will have both at their best against Washington.
Ball pressure from Wall. When the Wizards are at their best, he is able to extend the defense and disrupt the flow of the opposing offense. In other words, Kyle Lowry will be getting Toronto into its sets late which decreases the amount of time in the 24-second shot clock to move the ball. Provided the other four players on the court follow suit, and they usually do when Wall takes this posture, that crowds the passing lanes. This will reduce the touches for DeMar DeRozan, help Bradley Beal who’ll be defending the prolific scorer and bring the Raptors down from their 106 points per game average.
Scarborough-born YouTube celebrity IISuperwomanII (I’m 100% sure you’re a celebrity once you have 5,542,692 subscribers) a.k.a. Lilly Singh released a new video on April 16th – 4.16 – that pays tribute to Toronto in a huge way, from the standard skyline shots, Yonge-Dundas Square appearances, and TTC-subway-car-party scenes to an on-court Toronto Raptors homage. Singh and Toronto YouTube personality Humble the Poet’s “#IVIVI” (416) is an ode to Toronto’s diversity and includes shout-outs to Scarborough, North York and more. It amassed about 300k views in its first twelve hours online, making it one effective postcard.
“I feel more confident. I feel ready to go, probably a little bit more anxious than I was last year,” said Beal, who has displayed a more aggressive streak offensively for the Wizards to end the season. “I’m excited. “It’s a big year for us. I can feel it. I think we’re going to be pretty good.”
THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES Does offense win, or does defense: The Wizards struggle to score at times, and the Raptors can’t stop anybody. John Wall was second in the league in assists behind only Chris Paul, so he knows how to distribute when the defense takes the ball out of his hands. It’s unclear if Toronto will be able to slow Wall or Bradley Beal, but if the Wizards backcourt runs wild on the suspect defense of the Raptors, home court advantage could disappear in one of the first two games of the series. Paul Pierce: After averaging just 5.6 points on 32 percent shooting over his last 10 games of the regular season (via NBA.com’s John Schuhmann), it’s worth wondering why Pierce is running his mouth. “We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried,” he said, which caused DeMar DeRozan to fire back before the playoff matchups were finalized.
Few players draw the ire of Toronto Raptors fans like Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce does. As the regular season was winding down, Pierce revealed in an interview with ESPN that he does not fear the Raptors because they simply don’t have “It.” DeMar DeRozan, Masai Ujiri and Dwane Casey have already addressed Pierce’s comments, but the Toronto Sun decided to get in on the action, making the 37-year-old the target of Saturday’s sports section cover.
Twenty years in, and the Raptors and the playoffs still haven’t mixed. As Toronto prepares to play the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs, it would be easy to default towards worry, to dread. The Raptors have never won a best-of-seven playoff series. The losses have been strange, weird, sometimes humiliations. Often the franchise has changed as a result. This town hasn’t seen much, but it’s seen some things. They got swept by the Knicks in a best-of-five in 2000, before Tracy McGrady left. They beat a sad Knicks team in a best-of-five in 2001, the year Patrick Ewing got traded and Jeff Van Gundy got fired, then Vince Carter missed the shot against Philadelphia in Game 7 — the Vince Carter Graduation Game, of course. That’s the sainted game, the great and one of two great single what-ifs. It’s on YouTube, even though YouTube hadn’t been invented yet.
Pachulia said the veterans have been trying to prepare the Bucks’ young players — including playoff first-timers Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams — for the intense atmosphere of the postseason. “We’ve been talking to them the last couple days,” Pachulia said. “You definitely don’t want it to be a surprise. We all went through this situation. Hopefully it’s going to take a couple minutes and it will be back to normal, back to playing playoff basketball. “They are really coachable. You can tell the stories as much as you want but once you witness it yourself, it’s totally different. It’s something you’ll never forget.” Pachulia was not expected to be the Bucks’ starting center this season, but Larry Sanders left the team to seek treatment for anxiety and depression and eventually had his contract bought out by the team after serving a league drug suspension.
At least on paper, the Raptors and Wizards are evenly matched, two teams that rely on their backcourt to initiate most of their offence, but if there’s one obvious advantage it involves Washington’s ability to defend. So much can change in-game and in-between games, whether it’s injuries or foul trouble, but here’s a look what each team must do to win this best-of-seven series, which tips off Saturday afternoon at the ACC.
1. Will Bradley Beal show off a new wrinkle in his game? After a year where some felt his game had plateaued, Bradley Beal showed he could reach a higher gear in last year’s playoffs. In Game 1 against the Bulls last season, Beal had a disastrous shooting night (3-11 from the field) but overcame it with some of the best facilitating of his career, getting 7 assists and earning 7 free throws against the Bulls’ stingy defense. In the games that followed, the shooting came along and we saw Bradley Beal take a big step in his development in the playoffs against the Bulls and Pacers.
“Honestly, I think just how I grew up. I didn’t have what all other kids had,” DeRozan said. “I remember having two pair of shoes for a whole year, a basketball shoe and a school shoe. “Something like that, growing up as a kid, you remember things like that so whenever you’re in a position to have to work for something, you want to strive to make it better.”
Will Another First-Round Exit Serve As A Referendum On The Futures Of Coach Dwane Casey, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross In Toronto? Watson: The Raptors will not lose their first-round matchup. Strickland: Yes and no. While a new franchise record for wins has been eclipsed in consecutive years, yielding All-Star appearances for current team cornerstones Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, expectations, realistic or otherwise, have been raised for this squad, despite an uneven showing thus far in the 2014-15 campaign. This team, as currently composed, has hit its ceiling, so it will be of great interest to many what GM Masai Ujiri does with his cap space this summer. This season’s playoff performances of the former Sprite Slam Dunk champ TRoss and Jonas Christ Superstar will be under the microscope as well. But expect all three back next season for one final shot at growing this team and its league profile under Casey.
How will that dynamic play-out over a seven game series? How finely tuned is Kyle Lowry? Will we finally get to see Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both performing at the top of their respective games as they did back in the early stages of the season? Is it possible this season can be considered anything but a failure unless Toronto secures its first-ever 7-game series win? Can a team that has struggled so badly to play good defence flick the switch when the style of game gets much tougher and more physical?
The plaudits came league-wide, with tweets from legends like Magic Johnson. Turner NBA analyst Charles Barkley has been effusive in his cheerleading for Toronto, both as a team and city. The other amazing thing is the feedback loop created between the fans and that team, as prior to Game 4 in Brooklyn, Devlin says coach Dwane Casey had images from the square sent into the Raptor locker room. “It really galvanized the team. It’s pouring rain and here are all the fans,” he says. “For the players, it really says you’re not just playing for yourselves, you’re not playing for a city, you are playing for a country. And I think it resonates not only with them, but everybody watching.”
“I really feel like this is a series that Toronto should win. If they don’t win, this will be a very big disappointment . . . I think they’re just a better team but I’m not saying for sure they will. “The key for Washington, to me, is Bradley Beal. If he can stay healthy and he has games that he’s capable of — I think he’s a really good basketball player — he’s going to make the series interesting. Part of their struggles in the second half of the year is because Beal was nicked up with injuries, that’s kind of limited him.
A well-deserved bit of recognition for DeMar DeRozan, who has enjoyed the best six-week stretch of his career to end the regular season.
This week on a special PLAYOFF PREVIEW edition of The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, we have made an emergency roster substation. Greg Mason (the brain from the south) is currently missing in a Budapest marketplace and so we are thankfully joined by Kyle Weidie. Kyle is the lead writer and editor at the Washington Wizards ESPN True Hoop Affiliate truthaboutit.net
Kyle joins my brother Mike (who knows college basketball) and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog as preview the Raptors vs Wizards first round playoff matchup. In particular we discuss:
- the Raptors & Wizards seasons in review here
- initial thoughts about the 4-5 matchup
- coaching issues this season for both teams
- The keys to the Raptors winning this series
- The possible land mines that could cause the Raptors to lose the series
- And our predictions
If you want to play daily fantasy NBA vs the roundtable be sure to sign up at http://raptorsrepublic.com/fanduel
Throughout the playoffs there will be daily FREE games or you can play against all 4 of us in a 6 person tourney. $2 entry. Top 3 take $. Sign up today and check my twitter feed for daily links to play!
Don’t forget to visit Blair’s site The Fifth Quarter Blog and follow him on Twitter @TFQuarter and check out Kyle’s work at truthaboutit.net and at @truth_about_it on Twitter. You can also follow Greg @votaryofhoops and Mike @michaelgennaro on Twitter.
It’s almost here. Finally. Like, 23 hours and 55 minutes away, as I write this. It feels like it’s been a really, really long time coming. Compared to last season, when the playoffs were a moderate surprise and the city was buzzing in the lead-up to round one, this year has been a lot of sitting and waiting, both for the Toronto Raptors to rediscover their stroke and for a now-certain playoff series – or two – to arrive.
Well, the Raptors played just poorly enough down the stretch to draw the Washington Wizards instead of the Milwaukee Bucks, which is unfortunate. Forget looking ahead to round two – the Raptors would now draw the Atlanta Hawks instead of the Cleveland Cavaliers, a more favorable matchup – because finishing fourth has left the Raptors head-to-head with a team that’s pretty much it’s equal.
I know, I know, Raptors blog, Raptors fans, I’m contractually obligated to think the Raptors are better. And they are, but the margin by which they’re better is incredibly thin. Like with Brooklyn a year ago, this series could flip on a single possession, and my gut says we’re in for a pretty stressful 15 days and seven games. Let’s hope the fortnight (“AND ONE” – Carlos Boozer) ends with all of us stressing over another tough playoff series instead of looking ahead to the draft.
To help set the stage for the series, I went back-and-forth with Kyle Weidie of TruthAboutIt.net, the TrueHoop Network’s Wizards blog. Kyle’s pretty much a must-follow for this series, for Wizards-centric context and a ton of useful in-game Vines. The Q&A that follows will be up on their site sometime this afternoon, too.
Weidie on the Wizards
Blake: Raptors fans seemed to have psyched themselves up about the Wizards as a good playoff matchup based on regular season results (Toronto took all three meetings with a cumulative +25). How does this sit with you?
Kyle: It sits just fine, because I might have done the same thing. Some Wizards fans wanted to play the Bulls going off last season’s 4-1 series victory and a couple matchups with Chicago this season. For my perspective, I would not be scared of the Bulls for the Wizards, but Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, and Derrick Rose (even if his jump shot isn’t working) each provide dimensions that make Tom Thibodeau’s offense much more dynamic than before. Holistically, I’d also rather the Cleveland Cavaliers lose in the playoffs and think that Chicago has a better chance of doing that in the next round. (And Toronto fans would also probably prefer to not face LeBron in the second round.) All of this is to say is that I wanted the Wizards to play the Raptors instead of the Bulls (see, we wanted each other!). The desire to face an opponent struggling since the All-Star break, like Washington, and to simply change-it-up would also be factors.
Note this: Regular season results thin sliced into single-games and packaged in various environments (back-to-back sets, injuries, etc.) can vary drastically from a playoff series where adjustments are constantly being made and you’ll never play twice within 48 hours. In 2013-14, the Spurs were swept 4-0 in the regular season by the Thunder yet prevailed in the conference finals. The Blazers went down 1-3 to the Rockets in the regular season but advanced in their first round matchup. In 2012-13, the Warriors were 1-3 in their season series against the Nuggets and the Grizzlies were 1-3 versus the Lakers; both Golden State and Memphis advanced.
In the end, if you really weigh a chance at shutting Paul Pierce’s mouth (Who wouldn’t? And Wale’s!) over a first-round matchup with the Bucks, more power to you.
Blake: How has Bradley Beal developed as a defender this season? He seems the likely candidate to check DeMar DeRozan for most of the series and wasn’t exactly known as a stopper coming into this year.
Kyle: Beal is certainly no stopper, but he’s a better defensive player than most recognize. He plays passing lanes with discipline (perhaps once learning from Trevor Ariza); he understands positioning (might not be the best at fighting through screens, but good at placing himself in a positoin to avoid them); and Beal has sneaky athleticism (nearly as capable as John Wall in the chase-down block department). Let’s compare NBA.com player tracking data for each Beal and DeRozan on defense.
Opponent’s FG% when player is defending shot (difference from opponent’s regular FG%):
DeRozan — 46.7% (plus-2.2%)
Beal — 44.1% (plus-0.2%)
From less than 6-feet: Opponent FG%, Frequency of Opp. Attempts, Diff. from Opp. Regular FG%:
DeRozan — 71.3% | 24% | plus-11.3%
Beal — 67.7% | 19.3% | plus-8.4%
From 3-point land: Opponent FG%, Frequency of Opp. Attempts, Diff. from Opp. Regular FG%:
DeRozan — 34.7% | 35.3% | minus-0.4%
Beal — 29.0% | 37.4% | minus-7%
Both players struggle with defending shots closer to the basket (no surprise for guards), but Beal is still significantly better in that category, better overall, and much better at defending the 3-point line than DeRozan.
All of that said, DeRozan is the more dynamic attacker off the dribble – 27.7 percent of this field goal attempts come after 3-to-6 dribbles, while Beal’s frequency is 18.6 percent (41.1% of Beal’s attempts come after zero dribbles, 23% for DeRozan). So, Beal might have more of a challenge on defense all things considered. The Wizards, toward the end of the season, went through great lengths to get the ball in Beal’s hands more to create. We’ll see if that means anything for the playoffs, as challenging DeRozan on offense is more important to how Beal defends him.
Blake: John Wall was unbelievable this season. Scoring, distributing, defending – he did everything on the All-NBA level except for the disappearance of his 3-point stroke. Kyle Lowry started his season much the same but his effectiveness has waned as the season’s wore on. Who do you think has the PG edge for the series?
Kyle: Lowry only got four games of action after missing nearly three weeks due to back issues, which are never a good sign, but it looks like he especially got his shot going in the last game of the season versus Charlotte (6-of-9 on 3s), which has to be encouraging.
It also must be encouraging, for fans in general, that Wall and Lowry are two guards who love going at each other and are not afraid to get physical. All-time, Lowry is 11-4 against Wall (8-3 at a Raptor). Assist and rebound averages when head-to-head have been close (Lowry 7.6 and 5.2; Wall 7.5 and 5.1); Wall turns the ball over slightly more (3.3 to Lowry’s 2.7). Scoring-wise, Wall has the advantage with a 20.1-point average on 44.4 percent shooting while Lowry has averaged 14.4 points on 38 percent shooting when facing Wall.
The series edge? Why of course I’m saying John Wall. He’s faster, has a larger physique (even though Lowry is really a bull), and Wall is the better point guard. Wall averages 3.2 more assists per game than Lowry, 13.9 more passes per game, and nine more points created by assists per-48 minutes this season. If Wall has the impact that he’s capable of on an offense system that struggled during the regular season, then he might finally be able to top Lowry when it counts.
Blake: If you could pick a stipulation for a WWE match between Jonas Valanciunas and Marcin Gortat, what would it be?
Kyle: I have several stipulations. Each would have to wear one of those giant novelty boxing gloves on their right hand, and in their left hand each would have to hold seven Chihuahuas on seven leashes. Atop their heads, a plastic construction helmet not approved for actual use fitted with a can holder on each side with an energy drink in one holder and a stout IPA beer in the other; straws would extend from each can into each participant’s mouth, each of whom would be required to finish a can of each beverage per round. I give Gortat the edge.
Blake: A lot of Raptors fan have turned on Dwane Casey this season, but Randy Wittman represents one of the most exploitable pieces of the Wizards machine. Who do you see having the edge behind the bench?
Kyle: Many Wizards fans turned on Randy Wittman last year. Many believe(d) in his ability to effect a change in culture (especially defensively) from the JaVale McGee-Andray Blatche-Etc. days, which provided the team with promise and Wittman with a deserved chance. Many turned on the coach during this season (from a stubborn midrange offense to losing 11 of 13 games from the end of January to the end of February). Wittman could be coaching for his job this playoffs, but likely not. He’s got one more year on his contract and team owner Ted Leonsis is not one to pay someone not to work (unless your name is Blatche). Before we get into which coach has the edge, let’s go through a quick exercise.
Team 1 (NBA rank)
OffRtg: 108.1 (3)
DefRtg: 104.8 (23)
NetRtg: +3.2 (10)
Team 2 (NBA rank)
OffRtg: 101.8 (19)
DefRtg: 100.0 (5)
NetRtg: +1.9 (12)
In the playoffs, despite Team 1’s advantage in Net Rating, you might be inclined to take the better team on defense (Team 2), which I should not have to tell you is Wittman’s. Since the All-Star break, Washington’s defense is about the same (99.9), but their OffRtg is minus-3.2. Meanwhile, Toronto has digressed in both areas – OffRtg is minus-1.7 and DefRtg is plus-1.0.
Wittman’s offense is mostly responsible for stifling the Wizards, which is why his seat is warm if not hot, but again, playoff-style basketball and the defense that predicates it. The series could really come down to turnovers, something out of the hands of either coach and through the fingers of players. Washington’s TOV% is 15.5, ranked 23rd in the NBA. Toronto does a better job of taking care of the ball with a TOV% of 13.4, ranked fourth-best.
All of this goes to say that the series could go in either direction and that neither coach truly has an edge. Probably.
Eastern Conference round-up
Eric Buenning, BrewHoop: The Wiz-Raps series is interesting to me because, from an outside perspective, I feel like both teams should be better. All-star guards, impressive paint players, whatever. But for some reason, I don’t feel like either team has the strong upper hand in the series.
I’m looking forward to watching John Wall and Kyle Lowry go to battle, and I’m hoping for at least one Terrence Ross massive dunk on Paul Pierce. I’m not sure if Amir/Jonas are better than Nene/Marcin, but I also don’t think Washington’s bench can keep with Lou and Terrence/James Johnson either. So…it’s pretty even in my mind. At least Toronto isn’t coached by Randy Wittman, am I right?
As for my prediction, I’m going with Toronto in a back-and-forth seven games, kind of like the Raptors-Nets series last year (but better!). I think Toronto has just a few more playmakers than the Wizards do, and that little edge will show up more than once in the series (looking directly at you, Lou).
Also, is Masai Ujiri going to drop a “F***k Washington!” before the series starts? I’m counting on it.
Rich Kraetsch, Over & Back Podcast: These two teams had a ton of momentum coming into the season, firmly appeared to be teams on the rise and yet ultimately seem like huge disappointments. The Wizards and Raptors didn’t regress, yet there’s still an emptiness to their seasons.
John Wall will need to be big in this series as key members of the Wizards are aging and aging fast. If he’s the bonafide superstar we all think he can be, the Wizards have a real chance here. Still I’m going with the Raptors, that offense is too much to handle and I’m hoping come playoff time a bottom 10 defense can turn up the intensity and results.
Raptors in 6
Michael Pina, Literally Everywhere: The Toronto Raptors don’t like the Washington Wizards and the Washington Wizards don’t respect the Toronto Raptors. Neither statement is an absolute truth, just an observation based on Paul Pierce’s recent war of words with DeMar DeRozan (they don’t call him the truth for nothing!).
Thank you for that, Paul, because without any public bickering this would be the first round’s least interesting, most irrelevant series. It’s the exact opposite of an immovable object meeting an unstoppable force.
The Wizards are terrible at offense. The Raptors are terrible at defense. May the lesser of two evils advance to the next round, and get stomped by a hopefully healthy Atlanta Hawks.
Prediction: Wizards in 7
Robby Kalland, Hardwood Paroxysm: Raptors/Wizards seemed like such a fun series in February, but now…not so much. Both teams have hit the skids towards the end of the year, and I really do hope they can get some of that excitement back for the playoffs but don’t have high hopes for it.
I like the backcourt matchup, and think it’s fairly even — Wall a bit better than Lowry, DeMar better than Beal. Whichever frontcourt can control the boards will be really important, especially since neither team is the most efficient shooting from the outside. I’m personally going to enjoy watching Raptors fans live and die with Lou Williams taking terrible shots (and making plenty of them, I’ll add). I see it being Toronto in 6, partly because I like their depth a bit more, but mostly because for as mediocre as Casey may be as a strategist even he can run laps around Wittman.
Murphy on the Raptors
Kyle: These two teams have struggled since the All-Star break, no doubt, but in interesting ways. Washington has a 25th-ranked OffRtg and a 7th-ranked DefRtg since the break, while Toronto has a 7th-ranked OffRtg and a 24th-ranked DefRtg. And thus, the Wizards and Raps have the 18th- and 19th-best winning percentages, respectively, since the All-Star game. I kind of maybe think I know why Washington has been so bad, so what gives about the Raptors?
Blake: Honestly, this has been the toughest part of the Raptors season: We can’t really explain the fall-off. The team’s success relied so heavily on this strange, ethereal chemistry, and the organization bet big it would continue by changing very little in the offseason or at the deadline. It’s faded some, especially on the defensive end, where Dwane Casey’s aggressive scheme doesn’t really fit the personnel, even if Jonas Valanciunas is (slowly) improving as a rim protector.
I don’t think the Raptors were ever as good as they looked, and I don’t think they’ve been as bad as they’ve looked. Everyone lost a grip on their Bayesian priors during the hot start, but a bottom-10 defense and top-10 offense was always kind of likely looking at the roster. The slight offensive slide has mostly been regression, while the defensive slide is probably a case of opponents realizing how to exploit a defense that is based on quick help and early rotations, something only good teams – especially those with a good penetrating point guard (know one?) – can take advantage of.
Kyle: What’s the pecking order in terms of ‘who takes the last shot’ for Toronto amongst Lowry, DeRozan, Sweet Lou, or Gravy Grevis?
Blake: Trailing late in a fourth quarter, I still think Lowry has the ball in his hands. They anointed him The Guy, he’s had the ball in his hands in those situations before (Brooklyn Game 7), and he’s the point guard. That thinking obviously changes some if Wall is swallowing him up defensively, so it’s nice to have these kind of options.
From there, Lou gets the next look, and he may also get it with a lead, because free throws are a less volatile outcome than a Lowry triple or drive. Much as DeRozan may be the team’s best overall scorer and much as he’s improved as a distributor, I think he’s working off-ball in clutch situations while Lowry or Lou initiate. I don’t have the SportVu numbers, but I’d imagine DeRozan’s gravity score is pretty strong for a non-shooting threat, and he can open up a lot of space for the point guards if Casey gets creative.
Poor Vasquez. He wants the shot. He thinks it should be his. If he touches the ball, he’s shooting it. But if he’s got the ball at a key time, things have gone awry.
Player Clutch MIN FGA AST PTS PTS/36 USG% TS% +/- Lowry 145 88 18 103 25.6 36.5 48.2 +3 Williams 124 50 6 58 16.8 20.5 54.6 -6 DeRozan 121 73 12 89 26.5 34.7 49.4 +13 Vasquez 59 13 3 5 3.1 8.9 19.2 -30
Kyle: There’s speculation that if either of these teams go down in flames (4-1 or 4-0 sweep) in the first round, then their respective coach, Randy Wittman for the Wizards and Dwane Casey for the Raptors, will be given the ax. From Toronto’s perspective, do you agree/disagree?
Blake: I know the fans want it but I’m not sure it’ll happen.
In Casey’s favor: He just got an extension, the team’s been successful in back-to-back regular seasons, and he has the highest winning percentage of any Raptors’ coach ever. He’s also not that bad, I’d say maybe slightly below-average, and it’s unclear if there would be an obvious upgrade willing to take the job.
Against him: The team hasn’t improved this year, Valanciunas and Ross have developed more slowly than expected, he lacks offensive creativity, and his defensive system doesn’t fit the roster particularly well, something he’s been slow to figure out. A series loss, whether quickly or in another heartbreaker, would probably be justification enough for a general manager who still hasn’t brought in “his guy” since taking over.
With the All-Star Game coming next year, the Leafs set to be awful once again, and the franchise probably wanting to sell 2015-16 as a huge year, yeah, Casey’s seat is probably pretty warm. Until we see the interested candidates, I’m not sure it’s going to make a heck of a lot of difference, but I get it.
Kyle: Who is Toronto’s “x-factor” or “glue guy” or “dude who can hammer a nail into a board in one hit”?
Blake: James Johnson. Casey has been reticent about Johnson’s minutes fluctuating, but he’s rarely disappointed when he’s out there. From the red hair to the “I can guard you, LeBron, or anyone else for that matter” attitude, to the way he gets the crowd into it with steals and chase-down blocks and dunks, he’s the energy and, if given the chance, a potentially huge piece in this series.
He was brought in to help with guys like Pierce, at the three or the four, and even though Patrick Patterson can probably do a good enough job without sacrificing the team’s spacing, Johnson needs to be getting heavier run than he was late in the season. His shooting also undersells his offensive ability, as he was the league’s best finisher on drives this season and is an underrated, if sometimes out-of-control, passer.
How much and how well Johnson plays on Pierce could go a long way in determining a series with few clear positional edges.
Kyle: Who is the best Canadian entertainer who ever lived (and if you say Drake then you might as well say Celine Dion or Justin Bieber)?
Blake: Chris Jericho.
Series Predictions: Kyle: Wizards in 6, Blake: Raptors in 7
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 17, 2015
I had a chance to speak with Bryan Gibberman from the Podium Game of the HP Basketball Network about the Raptors/Wizards series. (more…)
More bulletin board material.
Let’s get technical. Here’s three plays that could swing the outcome of the Raptors-Wizards’ playoff series.
As the Toronto Raptors prepare to face the Washington Wizards in the first round of the post season there are a number of highlights from the regular season to reflect on: :
Raptors Set New Win Record and Repeat as Atlantic Division Champions:
Toronto is headed back to the post season as back to back Atlantic Division Champions. Before you throw that achievement away, consider the fact the franchise has only accomplished this for the third time in 20-years.They did it while missing their top scorer for over 20 games and through growing pains of 2 third year players. Making the taste sweeter is the knowledge we enter the summer with $30+ million of available funds to tweak the roster and retained our draft picks.
Chemistry Remains Intact:
Despite periods of struggle the team has weathered storms, never falling below the top four seed. This speaks to the camaraderie of the players and their continued support of each other. While we heard rumblings out of Washington, Cleveland (and even Chicago) we never experienced the same type of player sound bites that spoke to discontent in the locker room. If anything, this unit may be more solidified than ever.
Each of the seeded teams in the East went through periods of extended losses, and other than Chicago no other team dealt with as many injuries to key players.
Adjusting to new player additions can take some time and when you factor in injuries it can take a toll. For example Houston who spent the majority of the season ranked top 3-defensively recently got Dwight Howard back yet his return coincided with a fall to 7th and over the past 15 days they’ve ranked 14th. Suffice to say there is something to the theory it takes time for a team to adjust with new personnel and find their rhythm.
To that end, Toronto have gone through several iterations of line-ups with DeMar DeRozan’s injury, Kyle Lowry out of the line-up for an extended period as well as the shuffling of Terrence Ross, James Johnson and Greivis Vasquez shifting back and forth between starting and the bench. Obviously our defense has slid from last year, but there are signs of the team finding their footing in the past few weeks. Lowry’s return will aid in this effort and a healthy Amir Johnson should equate to an improvement. The player most affected by Johnson’s absence was Jonas Valanciunas which speaks to the synergy the two have formed playing beside each other for three seasons.
The Raptors prowess in offense has been demonstrated throughout the 2015 campaign as they jumped out of the gates and continued to put up impressive numbers.
Like many young teams defense can take a hit when the offense is functioning on all cylinders. The team repeatedly said they knew defense was the key area they needed to improve, but we were anxious to see a return to the top-10 defense showcased to start the season. Through the last 5 games we’re seeing improvements::
- Opponent FG% – 41.4%
- Opponent 3-PT FG% – 33.8% (includes Hornet game when Raps held them to 35% overall but allowed 46% from 3)
- Raptors were a +9 in rebounding through these 5 games
Of note, when the Raptors have multiple days to practice/prepare for specific opponents they produce their best efforts:
- Atlanta immediately after All-Star break
- Memphis in November
- Clippers after Christmas break
- Spurs in February
- Miami and Houston in March
- Most recently our nemesis Charlotte.
Williams the 6th Man:
The award which should be renamed the Crawford in homage to perennial 6th man beast Jamal Crawford is likely to find its way into the hands of Lou Williams. Most pundits have him winning over Boston’s (via Phoenix) Isaiah Thomas and Crawford. He has given the bench scoring punch and although it took the majority of the season for Williams and Vasquez to find a comfortable working chemistry they appear to be functioning as a better tandem recently. When Williams leads the team in scoring Toronto is 14-4 and are 19-8 when he scores 18 points.
Taking Down Old Foes:
For years the Raptors have been the team sitting on the periphery of the playoffs. Specifically in the years our core players left we were never good enough to break through like Boston has and never quite bad enough to get the best lottery picks. During these years there were two specific Eastern foes that had Toronto’s number: Charlotte and Miami. Watching the Raptors beat these teams on the road was made even sweeter because they were still vying for a playoff spot and the losses essentially ended both their post season hopes.
The Play and Sound Bite of the Season:
Coincidentally the best play of the season also provided the best sound bite of the season. The BBoyz and I have added “I cocked that joint back and banged on him” to our basketball vernacular and for some reason we still laugh every time one of us says it.
And the infamous quote:
Back Court Remains top 3 in NBA:
I think we sometimes tend to forget how our two All-Stars are viewed by the NBA loving world. This recent article on NBA.com by Joe Boozell ranks the top-10 back courts with Golden State’s Splash Brothers ranking first and Lowry and DeRozan second. Incidentally the Wizards John Wall and Bradley Beal rank third.
Reserves Making a Mark:
Throughout the season the Raptor bench has ranked in the top-5 and often represent the top producing line-up for the team. Obviously Williams scoring prowess is part of the reason, but the bench also posts some impressive point differentials when utilizing the hockey line-up featuring Vasquez, Williams, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough. In fact that line-up ranks 8th as the best 5-man line-ups in the Association.
“The Toronto Raptors’ five-man combination of Tyler Hansbrough, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams ranks in the 85th percentile of total minutes played among all quintuplets and is outscoring opponents by 17.7 points per 100 possessions—which, for the record, puts it in the 88th percentile of net-rating finishes.” – Dan Favale, Bleacher Report
Entering the post season this factor could play a huge dividend especially versus Washington. The Raptors bench ranks 5th with a +7.3 differential to the Wizards’ 14th rank (+0.2). Furthermore, the Raptors bench rank 6th in scoring to the Wiz’s 15th rank
We The North Fan Base:
Give yourselves a round of applause, you’ve become known throughout the NBA as the most supportive fan base. Certain arenas like Oracle (Golden State), Moda Center (Portland) and Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City) are well known for their crowd support and noise level. But, are there any teams who can boast of having a fan base showing up in hordes to visitors arenas often audibly overtaking the home team’s support?
This season was especially noticeable perhaps because social media makes us more aware, however we’re hearing our fans chanting on air during games highlighting the Raptor love. Los Angeles, Portland, Sacramento, Boston, Chicago and Brooklyn all witnessed droves of Raptor faithful showing up this season, however two specific road games stand out for me. The first visit to Cleveland when the fans were so loud you saw LeBron James get a little annoyed and Detroit was bedlam.
When Dennis Scott was asked on NBA TV last night who he felt would win the series he didn’t say Toronto, or Raptors he said “I’m leaning towards We The North…” Last season I felt the feel good story of the playoffs was the Jurassic Park crowd in front of the ACC and the fans who took over Brooklyn’s arena, but the Clipper situation drowned out all other stories unfortunately. This year the NBA is prepared with some prominent media/celebrities (Bill Simmons of Grantland/ Charles Barkley) publicly rooting for Toronto to make the Eastern Conference Finals. Coincidentally they both want a Chicago vs Toronto ECF, maybe they’ll pull a Tristan Thompson and join the crowd outside the ACC this year if the Raptors can make their aspirations come true.
(picture: fans in the crowd at Cleveland)
Raptors Enter Post Season Healthy:
Okay, so this isn’t really a regular season highlight, however the fact Toronto enters the post season with a healthy squad is key. DeRozan has looked more like the guy who showed up in camp this past month. He’s averaging 23.4 points per game since March, but more importantly he is jumping and driving without hesitation. Last night it appeared the rust was gone from Lowry as he resembled a closer embodiment of the player who carried this team while DeRozan was out and Johnson was sprly running the court on his tip-toes (always a good sign he’s feeling healthy).
NBA Standings in 1 point, 1 minute left games. Good for the Grizz and Rockets. Bad for the Spurs and Thunder pic.twitter.com/eKRR7gNhxk
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 18, 2015
Often teams have to use so much energy to just get into the playoffs and end up being worn down. For the Raptors to have these three players well rested and healthy it should equate to them having more in the tank in late game situations. The other positive is the last week to ten days of the season provided Toronto with an opportunity to play in close games versus desperate teams preparing them for playoff type basketball.
Bottom line, there have been times this season people questioned where the magical squad of 2013-14 had disappeared to, and still others were seemingly in the Paul Pierce camp flatly stating we didn’t have “IT” anymore. Personally I’ve enjoyed getting to watch consecutive seasons of my home team winning, breaking records and recently I’ve noticed a squad who looks focused on meeting another of their 2014-15 objectives: getting to the second round.
Watching the post game interviews last night provided yet another smile worthy moment when Lowry glared at the reporter for even suggesting he respond to Pierce’s comments.
And DeRozan showcased a grit and confidence we haven’t often heard from him (at least publicly) when his response pretty much summed up how the Raptors should feel going into this series.
“He just better hope Chicago win so he won’t see what the IT is”.
From my perspective I’m anxious for another post season to begin and feel optimistic. I believe the Raptors can and will move onto the second round after they Bring “IT” to Paul Pierce and company.
Enjoy the playoffs We The North and let’s make some NOISE!
The Toronto Raptors held their playoff media availability session on Thursday and spit out a few fighting words against the Washington Wizards.
Well, in the end the Charlotte game had no impact on the playoff seeding as the Bulls win against Atlanta automatically relegated the Raptors to the fourth seed and a first round matchup against a stronger-than-most-Raptor-fans-realize, Washington Wizards. Yes, the Raptors won all their games against the Wizards this season and the Raptors’ defense was able to hold John Wall in check in all those games, but despite Randy Whitman’s presence on the bench, this Wizards team is dangerous. They have loads of playoff experience, including former Finals MVP, Paul Pierce, good size up front, some excellent shooting and one of the quickest and most explosive point guards in the league.
We’ve seen one team dominate another one during the regular season only to see the tables turned in the playoffs.
The Raptors will be favourites for the series, due to their home court advantage, but just three games separate the two teams and they matchup surprisingly well. Both teams are lead by mercurial All Star point guards who had previously disappointed, feature scoring shooting guards, big and burly foreign centres that rebound and score well around the basket and injury-prone, offensively limited, veteran power forwards. What Washington has that the Raptors don’t, though, is Paul Pierce.
With the end of the regular season and the playoffs starting Saturday, what this article is going to do is grade each Raptor players’ regular season and look at what they need to improve on in the series against Washington. For those who aren’t regular readers of mine, I eschew the letter grades in favour of a less arbitrary system.
Lowry started off the season well and got even better. In fact, at the beginning of January he was being mentioned as a dark horse MVP candidate as he had lead the Raptors to the best record in the East. There didn’t seem to be anything he couldn’t do; score, pass, rebound and defend. Then he came crashing down to earth. While his final numbers are fairly similar to last season, his play since New Year’s has been beyond disappointing and much of the Raptor’s struggles in the second half is directly related to Lowry’s drop off in play.
Grade: Needs Improvement
Lowry doesn’t need to score like he did in December for the Raptors to beat Washington, but he needs to shoot more consistently and play better defense. Lowry also needs to play smart against John Wall, instead of seeing him as a challenge. If Lowry makes this a personal duel, it could hurt the team over the course of a seven game series.
After making the All Star team last season, a lot was expected of DeRozan this year. There was even hope that he would finally acquire a consistent three point shot. Unfortunately, he started off the season shooting poorly and his three point shot was even worse. He did improve and shot a fairly respectable .364 from three after the All Star break. His defense is still a weak point and he shot a career low from the field, but he’s become a decent playmaker.
Grade: Meets Expectations
DeRozan is going to have to play more like he did after the All Star break and work harder on defense, against Washington. Bradley Beal has the potential to be a nightmare for the Raptors, with his outside shooting, and DeRozan’s penchant for over-helping on defense will play right into Washington’s hands.
More was probably expected of Valanciunas than any other Raptor this season. After working with Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer and gaining more muscle than anyone else on the team, this was supposed to be the year Jonas turned the corner. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Coach Casey limited his playing time, especially in the fourth quarter, leading to fewer minutes than last year. But it was not all Casey’s fault. Valanciunas became a more efficient scorer, but he also is a black hole who still struggles too much against double teams. In fact, his passing has actually gotten worse every season.
Valanciunas’ defense was also questionable at times, although a lot of it had to do with having to bail out the Raptor guards allowing penetration. He’s never going to be a great defender, but he’s still got a long way to go before he’s a good one.
Grade: Needs Improvement
Valanciunas needs to be a scoring presence down low against Gortat, but also make sure the ball doesn’t stop when it’s passed to him. Over the course of a seven game series, letting Valanciunas bring the offense to a grinding halt could be disastrous, and it’s not like Casey needs reason to sit Jonas.
As someone who has consistently defended and cheered Amir, it wasn’t fun watching him physically decline this season. While he’s only 27 years old, his style of play looks like it’s finally starting to wear on him. He saw only a slight drop-off in his numbers, but where it was really noticeable was on defense. He seemed to be a step slower on defense, this season, and his defensive decline might be one of the biggest reasons we’ve seen the Raptors’ defense get so much worse.
On offense and on the boards, he’s as productive as ever, and in fact he’s become one of the best shooters in the league, from 5 feet in. And, interestingly, Amir actually shot .413 from three this season, going 19 for 46.
Grade: Approaching Expectations
Amir spent getting some well-needed time on the DL, over the last couple of weeks, and will have a few more days break before the playoffs start, which is key. What’s most important for Amir is to be healthy, because he’s the team’s best big man defender and they’ll need his help defense.
Ross has been a disappointment this season. He saw his production and efficiency decline and never became the consistent defender most hoped he would be. He can still hit the three and has the tools to be a good defender when focused, but didn’t do it consistently enough this season.
Grade: Needs Improvement
Ross needs to do two things well against Washington. Play defense and hit the three. He’ll face a huge test playing a seven game series against Paul Pierce and if he’s not effective, he might be finding himself on the bench.
When all is said and done, Vasquez produced a season that was almost a carbon copy (young people might need to look up that term) of his play last year with the Raptors. His defense is poor, but he tries and might have one of the better floaters in the league. He was also the team’s best three point shooter after struggling in the first couple of months of the season.
Grade: Meets Expectations
Vasquez is never going to be a good defender, but if he can play like he has the second half of the season, that is what the Raptors will need him to do against Washington.
After inking a big deal for a bench player, over the summer, like seemingly every other Raptor, Patterson’s story is a tale of two seasons. He was on fire from three the first couple of months, but then saw a huge drop off at about the same time Lowry saw his. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
Patterson is who he is. He’s never going to be a great player, but teams will always have need of a stretch four who can rebound and play some defense. And that’s what Patterson does. He spreads the floor better than Amir, but is simply not the defender Amir is.
Grade: Approaching Expectations
Patterson needs to be hitting the three for him to be effective against Washington and pull their big men out.
Williams was the team’s third leading scorer and won several games almost single-handedly for the Raptors this year and hit more than a few key shots down the stretch in close games. Casey’s strategy of simply letting him isolate whenever he’s got the ball is frustrating to watch, but that’s Casey’s fault. What isn’t Casey’s fault, though, is that Lou thinks any shot is a good shot and you probably shouldn’t be shooting 5.4 shots from beyond the arc when you’re only shooting 34% from there (something Lowry also needs to learn).
Grade: Approaching Expectations
Gunners like Williams are generally far more valuable during the regular season than during the playoffs, where their feast or famine play becomes too much of a gamble, and their inability to help the team when not scoring generally relegates them to the bench. For Williams to be valuable, he needs to shoot well. Period.
Johnson’s signing over the summer shocked many Raptor fans who never expected to see him back in a Toronto uniform, but he quickly became a fan favourite by playing gritty defense and doing all the little things a player like him needs to do. He can’t hit outside of ten feet and is not a scorer, but that’s something he seems to have finally figured out.
He did get into Casey’s doghouse, for some unknown reason, but his play has been fairly consistent. And when he plays he’s been one of the more effective Raptor players.
Grade: Exceeds Expectations
Johnson will probably be called on to play against Washington and defending Paul Pierce. Johnson has the ability to shut Pierce down, and if he can do it, the Raptors will have a good chance to win the series.
Hansbrough actually had a very similar season, production-wise, as last year. He struggled a little more defensively, but so did the entire team. He isn’t asked to do a whole lot other than hustle, rebound and play defense. And that’s what he’s done.
Grade: Meets Expectations
Unless one of the Raptor bigs runs into foul trouble or gets injured, it’s unlikely Hansbrough will see a lot of minutes against Washington.
LANDRY FIELDS, CHUCK HAYES, GREG STIEMSMA, LUCAS NOGUIERA, BRUNO CABOCLO
None of these guys played enough to come to any conclusion about them and none will play against Washington unless it’s a blowout.
AROUND THE NBA
I can’t remember a last night of the regular season that had so many important games like last night. The final playoff spot in both the East and West were decided last night, with Brooklyn edging out the Pacers, and the Pelicans sending the Thunder and the league’s new leading scorer, Russell Westbrook, to an early vacation.
By the way, does anyone know the last time a scoring leader did not make the playoffs? I’ll give you a clue, it was a former Raptor.
By losing to the Pelicans, the Spurs dropped all the way to the 6th seed after sitting second just the day before. The best comment about that was on Twitter:
If you need any indication of the gap between the East & West in the NBA, please take note that the Spurs and Bucks have the same seed.
— Brett Edgerton (@EditorEdge) April 16, 2015
That’s not really all that bad, though. They end up facing the Clippers in the first round in what is sure to be the best first round series, and now won’t have to face the Warriors until the Conference Finals, if they make it that far.
When I have to feed my toddler some breakfast in the morning, I usually have to put on some cartoons to distract the little demon while I shove some disgusting cereal in his mouth. Now that the playoffs are here, and with a FT job, that “cartoon time” has been replaced with viewing Wizards tape. Needless to say the little guy now has to watch DeRozan post-ups instead of Ba Ba Black Sheep. It’s not working out too well for him, but for you, though, you get to see three issues with the Washington defense that could favor the Raptors.
The Right Release Valve
DeMar DeRozan recognizes a post-up opportunity against a shorter player, Nene helps aggressively trapping DeRozan, but Amir Johnson is in the right release-valve position to make the pass easy for DeRozan. At this point, Toronto now has a 4-on-3 advantage, at which point the drive yields a very deep position for Jonas Valanciunas, who can finish in that area under single coverage.
Interestingly, Washington chooses to trap DeRozan much further out, but does not even send a double to Jonas Valanciunas who is in a more dangerous position. With Martell Webster available, post-ups against smaller players will need to be sought, since the default configuration of the Wizards defense would see DeRozan matched up with a taller player.
The key to this play is Amir Johnson, because every time the Wizards double, it’s imperative that a player present themselves to the trapped player. If they don’t, it results in possessions where the Raptors take an additional 10 seconds to reset, lowering their chance of success on the possession.
Washington Collapsing. Sound Familar?
Classic dribble-handoff on the left side, which results in DeRozan curling. Washington, again, helps very aggressively using a triple-team on DeRozan who manages to kick it out, leaving Washington at a numbers disadvantage on the weak side. They key here is the shot-making ability of Lou Williams, and the Washington bigs simply not being bothered to come out to the perimeter and rotate. They’d rather get decent positioning for the rebound, than prevent the shot-attempt.
Washington in this sequence doesn’t trust Nene on his own and collapse, showing respect to DeRozan’s finishing ability, and his ability to draw fouls.
Stretch Four Problems
This play highlights Washington’s problems defending the stretch four. The Raptors run this play early in the shot clock, which is great. Lowry’s drive draws help, not just from Gortat, but for some reason Nene is collapsing as well, leaving Patrick Patterson wide open.
The indisciplined Washington defense is prone to making such mistakes. There is absolutely no reason why Nene should leave Patterson open, but reviewing the tape, he tends to make such silly decisions throughout the game. This has been a glaring problem for the Wizards all season along, and they’re stuck between trying to matchup with players like Patterson using someone like Pierce or Webster, but that would come at the expense of rebounding, and take a defender away from checking a better player in DeRozan.
Washington’s defense is not organized. They’re relatively slow, don’t switch well, and their help schemes aren’t consistent and border on puzzling. In that sense, they’re very much like the Raptors. Watching the tape, it’s not surprising that the Raptors have managed a 107 ORTG rating against the Wizards this season, and also exceed their season averages for eFG, TS%, and essentially every offensive statistic against the Wizards.
The regular season is officially in the books, and it ended with a record-setting performance. The club’s 49th win to be exact. Not to mention the entertainment value added by keeping one eye on the Hawks-Bulls boxscore, a matchup (with a Toronto victory) that would determine the Raps first-round playoff opponent. And in case you slept on the festivities, clear your Saturday schedule as Paul Pierce and the Wizards will be crossing the border. It’s an early one so set your alarms, and if you plan on indulging in Friday’s nightlife, do yourself a favour and set your PVR accordingly.
It’s a trip to fathom how such a milestone could have been set when this squad’s shortcomings are held at the forefront more often than their achievements. The basketball gods will forever work in mysterious ways (Jae Crowder misses that shot 8 times out of 10), but all in all, the moment deserves its props.
On the other hand, it really is nothing more than a temporary celebration, and the makings of future trivia fodder. The moment will undoubtedly fade in short order, as this team (I can only hope) and its fan base are no longer satisfied with regular season window-dressing.
Is anybody truly going to look back on Kyle Lowry’s All-Star selection and bask in its glow? Perhaps if the push didn’t receive such mass attention (yours truly included) this team would have had their leader operating at optimum levels throughout the latter part of the year. In retrospect, compensating for DeRozan’s absence seemingly took its toll. This is not to make excuses, Lowry is deserving of the second-half static he’s received from his critics. But I digress.
There was, however, a much needed sighting of K-Low’s old bag of tricks last night. More on that in a bit.
With nothing to play for except pride, and a possible spoiler role, the Hornets weren’t exactly the ideal postseason tune-up. Especially without the services of their prominent interior presence, Al Jefferson. On the optimistic side of things, the three nail-biting tilts leading up to Charlotte offered valuable fourth-quarter dramatics. Let us all thank the aforementioned hardwood gods that Randy Wittman doesn’t have the same in-game adjustment plan as one, Brad Stevens.
Mix in Coach Casey’s clipboard, and you’ll have to get your Game of Thrones fix elsewhere.
Which brings us to our expectations for the postseason. Let’s mix a few of the finale’s takeaways with snapshots of the season.
Opportunities to improve upon what ails this team no longer exist, the Raps are now in a bubble. All ill-advised passes from the backcourt (Lowry’s half-court gambles need to stop), each defensive matador impersonation (take your pick), and each pull-up jumper with not a proper-postioned rebounder in sight essentially have to be lived with. We’re all now hanging on by a very thin possession-by-possession thread, and every detail is about to be magnified.
The Wizards’ long-two philosophy can work against them (that sounds familiar), but don’t think John Wall won’t be attacking the rim at will. If the Raps continue to give too much leeway to opposing guards, the NBA’s second in command in the assist department (10.0 APG) will eat the Raps’ “rotations” alive.
Zero trips to the stripe in 34 minutes is not reassuring, but overall DeRozan continued to lead the charge. His own long-two’s have become more methodical, and less detrimental. To paraphrase Dennis Green: “We are who we think we are.” As much as we’ve all grown tiresome of the Raps’ offensive identity, or lack thereof, all parties involved are now forced to get behind the jump-shot mentality. Who am I kidding, at the first sign of it backfiring, feel free to let the hate fly.
This leads to Valanciunas. Sure, guard play can mask a team’s inefficiencies inside, but there might not be a more important player going into battle with Washington. JV still lacks toughness, awareness (at both ends), and still offers predictable low-post moves, but the concerning difference between the 26th overall rebounding squad (Raps) and the 8th overall (Wash) is a weakness-gap that needs to be addressed.
The minute experiment went on for far too long, and this front-court is not as prepared for the second season as they could be. On the bright side, a sense of offensive renewal came forth vs. the Hornets, and the defensive prowess of Gortat, Seraphin, and Kris Kardashian is manageable. It would be disappointing if the Raptors continue with their business as usual game-plan, as in, kick it inside, kick it back outside, then the perimeter decides to improvise when they should be going right back in when established position presents itself.
As for No. 7, Lowry’s timing cut it razor thin. His shooting woes took a backseat, carelessness was not completely removed, but it’s heading in the right direction, and the defensive intensity that made him such a popular figure in this town made a cameo appearance. Whether a trend is occurring, or the rust will rear its ugly head yet again is anybody’s guess, but I think a calming faith has been installed. Especially when you drop 6 treys with the majority of them falling within a proper ball-moving half-court set, and not in blind transition.
Will JJ’s minutes continue to fluctuate? Most likely. Which versions of Vasquez and Lou will show up, the clutch or the mixed bag? I would hedge any bet. Will T-Ross continue to chuck it from downtown and ignore his athletic ability? One can only hope not. Will Psycho-T’s increased minutes remain? At the very least he’s earned it. Amir and Patterson, one walking wounded, the other struggling to find his early season rhythm. Both of which have the potential to make huge impacts on this series. Let’s get this party started already.
A Raps’ legend was in attendance, and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire deserved every bit of that standing ovation and then some. The very first Raptor to help open the eyes of the mainstream on what this city has to offer to the basketball community. For the new school fans, I suggest a film session. For all the old schoolers, a sight for sore eyes to help jumpstart the playoffs.
Madness is upon us. Seven games, anyone?
So what will be the headline after this series? Raptors Win Raptors Win … Raps claim first seven game playoff series or Raps Lose! What does Masai do with this roster and coach?
Player to Watch: Kyle Lowry. He’s the emotional leader of the Raptors, and the sole All-Star to represent Toronto this season. After missing games in March and April with a back injury, the All-Star finished the season on a positive note, scoring 26 points in a tight win over the Hornets. Every player wants to be fit at the right time of the season, and Lowry shared his thoughts to the waiting media on the eve of the playoffs. ”This is what we play for,” Lowry said. ”Now it’s the time where it gets a little bit more serious.”
Marcin Gortat had eight points in 14 minutes and was the only starter to appear in this one. But for the big picture has the hot hand and has to be ridden for every dollar of the $12 million he’s making for the postseason. He’s the only Wizards player to start all 82 games.Defending stretch fours — in this case Kevin Love who was 5 of 6 on three-pointers in just 18 minutes — remains a trouble spot whether using starters or reserves. Does Kendrick Perkins ever not travel? With the score tied at 99 with less than one minute left, Matthew Dellavedova found Perkins — he of the nine-step travel violation that went uncalled last week — took at least four steps en route to the rim. It wasn’t the only time that Perkins had happy feet in this game, but this missed call was the most obvious of them all.
This Washington group, under the guidance of head coach Randy Wittman, have come into their own over the past two seasons. They made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008, and were beaten by the Indiana Pacers in the second round after upsetting Chicago. The club started this season on a roll, with their best record in the first nine games since 1974-75. Despite a lacklustre campaign in the closing weeks — the team is under .500 since the all-star break — they’ve gone on to post their highest win total in 36 years (46-36 record), with the added depth and winning pedigree of Pierce, who signed with Washington in the off-season.
“We really try not to get caught up into expectations, because sometimes that can be a distraction a little bit and kind of detour us from goal,” said DeRozan, while adding the team has done most of what it set out to accomplish. “Being resilient. Always being the underdog. Never having expectations placed on us. Just never paying attention to that and understanding we’re just continuing to get better. And the biggest thing, just not us players, but whole the city and the organization, was just win.” “We’re fine,” Greivis Vasquez said. “I think we have enough experience right now. We have all-stars. We got guys that can hit shots. Guys that have been in this position. So it’s no excuses. We got to go out and make it happen.”
Nash officially hung up his sneakers last month, though he had fought through debilitating injuries through his three-season tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers. “Yeah, I think it is always going to be — if not always, for a long time I’m going to be going through this transition because I did something so passionately for so long,” Nash said at the Toronto Central YMCA where he was in for an appearance on Wednesday. “It was not only what I did, but it was my routine and my outlet and all those things so it’s definitely a transition, but I also had a pretty good year and a half where I was coming to terms with it as I fought to get back on the court and I think that kind of helped me in an odd way,” he said.
Least Improved: Terrence Ross Needless to say, this wasn’t the breakout campaign many expected from the third-year swingman, who has seen his game regress to the point that Dwane Casey pulled him out of the starting lineup for chunks of the season. Ross has been a gunner whose shots miss more often than not, and aside from flashes of defensive aptitude, he’s hardly become the 3-and-D stopper we all thought he’d become. The low point came during a seven-game stretch in January that saw Ross’s minutes and production drop off dramatically. How dramatically? He averaged 18.5 minutes and just three points per game and shot 18.9, 23.5 and 50 percent from on field goals, threes and free throws, respectively.
It begins this weekend at the ACC against the No. 5 seed Wizards, a team that matches up well against the Raptors, despite Washington losing its season series against Toronto. There is speed and explosiveness in John Wall, shooters and bigs that will pose problems for the Raptors. For the record, the Raptors beat the visiting Charlotte Hornets 92-87 on Wednesday night in as nondescript a game one will ever see as Toronto won its 49th game of the season, a franchise high. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were in prime form, which bodes well for the playoffs. Against the Wizards, they mu
“Last year, for me, I just called that a throwaway season,” Williams said during his first month with the Raptors. Lou Williams has averaged 15. 5 points a game this season, the best of his 10 years in the NBA, as he often spurred energetic comeback runs. The highly-valued Raptor is playing 25.2 minutes a night and has hit numerous buzz-beating end-of-quarter or game-winning shots. April has been his best month this season, a period in which he averaged 20.3 points and handled 29.3 minutes a night off the bench. Williams’s value was made even more obvious Wednesday night during Toronto’s 82nd and final regular-season game, when the team chose to limit his activity to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Going into Wednesday night, he had played in all but one of Toronto’s games this season, and according to coach Dwane Casey, was feeling some general soreness.
DeRozan took the court before the game to address the sellout Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800, saying: “We want to thank y’all for being the best fans in the NBA. Enjoy the game and enjoy the playoffs.” The Raptors head into the post-season on a high, after firing on all cylinders Wednesday. They shot a sizzling 49 per cent, and when James Johnson took flight for a huge putback jam with just under five minutes to play, it put the Raptors up by 16 points. They cruised through the final five minutes, and crowd stood and cheered the playoff-bound team through the game’s final minute. Lowry looked in playoff form in his fourth game back after missing nine of 10 with a back injury, shooting 8-for-15 — 6-for-9 from three-point range — and adding seven assists.
Last off-season, Ujiri did as little to the roster as he reasonably could. The changes happened around the edges, the salary commitments were kept reasonably short, and the roster stayed in tact, more or less. Ujiri, essentially, wanted to expand the sample size on which to judge this roster. Given last year’s sudden turnaround, that was understandable. On Saturday, the Raptors’ “found money” era officially ends. The process has started, but the playoffs will allow Ujiri to judge every part of this organization. There are many valid reasons to expect Pierce is right about the Raptors, if not the implication that his team is somehow above them. The Raptors now have their chance to prove him wrong in person.
“Im ready,” Arenas wrote this week. “The #DMV is ready….toronto yall dont want these problems…CANADA im sorry but ur players still dont know ur national anthem songz…unless #drake put that in a song…yall just wasting 5 mins of warmup time…im just saying we have older players..and that #bengay runs out by time the game start….#BULLS u better not drop that game tomorrow….or we frying up some bologna and yes were gonna keep the ring on it..hahahaha #trashtalking101 i need my tickets front row #MsJones” Someone get me a Gilbert Instagram decoder ring. Anyhow, if Arenas shows up in the front row of a home playoff game to talk trash to the Raptors….well, it worked for Wale and RGIII.
“Paul Pierce has always gotta say something,” said the Raptors’ leading scorer. “He said something last year [too], he’s always got to say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he says.” “It?,” asked Dwane Casey. “Whatever ‘It’ is. I have to ask Paul what ‘It’ is. Everybody’s got their opinion. If he feels that way about us, or whoever else. That’s something we’ve always [done]. You’ve got to go out in this league and prove it to people if they don’t feel like we have ‘It’. We have to find out what ‘It’ is.” “He’d just better hope Chicago [loses] or whatever’s got to happen so he won’t see what ‘It’ is.” With Chicago’s win – locking the Bulls into third and a match-up with Milwaukee – DeRozan and the Raptors will get their chance at redemption, an opportunity to show Pierce they have “It”, whatever “It” is.
Earlier this week, the Wizards forward told ESPN.com he wasn’t worried about the Raptors because they didn’t have the “it” factor. “Paul Pierce has always got to say something,” DeMar DeRozan scoffed. “He said something last year, he’s always got to say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he says. “He’d just better hope Chicago or whatevers got to happen so he won’t see what ‘it’ is.” DeRozan was speaking before the Raptors learned their playoff opponent. Chicago’s victory over Atlanta later Wednesday night meant Toronto plays Washington. Had Atlanta won, Toronto would have faced Milwaukee. Lowry rolled his eyes when asked if Toronto has the “it” factor. “Yes, we do,” he said. With a post-season of experience under their belts, DeRozan said they’ll be ready when the ball is tossed up on the playoffs on Saturday.
Defence: A It’s really not a daunting task defending the shorthanded Charlotte Hornets. The Raptors held them to 42% from the field and only 36% from beyond the arc. The Raptors did a good job of closing out on their man Hornets could only muster up 15 dimes for the night.
Instead of facing the Bulls, who the Wizards beat in last year’s playoff series and have enjoyed a fair share of success against recently, they’ll be facing the Raptors, who have dominated their recent meetings. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Raptors are 6-1 against the Wizards, including 3-0 against Washington this season. While the Wizards’ recent track record against Toronto isn’t encouraging, the Raptors’ performance since the All Star break should provide a glimmer of hope for Wizards fans. Since the break, the Raptors are 13-16.
“It means a lot. We are not satisfied. We’re not done yet. The real season starts this weekend and that’s what we have been building for. Again, every year is part of the growing process. Two division titles in two years is important for this organization. It’s a growing profess. I’ve seen it happen over the years and have been a part of different organizations that have won and we are getting to that level. We are not there yet, but we are getting there and this year is another step.” – Casey on setting a new franchise record for wins
Wizards – Scoring (Bradley Beal 26.0*, John Wall 19.0), Rebounding (Kris Humphries 9.5), Assists (John Wall 9.0) Raptors – Scoring (DeMar DeRozan 21.0, Lou Williams 19.7), Rebounding (Patrick Patterson 6.3), Assists (Kyle Lowry 6.3) What’s new: Both teams thrived early in the season before fading in 2015. Since Jan. 1, the Wizards are 24-27 while the Raptors are 25-25. Star matchup: Point guards John Wall and Kyle Lowry represented the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game this season. Key matchup: Toronto’s ability to spread the court with shooters burned Washington’s big man lineup with Marcin Gortat and Nene the past two seasons. Drew Gooden’s stretch-4 skill set likely leads to a bigger role especially considering his production in the final meeting between the teams back in February.
Damon Stoudamire, recognized Wednesday night by the Raptors to wind up the team’s “celebration” of 20 seasons, isn’t about to get greedy in his current gig as a Wildcat assistant. “I’m not trying to come to Canada and get all the good players,” he said. “I just want one good player.” That’s not an outrageous request seeing how Stoudamire is partially responsible for the explosion of basketball in Toronto and across Canada. He was the first star the team employed 20 years ago, a small left-handed point guard who became the league’s rookie of the year and a darling to Toronto fans who admired not only his skill but his competitive nature just as much. Saddled with a group of teammates who were cast off from other teams because of flaws in their games and their characters, Stoudamire almost single-handedly kept the Raptors in some games and helped popularize the game to the point the GTA produced back-to-back No. 1 NBA draft picks.
Damon Stoudemire returned to Toronto as part of the Raptors 20th Anniversary celebrations. He talked with the media about beating the Chicago Bulls his rookie season, why Russell Westbrook is his favourite point guard in the NBA, almost being teammates with Allen Iverson here in Toronto, recruiting and social media.
The schedule for the first four games has been released, and it reads like this.
Blake Murphy: The Bucks would have been preferable but far more depends on how the Raptors play than the difference between the Wiz and Bucks. Shrug.
Scott Hastie: Dwane Casey vs. Randy Wittman is a test of patience for casual basketball fans and I can’t wait.
Sam Holako: A geriatric Paul Pierce still gives me anxiety.
Tim Chisholm: John Wall seems like the kind of player that would shred this porous team and yet they’ve held him 40% shooting — this matchup seems to suit them.
Zarar Siddiqi: Washington will be too concerned with Lowry and DeRozan, and will sleep on Jonas Valanciunas who is primed to have a big series against an overrated interior defense.
Andrew Thompson: Let the battle of the long twos and benched big men begin!
William Lou: Don’t be afraid of Washington’s defense, they’re good, but the Raptors managed an offensive rating of 109 against them this season, and get excited for two weeks of Wall vs. Lowry.
Nick Reynoldson: Man, Paul Pierce can fuck right off.
Barry Taylor: Kyle Lowry is more handsome than John Wall
Tim W: Not sure what kind of sentence you’re looking for, but how about….well, at least they don’t have to play Boston.
Ryan McNeill: After the game DeMar DeRozan was literally begging for Paul Pierce and the Washington Wizards. DeRozan got his wish and it’s looking like a series full of emotions and intensity.
Michael Hollian: The secret weapon: End of the quarter, Lou Williams’ ISO’s. The Wizards will never see it coming! We got this…
Some Twitter reactions:
Raptors will play the Wizards beginning Saturday afternoon. Raptors new slogan, replacing 'We the North? 'This Is It'
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) April 16, 2015
Raptors-Wizards: Two teams whose fanbases aren’t really sure they want to win, but sure as hell don’t want the other team to win.
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) April 16, 2015
Raps starters have 59 games of playoff experience, Wizards starters 281. Pierce has more (148) than entire Raps 8man rotation combined (123)
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 16, 2015
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 16, 2015
Gilbert Arenas is already taking shots at the Raptors and Bulls http://t.co/Vw22b4JREw
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) April 15, 2015
Raptors & Wizards… Through Dec. 29: 46-15 Since Dec. 30: 49-54
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 16, 2015
Raptors rookies have logged 46 minutes this season. Wizards? Zero minutes from rookies. Atlanta (19), New Orleans (29), Portland (38) next
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 15, 2015
— Chris Black (@ByChrisBlack) April 16, 2015
The Bulls beat the Hawks tonight, which means the Raptors will face the Washington WIzards in the first-round of the NBA playoffs, which will start Saturday in Toronto.
Here are some notes, quotes and observations from Toronto’s 92-87 win over Charlotte:
- When you walk into Toronto’s locker room the first thing you notice is a huge mural/mosiac. It’s full of photos of players, coaches and front office people with their families. Great, personal touch. I think it was Masai Ujiri’s idea.
- Dwane Casey joked with the media that Lou Williams didn’t play tonight due to Father Time. Almost as good of a line as Gregg Popovich holding Tim Duncan out of a game because he was old.
- DeMar DeRozan didn’t like Paul Pierce telling the media that Toronto doesn’t have “it” when it comes to the playoffs. He was openly pining for Toronto to meet Washington in the first round.
- Dwane Casey on setting franchise record for wins: “It means a lot. We are not satisfied; we are not done yet. The real season starts this weekend and that’s what we have been building for. Again, every year is a process. I’ve seen it happen over the years and I have been part of different organizations that have won and we are getting to that level. We are not there yet but we are getting there and this year is another step.”
- Casey on if team is ready for playoffs after a tough stretch following All-Star break: “We should be and we have no choice. It starts Saturday. They aren’t going to change the date. If we are not ready then it’s a little late right now. I like our defensive focus. We’re getting a little bit better defensively. We’re knocking down in situations that we should be. Rotating. Bodies in position. Again, we are not going to change physically who we are, but we can change our focus and attention to detail on the defensive end.”
- DeMar DeRozan on setting the franchise record for wins: “It means everything to me, personally. I’ve been here through it all. I grew here and everything we do means a lot to me. I feel that I played a big role so it definitely means a lot to me.”
- Troy Daniels was on fire beyond the arc going 6-13 in under 30 minutes of burn. He’s making it hard for the Hornets to not bring him back next season.
- Toronto is 30-6 when holding opponents under 100 points. Sticking with the defensive end, Toronto is 25-7 when holding opponents below 45% shooting.
- Charlotte scored the last six points of the game to pull to within five.
- My apologies to the Raptors PR team and the players for not wording some posts properly this season. This season I had commented on Lou Williams not being eager to talk with the media and James Johnson “ducking out” before the media could talk with him. I should have been more clear that this was due to those players not wanting to hog the spotlight and that they were being team players. In no way were my comments meant to put either the players or the Raptors PR team in a bad light.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 22 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +9 +/-You get effort every time he steps on the floor and he’ll scrap for any loose ball. What he lacks in height and arm length he makes up for in determination and basketball IQ. The tandem of Hansbrough and Patterson work well together switching coverages, communicating and offering a valid option for small ball. The last few games the Raps have held teams field goal average under 40 either for the majority or entirety of the game which may be partially due to his increased minutes.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 33 MIN | 5-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +8 +/-I’ll take this Terrence Ross entering the post season over the one we saw in February prior to his demotion to the bench. He has an extra jump in his step reminiscent of when he blocked the inbound pass in last year’s fateful game 7. He’s still focusing on 3-point shots with the occasional paint drive-pull up however it looks more natural. in the first half I felt defensively he appeared to be more dialed in, quicker to cut off drives and use his length. Then I checked the box score and lo and behold he led the team with a +16|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 27 MIN | 9-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 18 PTS | +14 +/-Someone mentioned to me the other night how uncomfortable JV has looked and whether it was a confidence issue. I do tend to think he psychs himself out however he remains one of the best at converting when the ball is in his hands as he displayed tonight especially in the 3rd quarter. To that end, JV was the biggest question mark entering the playoffs last season and came out game 1 delivering an All-Star type performance. Can we hope for a repeat of that this year and will Casey and the guards make him a pivotal piece of the offense? He had no rebounds in the second half or I’d give him the A+|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 37 MIN | 8-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 26 PTS | +5 +/-His looked fluid right out of the gate with his 3-point shot seemingly back. At the half he already had 3 steals but he got his hands on several balls tipping them and causing turnovers. Best he’s looked since his return. And his SWAGGER is back.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 34 MIN | 8-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 16 PTS | +8 +/-Casey said post game they held DeRozan out last game based on him experiencing some tightness in his groin. Made me wonder if that was true or part of the cat and mouse game several of the playoff teams have been playing. Of note, remember when teams would just stick taller defenders on him? In my opinion he looks more confident than how he started the season when he’s guarded by a taller defender. He spun Henderson around (who has owned him previously) on a couple of occasions tonight deserving consideration for Smitty’s top 5 under the rim. Didn’t make it to the line but delivered a complete game and love the 6 assists|
|Amir Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -9 +/-I remember Amir saying he runs on his tip toes. If you have the game on PVR go back and watch because you can see some occasions when he never lets the ball of his foot touch the court. That speaks to him feeling healthier which bodes well for the post season since a healthy Amir provides intangibles galore. Happy he’s back and healthy, he didn’t bring his A or his B game but that’s okay we don’t need it until Saturday.|
|James Johnson, PF 15 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -3 +/-We beg for him to get more minutes, he drops awe inspiring dunks and is the best defender on the team. Just as he finally appears to be out of the DC dog house he played like he did in the first half. Silly turnovers, jumping unnecessarily past shooters leaving them wide open and made terrible decisions on the offensive end. I’m blaming the red dye for causing momentary insanity. Fortunately he returned in the second half to give us another of those jaw dropping dunks (as I breath a sigh of relief it didn’t cost him a seat in reserve obscurity)|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 26 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -4 +/-I’d still like to see him get more shot attempts, but I can’t complain much when JV is getting touches which is actually more important.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 25 MIN | 2-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -3 +/-Like Lowry his shot appears to be back and we know he never lost his swagger. Perhaps the additional minutes he had when Lowry was out got him more comfortable, but he’s actually looked even more comfortable with Lowry back akin to the chemistry the two had last season. 6 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 of 4 from three. Much better ball handling than last game out|
I know Lowry needs to get his timing and rhythm back, but with 26 points, 6 of 9 from 3, up by 11 and 3 minutes remaining, I’m screaming at the TV … WHAT THE HELL IS LOWRY STILL DOING IN THE GAME DWANE? Then he takes out Lowry and puts DeRozan back in. Even though the team played great, his rotations continue to baffle
Five Things We Saw
- Raptors had 23 assists at the end of the third quarter which consequently was the quarter the team seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. They were hitting their 3’s and moving the ball inside and out with ease.
- Everyone seemed to think Cleveland purposely held out Irving in one game and their big 3 in the second game versus Boston in an effort to propel them into 7th. Perhaps I’m the only one, but it made more sense to me they were trying to determine the Hawks opponent as either Indy or the Nets pose size issues for Atlanta’s height challenged front court which is arguably their one weakness.
- Nice to see Damon Stoudemire (Mighty Mouse) in the house. Takes me back to the beginning when going to the Dome was an adventure in itself.
- Raptors set a new franchise record with 49 wins. No it’s not the coveted 50, but factoring in DeRozan’s absence for 20+ games and Lowry being out for a bunch it’s still a positive and an improvement.
- Chicago are trailing Atlanta by 7 as of posting. Seasons over, do you have your Toronto Raptors tickets for the playoffs?
81 down and 1 to go. And unlike most seasons, there’s actually a lot riding on this game.
After the loss against Boston last night, the Raptors are stuck at a franchise record-tying 48 wins, so another win will break the franchise record. That’s nice, but what’s more important is that this last game could decide who the Raptors will play in the first round, and who they would play in the second round if they make it that far.
A win tonight, coupled with a loss by the Bulls (who are playing the Hawks), will guarantee a first round series against the Bucks, who currently have the third rated defense in the league and might be a tough first round opponent for the Raptors. They beat Toronto once in three games this season and have the type of roster that could cause the Raptors trouble. Their roster is full of long, athletic players who can play multiple positions, something the Raptors often have difficulty with. Plus, they’re coached by Jason Kidd, who was the coach of the Nets, last year, when they beat the Raptors in seven games.
If the Raptors are able to get past Milwaukee, they would have to face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team most experts pick to make it out of the East.
On the other hand, a loss tonight (or a win by the Bulls) will result in a fourth seed and a first round matchup against the Washington Wizards, who are just a couple of games behind the Raptors in the standings. The Raptors only played one game against a healthy Wizards starting lineup and they barely escaped in a four point overtime win.
John Wall is the type of guard that drives the Raptors’ defense nuts and while Paul Pierce’s best days may be behind him, he’s known to raise his game during the playoffs and has more playoff experience than the entire Raptors’ roster combined. In fact, he has more than twice as much experience than the entire Raptors roster combined.
And, they have the league’s fifth rated defense.
While the Raptors won all three games they played against Washington, the Wizards are probably the worst case scenario as possible Raptor first round opponents.
Atlanta may be a more attractive second round opponent, despite their record, because they don’t have a LeBron James, but getting to the second round may be tougher against Washington than Milwaukee.
The biggest thing in the Raptors’ favour in a series against Washington is that Randy Whitman is somehow still their coach, and he may be one of the few coaches in the league Raptor fans would want less than Dwane Casey.
So a win tonight would not only break the franchise record for wins, but also go a long way to ensuring a slightly easier first round opponent, so long as Chicago plays along by losing.
On the surface, Charlotte has absolutely nothing to play for. A win or loss will do absolutely nothing either for the playoffs (since they were officially out of the playoffs last week) or the lottery (no team is close enough in wins to make a difference), but teams with nothing to lose and the ability to play the spoiler can often cause trouble for teams like the Raptors at the end of a long season.
Charlotte has won two of three against the Raptors this season and have won thirteen of their last sixteen against Toronto. For some reason, the Raptors have struggled against Charlotte. In fact, you have to go back to the 2009-2010 season to find a season in which the Raptors are above .500 against the Hornets, or the Bobcats, as they were called then.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Will Charlotte Care?
After a disappointing season in which they missed the playoffs after a surprise playoff appearance last year, it would be easy to see many of the Hornet players wanting to have the season over and start the summer. That said, without a playoff appearance, ending the season with a win might be the only motivation they need.
With them owning the Raptors the last few years, Charlotte players should be confident any time they face Toronto.
Of course, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist won’t suit up and neither will Lance Stephenson. Plus, Raptor-killer Al Jefferson is questionable.
In the last game of the season, it’s either a chance for some of the deeper bench guys to play, or for Casey to shorten the bench in preparation for the playoffs. With the game actually having some meaning, it’s difficult to see Casey deciding tonight is the best chance for Bruno to get extended playing time. Of course, the last thing you want to see is for a starter to get hurt in the last game.
DeRozan was held out of last night’s game, but I’m guessing Casey won’t let him sit for the home crowd.
Where Is Lowry?
Lowry is not the player we saw in December. I think it’s obvious that was an aberration, much like Russell Westbrook’s near triple-double month and Jeremy Lin’s Linsanity tour. But he’s also better than he’s shown since the All Star break, where’s he’s shooting a horrible .368 from the field and hasn’t exactly improved his defensive reputation.
For the Raptors to have any success in the playoffs, Lowry needs to play well and he needs to start with a good game tonight to boost his confidence.
It all depends on who’s playing. If Casey sits DeRozan as well as Lowry (doubtful), and Jefferson plays for the Hornets, then Charlotte actually might have the better starting lineup. If Lowry and DeRozan play, then the Raptors have the better starting lineup, whether or not Jefferson suits up.
Edge: Raptors (I’m guessing both Lowry and DeRozan play)
No matter what, Charlotte will be missing at least one starter (possibly two, if you count Cody Zeller, who started 45 games this year) and their top bench player. And they didn’t have much depth to begin with.
I’m not sure what the odds of Casey returning are, but I’m guessing they are not good. He’s been outcoached more than he’s outcoached, this season, and I’d hate to know what his Quick Reaction grade average is over the entire season.
Steve Clifford is no Gregg Popovich or even Brad Stevens, but he’s a decent coach who is in a similar situation as Casey. Both coaches surprised the league by coaching their teams to playoff appearances last year but followed it up with disappointing seasons. Charlotte’s was obviously more disappointing, but they were also ravaged by injuries and the fact that they passed over Elfrid Payton for Noah Vonleh.
A team with the confidence Charlotte has against the Raptors, on the last game of the season, with nothing to lose should worry Toronto. Their heartbreaking loss against Boston last night might motivate them, but trying to guess which Raptor team is going to show up lately has been impossible.
With Charlotte’s dominance over the Raptors, since 2010, anyone thinking the Raptors will run away with this one is overly optimistic.
Score: Charlotte 95 – Raptors 89 (Assuming Al Jefferson plays)
Resident-douchebag, Paul Pierce has commented on the Raptors not having what it takes to win a playoff series:
“We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried. There isn’t a team I look at in the Eastern Conference that makes me say, ‘They are intimidating, we don’t have a chance.’”
He’s trying to start some mental wars before any series gets underway. DeRozan was asked to comment about the quote:
DeRozan laughed off Pierce’s comments that Raptors don’t have “it” factor. Was surprised to hear, said he’ll use it as further motivation
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 15, 2015
It’s all up in the air heading into tonight, but early results from the poll indicate that Raptors fans would much rather face the inexperienced Milwaukee Bucks than the Wizards who they have swept.
With who the Raptors will face still in limbo, which opponent do you think gives the Raptors a better shot at advancing to the second-round? And most importantly, why? Answer in the comments.
Well, that was a curious game to have watched. Last night’s effort in Boston was somehow a display of all the different down the final stretch of the regular season coaching strategies at once. The Raptors rested DeMar so he would be healthy and fresh for the playoffs. But, the Raptors also played the still recovering from a back injury Kyle Lowry 36 minutes. The Raptors looked like they wanted to win the game for the most part, which makes sense, since the 3 seed was on the line. But they also started Tyler Hansbrough and ran him for 23 minutes and let the aforementioned Lowry shoot anything he wanted early on in an attempt to help him find some rhythm. It was a little worrying to see Lowry play so many minutes, Amir Johnson play any minutes if his ankles were restricting him to a reduced role off the bench, James Johnson still play so few minutes, the Raptors struggle this much to initiate their offense against a team whose inside presence is Tyler freaking Zeller and for them to ultimately drop the game and slip into the 4th seed, where they will most likely finish the season.
The last minute of the game was certainly entertaining, even if not ultimately a satisfying result. The Raptors and Celtics went back and forth trading Kyle Lowry isolation drives to the basket for Brad Stevens drawn-up plays. Ultimately, it felt like it came down to the fact that Boston just got the last shot at it, a well-contested heave from Jae Crowder at the buzzer. If that’s the shot that beats you, then so it goes.
The game wasn’t without some positives to take away. Vasquez, who has struggled more often than not while playing in the starting lineup this season, was effective in his role playing more point guard than shooting guard. He facilitated the ball well, something that was necessary with Lowry looking more for his own shot, and was able to create open shots for his teammates against what turns out to be a lousy Boston defense if you can get the ball past Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley. Patrick Patterson was the sometimes beneficiary of this, and though still hesitant to shoot from deep, he was 2 of 3 from beyond the arc, at least temporarily busting out of his protracted shooting slump.
There are two questions that everyone in Raptorland wants to know the answers to from Dwayne Casey. 1) Are there any photographs anywhere in existence in which Dwayne Casey is smiling? And 2) Why do you not play or trust James Johnson so? Despite his recent spat of DNP –CDs, the red menace did get 19 minutes of effective play last night. In that time he played solid defense and put up 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting. Whether this means that it’s more likely that he gets these minutes in the playoffs or that we’ll all continue to scratch our heads and pull out our hair trying to figure out why Casey won’t play him, the answer is yes.
It’s hard to look at last night’s game as anything other than a loss. This isn’t exactly deep analysis, since they, you know, lost the game and all. But besides slipping a spot in the standings, if the Raptors intended to use last night’s game as a kind of intense practice or opportunity for rest it didn’t really work on that front either. Lowry got to the basket at will down the stretch, but he didn’t look at all in rhythm and played a relaxed game on defense that would have made sense if the only goal were rest. If rest were the goal though, it would have made sense to me for him to have actually gotten some. Valanciunas couldn’t get in a rhythm either or figure out the inconsistency of the way the refs were calling and not calling an alternatively physical and then ticky-tack game inside. Any opportunity for him to be a focal point and work on his inside game heading into round one was also lost. And final, just from a perspective of playoff readiness, every timeout, end of quarter play and lineup choice between the two coaches made me feel like Stevens was playing chess compared to Casey’s checkers. The Raptors will never figure out their defense; we know this. But it’s troubling to watch them still unable to get their offense rolling without 10 seconds already have rolled off the clock, continue to rely on Lou and Lowry to bail out half of their possessions and for them to simply fall back on isolation whenever a bucket is needed or time is running out. No 3 seed, no rest and no momentum. Bring on the Wizards!(?)
We’ll do this again. Now that its confirmed that we’ll either be facing the Bucks or the Wizards, who’s your preference for the first round of these NBA playoffs?
“It would be big for us. We wanted 50, but that’s out the window. We’re going to take as many wins as we can possibly get,” said point guard Kyle Lowry, who has played three games since returning from back spasms Friday. Lowry has averaged 23.3 points in his last three games against Charlotte (33-48). He sat out the Raptors’ lone win in the season series, a 92-74 road victory last Wednesday. The Hornets played without Al Jefferson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Lance Stephenson and Cody Zeller in the second of their current string of five defeats.
If Chicago wins, the Raptors get fourth, regardless of how they fared earlier. “I don’t think it matters to us at all,” said Kyle Lowry, who scored 16 points in his third game back from injury Tuesday night. “You don’t want to affect the seeding. You just want to go out there and play. Whatever happens, happens. It’s meant to be.” “It doesn’t matter,” Amir Johnson echoed after making his return from an ankle injury that kept him out of four games. “We played a great season, we’re in the playoffs and I feel like no matter where we are in the first round we’re going to do well.”
Offense – C After a fantastic first half of team basketball, the Raptors sputtered. The ball started to stick, we saw some absolutely ridiculous shots from Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams, and it ultimately buried the Raptors. The intensity wasn’t there offensively, and Dwane Casey continues to come up short on that end of the court. 20 turnovers isn’t going to get it done. A silver lining is that Amir Johnson returned, and made 4 out of 5 shots, meaning the Raptors will be fully healthy for the playoffs. Contrarily, Lowry has looked quite bad, and will need to return to early season form soon, or it will certainly spell trouble. Defense – B For the most part, the Raps held their ground defensively. However, there were certain plays where you just have to wonder. It’s as if the team takes breaks at random points during the game for some reason. It didn’t help that the refs were absolutely atrocious on one of the most important games of the season.
It was the fifth straight win for the Celtics, who clinched a playoff spot on Monday when Brooklyn lost. “It’s exactly what we wanted, no matter who it is — whether the Atlanta Hawks or Cleveland,” Crowder said. Kyle Lowry had 16 points for the Raptors, who are locked into the fourth seed and will face Washington. Toronto beat the Wizards in all three meetings this season. “The way we lost tonight, we’re disappointed,” coach Dwane Casey said. “But it doesn’t (spoil) the season.” Boston collected 17 offensive rebounds and owned a 50-43 edge on the glass. “They were crashing the boards really hard,” Lowry said.
The Raptors are far from a soft bunch and they’re a heck of a team, so you knew the fourth quarter was going to be a dogfight between two hungry teams. What we didn’t know was how thrilling of a finish we were about to witness, as the division rivals went at each others necks in back-and-forth fashion as they completed spectacular clutch play after spectacular clutch play. From Evan Turner’s ATO baseline jumper to Kyle Lowry’s tough drives to the rim, Tyler Zeller’s right-place-at-the-right-time layup set up a remarkable last-second finish. With 3.1 seconds left on the clock, the Celtics had the ball on the baseline and Brad Stevens worked some more magic to set someone up to be a hero.
Smart has struggled defending Lowry all year; he hasn’t figured out how to deal with that combination of strength and quickness. But, per usual, he hit a big 3 late and shut down Lou Williams on a couple of last minute Raptor possessions. Dunking twice in murderous fashion was a pleasant surprise.
In what had to be a situation that sent shudders through the organization, some groin discomfort kept DeMar DeRozan on the sidelines as the Raptors dropped a 95-93 decision to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. DeRozan said the tightness was on the other side of his body from the groin/hip injury that cost him 21 games earlier this season, the first serious injury of his long career, and insisted he could have played had it been absolutely vital. And coach Dwane Casey said he was just following guidance provided by the team’s medical staff. “If it’d been a playoff game he probably could have gone but I was going with the training staff and what they recommended to rest him, to not take a chance, get another day’s rest,” said Casey. “I don’t remember what game it was, Orlando or Miami, he pulled it a little bit so that was their call.”
I want to tell referee Eli Roe that nobody is there to watch him point and pump his arms up and down a ridiculous four times before making that call. It’s ridiculous when Joey Crawford does it, nobody should emulate this behavior. But I can’t lie: That added suspense before his crucial call, and it made the final moments of tonight’s Celtics-Raptors game a little more interesting. Roe awarded Boston the ball, and Jae Crowder did something actually worth watching – make the game-winning jumper. That’s all it took to fall out of my daze and realize, yes, in fact, Roe was showing off too much.
As for tonight’s game, it was a case of déjà vu; the Celtics buried the Raptors with a heroic shot in the dying seconds of the game, just as they did a mere 10 days ago in Toronto. The last-second shot by Jae Crowder was a very difficult, heavily-contested look and the Celts had the luck of the Irish on the make, but it never should’ve come down to that play for Toronto in the first place. The Raptors blew a 15-point first-half lead, turned the ball over 18 times, and allowed a ridiculous 17 offensive rebounds. The Celtics played the Raptors with fierce, smothering defence all night long, regularly leading Toronto’s ballhandlers into difficult and hopeless late-clock situations. It was Boston’s feisty and omnipresent rookie guard, Marcus Smart, that led that charge:
What it means to the Raptors playoff seeding is that only a Raptors win Wednesday night at home over Charlotte and a Chicago loss against Atlanta in Chicago will secure the third-place seed for the Raptors and a date with the Milwaukee Bucks. Any other combination on the final game of the season leaves the Raptors in fourth and playing host to Washington in a series which is expected to start Saturday. The result of the game was somewhat overshadowed by the absence of DeMar DeRozan who sat out with what is essentially a sore groin.
The Raptors couldn’t get off a quality shot on the last possession, and the Celtics improved their record to 39-42. The victory clinched the No. 7 seed in the East and set up a first-round matchup with the Cavs, who rested key players vs. Boston on Friday and Sunday after clinching the conference’s No. 2 seed. The Celtics won both contests to split the four-game season series, although it’s likely that the Cavs would have won at least one of those games at full strength. No matter their underdog status, the Celtics have accomplished a great deal in making the postseason during a clear rebuilding period with no current or up-and-coming stars on the roster. Second-year head coach Brad Stevens figures to finish in the top two or three of Coach of the Year voting, and Danny Ainge could end up near the top of Executive of the Year voting simply for hiring Stevens in the spring of 2013.
“Me personally, I watch so much basketball,” DeRozan said. “If we’re not playing, if I’m not in the gym, I watch every single game. I watch college. I try to always figure out places and movements and understand rotations from every position on the court, when you have the ball, how somebody would guard you. It’s really like studying. I think I kind of got that from Kob’, so to speak. “Kobe, he just told me what he did when he was young in his career,” DeRozan continued. “He watched so much film to understand every rotation, where he could pick and choose to get his shots off or pick and choose to get somebody an open shot. Little stuff like that, I really try to figure out by visually watching somebody else or watching your favorite player. Then once I’m in that position, I feel like I’ve been in that position before because I’ve been seeing it. I’ve watched it. That’s why I be so calm and relaxed a lot of times when I’m out on the floor.”
Meanwhile, it says everything about the Drakes’ crazy season that Williams, a shameless chucker, has probably been Toronto’s most consistent offensive player. Williams traffics more than ever in 3s and free throws, which keeps him at least semi-efficient even when he has awful nights from the floor. He can play both guard positions and took over lead ballhandling duties when Kyle Lowry missed games. The Raps have scored 111.7 points per 100 possessions with Williams on the floor and 104.6 when he sits, per NBA.com — a huge gap. Williams is a minus defender, but his wingspan mitigates the pain a bit, and it’s easy to find a hiding place for him among opposing backups. Ah, the perks of coming off the bench.
Teams poised to make the postseason often use the last few weeks of the season to begin preparing for potential matchups and making sure they’re playing as well as they can (while also providing some rest for key players, if possible). Injuries have made that tough for Toronto. Lowry and Johnson combine to make up a big part of the team’s offense, as Lowry averages 17.7 points per game while Johnson averages 9.4 points per game. With so little time remaining until the playoffs start, it’s crucial that the team gets these two players back up to speed as quickly as possible. “We don’t want to disrupt what rhythm we do have; that’s the hardest thing to do,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey told reporters. “We went through it with DeMar coming back.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 23 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -15 +/-Apparently he missed the memo that Amir Johnson was on limited minutes and thought he’d lost his starting spot, because he reverted back to being that lovably invisibly Hansbrough we saw for the first 2/3 of the season. I can’t remember anything that he did, save inexplicably being part of the team’s crunch time lineup (we’ll get to that, don’t worry).|
|Terrence Ross, SF 28 MIN | 5-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | -11 +/-Took the ball to the rim early with DeMar sitting, but looked like a baby deer in headlights when he got into the lane, and eventually migrated back out to the outside. His line isn’t too bad, but he just looked uncomfortable on the offensive end. Like the 2 steals and 2 blocks, though.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 29 MIN | 4-8 FG | 2-4 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 4 TO | 10 PTS | -7 +/-Unfairly singled out by the refs, who didn’t seem to want to call anything on anyone but him. There was a particularly egregious sequence in the third quarter where he blocked two shots, secured the rebound, and then got called for a foul on a bogus “elbow” while bringing the ball up. That said, he was tentative defensively (partial blame to the refs, I guess), and gave up his fair share of boards when he had position. Looked good offensively for the most part, though I don’t like to see 4 turnovers from a centre.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 35 MIN | 6-20 FG | 2-4 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | -12 +/-This is a legacy C+ as much as anything. I realize that he’s trying to shoot himself back into form, and totally understand that’s much more important than a win, but he was taking shots that he no business taking at 100 per cent, much less making. Still did all the little things, fighting hard for rebounds and making smart passes in the lane, when he got in there. Had a couple key drives late that gave the Raptors a chance.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 32 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +11 +/-I had no idea he had a line like that in him. I’m done harping on his defence – it’s been done to death, and we all know what to expect on that end. Tonight, though, he played the role of distributor to perfection, driving the lane and finding teammates for open shots on the perimeter. The ball movement was infinitely better with him as the lead ball handler, Hit a couple nice floaters in the lane, and only finished with one turnover. Good stuff.|
|James Johnson, PF 19 MIN | 5-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +7 +/-Hey, Dwane! Remember this guy? Oh, you’re still going to sub in Terrence Ross for a late defensive stop? Ah, ok.
Coaching issues and one ill-attempted 3 pointer aside, this was the kind of game we’d come to expect from James Johnson, with solid defence, smart offence consisting of drives on mismatches, and one big dunk on a goofy looking white guy.
|Patrick Patterson, PF 27 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-1 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +2 +/-I’ve been lauding the fact that Patterson looks to make the extra pass on the perimeter, but sometimes I just wish he’d take the open look, and he finally did so in the fourth quarter, with a couple key 3 pointers. He still needs to force himself to be a factor on the defensive glass, but he’s playing within himself on offence, and the team was much better with him and Amir on the floor than it was with Jonas and Hansbrough.|
|Amir Johnson, PF 16 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +12 +/-Welcome back, Amir. The ankles didn’t look like an issue tonight in limited minutes, as he played within himself, protected the rim well (2 blocks, both without leaving his feet), and used solid, smart positioning on both ends of the floor to put up a nice stat line. Excellent return performance that showed just how valuable he’ll be to this team come playoff time.|
|Louis Williams, SG 31 MIN | 3-13 FG | 10-11 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 16 PTS | +3 +/-That shooting line hurts my eyes, but he made up for it by getting to the free throw line with his typical aplomb. Seemed more agressive than usual grabbing weak side rebounds, which might have something to do with Boston’s hyper agressive guards. My only critique tonight is his shot selection, and what else is new?|
Oh, man. Where to begin. Let’s start with the positives: sitting DeMar was the right decision, as his long term effectiveness is far more valuable than a win tonight. With that said, if you’re managing your players with the playoffs in mind, why play a recovering Lowry (playing poorly) so many minutes, and then ON TOP OF THAT, limit a recovering Amir (playing well) so much? I mean, if he was consistent with this stuff, I could at least evaluate it properly.
On top of that, it took him way too long to realize that the JJ/Patterson/Amir/Vasquez/Williams or Lowry combo was the best thing the Raptors had going (when it CLEARLY was), and then, after seemingly figuring it out and playing them down the stretch in the fourth, subs in a Lowry/Vasquez/Williams/Hansbrough/Patterson fivesome with a minute left. THEN, with a key defensive possession coming up, he subs out Vasquez (hey! Nice!) for Terrence Ross (wait, what?) when James Johnson was just sitting right there. Of course, Evan Turner hit the shot over Ross, putting the Celtics in front. You can’t blame him for Crowder’s ridiculous shot to end the game, or the poor reffing job, but man, this stuff just seems so simple. Maybe we are stealthily tanking?
Four Things We Saw
- The #questfor50 ends tonight, sadly, but the Raptors can still reach a franchise record in wins tomorrow night against Charlotte. This game, obviously, has major implications for playoff seeding – the Raps will need a win and a Bulls loss (they’re home to the Hawks) in order to grab the 3rd seed. Otherwise, they’ll finish fourth. Which outcome you’re rooting for is a matter of personal preference.
- The refs were gross tonight, basically letting everything go, which favoured a very physical Celtics team, but the Raptors did themselves no favours by committing 18 turnovers, plenty of the unforced variety. The team will need to clean that up in the playoffs, particularly against a veteran team like the Wizards.
- As frustrated as I am right now, it’s important to keep things in perspective. The Raptor bench played extremely well tonight, which is probably a better sign than the starters playing well and the bench struggling (you’d expect the starters to be more likely to bounce back). As ugly as this one was, it’s a win with DeMar, and Boston is hot right now.
- One more game to go, and a chance for a franchise record in wins. I’d imagine that’s very important to this squad. I’d like to see it to – it’s a tangible way to point out improvement over last year, and cap off what’s been an odd, but very memorable season. Hopefully the Raps can pull it all together against Charlotte in easy fashion like they did last week.