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.