Game 2: The Widening Gyre

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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.

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