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Raptors Start and End Poorly, Lose to Wizards

Last night was not that night.

It always feels stupidly dangerous to be playing a team that is missing their best player.  You get confident and expect and easier road, just to get the game handed to you from the offset.  The Raptors found themselves in this exact position as it was announced yesterday that John Wall would officially miss the game with an injury to his left shoulder.

First Half:

The first quarter started almost as poorly as possible, with the Raptors seemingly unaware that the game had started.  Sloppy turnovers, poor shot selection, regularly losing Beal in transition for open buckets, and shooting just 1-for-7 to start.  All in all, the Raptors dug themselves an early 11-2 whole just four minutes in before a quick timeout by Casey to settle the troops.

It didn’t work.

The Wizards extended their lead to 21-6 in the first quarter before the Raptors started to wake-up and finished the quarter on an 11-11 run to finish the quarter down 32-17.  All-in-all the first quarter saw the Raptors shoot just 1-for-7 from three (the lone shot being made by Delon Wright) and an abysmal 6-of-13 from the charity stripe.

The second quarter saw another wheel come flying off.  Toronto was desperately trying to find their legs when Kyle Lowry lost his cool just four minutes into the second quarter.  After feeling like a foul on him was missed (it was), Kyle Lowry lost his cool and repeatedly started yelling “that was a f***ing foul” at the closest official.  Take a look for yourself at the missed foul Lowry so adamantly disagreed with:

What initially looked like a quick technical foul ended up as a garbage double-technical and ejection.  If each player received as quick an ejection based on disagreements with an official than someone like Draymond Green would play under 50 games each season.

With that said, Lowry needed to control his temper better in this situation.  The Raptors had no momentum and were trying to find any positive play to help stop the bleeding.  And with Lowry losing his cool Toronto would now need to do that without one of their best players.

No Lowry meant more Norm.  Norm helped carry the Raptors through this tough start to the game by scoring 13 of their first 38 points.  Outside of the initial 21-6 start the Raptors played Washington almost equal for the remainder of the half (41-40), despite no starter believing in the concept of defence.

Second Half:

The third quarter started with Serge Ibaka seemingly caring for the first time in the game.  He drained a few three pointers and came up with a big help block after Jonas made a bad challenge at the three point line (surprise! This was not a one off situation).  Unfortunately, along with these positives Serge also committed a careless turnover by dribbling into a Wizard and tried jacking a three point from the top of the arc in transition (it was…not close).

It was at this time that the Fred VanVleet led bench unit started to trip into Washington’s lead.  FVV hit some tough lay-ups and the defence locked in, cutting the deficit to just 8 heading into the final quarter.

The bench (FVV, OG, Siakam, and Bebe) with Norm continued to take control of the game.  They forced turnovers and missed shots, hit tough buckets at the rim, and generally made the Wizards work hard for the first time on the night.

OG, Siakam, and Bebe became a shut-down unit which gives glimpses of how the Raptors can play with further development.  Lots of switches and helps of athleticism from these three helped leave the Raptors stuck just 3 points.

(As a bit of an side, we should all be deeply in love with OG already.  He thinks the game at an elite level for a player his age who missed the amount of time he has.  He has the speed to stick with guards, while the strength to challenge larger players in the post.  He already knows when to hedge and when to cheat, often leaving his man at the perfect time to use his incredible length to disrupt the ball-handler.  Give him every chance to develop and he can be everything the Raptors have been looking for at SF/PF.)

It was at this point that Casey put the final nail in the coffin for Toronto, returning both Ibaka and Valanciunas to the game.  From that point on the Raptors struggled to stop Washington or to get any type of offensive play run.

It was the athleticism and explosiveness of players like OG/Siakam/Bebe who helped claw the Raptors back into the game, but Casey chose to close the game with the players who struggled the most.  Watch this one play that represents Jonas’ contributions to the game:

OG got caught on a tough Gortat screen, but in this moment it is Jonas’ responsibility to hedge Beal off the screen to give OG time to recover.  Instead, he willingly backs up 8 feet to allow a wide open shot to the hottest shooter on the night.  He was a big part of the path of least resistance and yet he was put in a position to close the game.

Many of the complaints levied against Casey still are just repeating of valid criticisms from years past that have now been largely overcome.  Casey doesn’t trust young players? OG getting solid minutes as rookie and Norm is in the starting line-up.  Raptors are too isolation heavy? Well now they are passing more than ever and have seen an uptick on their assists?  He’s a defensive coach that can’t get teams to defend?  Raptors were top 10 last season and have been so far this year.

But tonight’s loss is on Casey.  While the team itself coughed up a big lead as they looked completely ill prepared to start the game, the final nail in the coffin was late game rotation decisions by Casey that were completely indefensible.  Toronto clawed back and cut Washington’s lead to just 3, having all the momentum on their side.  It was at this point that Casey made a near wholesale change and brought back Jonas and Serge, both of who struggled in every aspect of the game tonight.

There is no justification for choosing Jonas and Serge over Pascal and Bebe who were causing the Wizards fits with their energy in the second half, and it is easy to place a big chunk of the blame on Casey.

In the immortal words of Vivek Jacob, “They did the bad basketball.”

The Raptors started and finished the game poorly, but if you are looking for positives it is once again the contributions of the young players.  While the starters have struggled for chunks of the season, the largely inexperienced bench have been an absolute pleasure to watch develop.  The Raptors have some incredible tools throughout their roster, and the hope is that they can all perform at the same time.

Last night was not that night, and the Raptors will need to find a way to bounce back from a disappointing performance against Washington.

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