It’s not worth comparing this series to the time these teams met in the 2015 playoffs, when the Washington Wizards swept the Toronto Raptors and won Game 4 by 31 points.
This time around, Toronto is a much stronger team with the deepest bench in the league, while the Wizards have been up and down this year and sans star point guard John Wall for 41 games.
Wall returned on March 31 and will be back for this series, but the Raps are fantastic on both ends of the floor, ranking top five in offensive and defensive efficiency, per Basketball Reference. They’ll advance to the second round.
Pick: Raptors 4, Wizards 1
The Raptors have all sorts of pressure on them this postseason, but they couldn’t have done much better than facing the fledgling Wizards at the start. Washington, which has lost 14 of its last 21 games, welcomed five-time All-Star John Wall back on March 31 after he missed more than two months with a knee injury. Still, Toronto — which was third in offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating this season — should be able to survive.
In April 2015, everything seemed broken for the Toronto Raptors. They were in the midst of getting swept by the Washington Wizards, and Dwane Casey and his staff understandably felt like they were on the hot seat. The Raptors’ offence proved ineffective, and Kyle Lowry appeared to be out of shape. One thing seemed sure: Some semblance of change was coming.
In May 2017, everything seemed broken for the Toronto Raptors. They were in the midst of getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Dwane Casey and his staff understandably felt like they were on the hot seat. The Raptors’ offence proved ineffective, and Kyle Lowry was injured and possibly fleeing in free agency. One thing seemed sure: Some semblance of change was coming.
“I was proud of them, great season,’’ said head coach Dwane Casey following Wednesday’s loss. “They’ve done something that nobody else in the franchise’s history has ever done as far as winning 59 games.
“Now the real season starts. That group is a group of fighting guys. They are going to lay it on the line every night, they did (Wednesday) night, even though the game didn’t really mean a lot unless to get to 60.”
Casey hasn’t given much thought yet to the Wizards, but the Raptors have been preparing for all three of the possible playoff scenarios.
“We’ll be ready, we’ll be prepared,’’ said Casey.
Despite their wobbly finish, losing seven of the past 10 games, the Wizards left any regrets inside Amway Center and looked forward to a much-needed reset.
“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re playing against a very good team. A team that scores a lot of points with really good players. Well-coached. And we’re excited.”
Washington (43-39) split the season series with Toronto (59-23), but competed in all four of those games without starting point guard John Wall, who rested against the Magic and missed his 41st game Wednesday. Wall is expected to return on a full-time basis for the playoffs.
Washington won’t be favored heading into their series with Toronto, but the Wizards will have more confidence than your typical eight seed heading into the playoffs. Lest we forget, the Wizards swept the Raptors in 2015, even though Washington didn’t have homecourt advantage in the series.
Toronto has improved quite a bit since then, but Washington gave them plenty of problems in their head-to-head meetings this season. The Wizards split the season series with the Raptors—including a win in Toronto, where only seven teams have won this season—even though John Wall missed all four games with various injuries.
Of course, it’s hard to talk about pulling off a big upset just seconds after losing to the Orlando Magic. The Wizards need to get their act together fast. They’ve only won one game in April and they’ve dropped 14 of their last 21 games. We’ll find out this weekend if the Wizards can flip the switch once the playoffs begin.
“It’s taken us a while to build our program, to get it where it is,” said Casey, a coach of the year candidate this season. “This (Heat) program has multiple championships and we’re trying to get to that level organically. And it takes time. You’re just not going to wave a magic wand and turn a player into Magic Johnson or Larry Bird or anybody like that. It’s part of the process, and that’s something I know our organization is proud of.”
There was a bit of back and forth at times, with six ties and 16 lead changes through the first three quarters.
It’s a long shot, but if Toronto bows out of the playoffs early, Casey could shake free and any squad with an opening should be dialing his cell phone.
TSN pick: Pascal Siakam
A year ago, voting for this award was relatively straightforward. The Raptors’ defence was below league average until Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker showed up in February and turned things around. One of them had to win it. Tucker did, nearly unanimously despite being with the team for just seven weeks.
With the exception of some slippage in late March, the Raps have been one of the league’s best defensive teams this season, pretty much from start to finish. They’ll go into Wednesday’s finale allowing just 103.3 points per 100 possessions – ranked fourth in the NBA. For all the talk of their modernized offence, they’ve actually improved more of the defensive end.
The biggest reason for that is versatility. They’re switching in pick and roll coverage more than ever before, they’re running guys off the three-point line (their opponents attempt the second-fewest threes per game) and they’re challenging shots at the rim (only Portland’s opponents shoot a lower percentage inside five-feet).
“We had a goal set out that we would win 60 games before these 82 were up,” DeRozan said. “That didn’t happen. Time to clear that. None of that matters now. Get ready for this weekend.”
The Raptors were 22-60 in 2010-11 the season before Dwane Casey came to Toronto.
“It’s taken us a while to build our program, to get it where it is,” said Casey, a coach of the year candidate this season.
“This [Heat] program has multiple championships and we’re trying to get to that level organically. And it takes time. You’re just not going to wave a magic wand and turn a player into Magic Johnson or Larry Bird or anybody like that. It’s part of the process, and that’s something I know our organization is proud of.”
Wayne Ellington proved unstoppable for the Heat, making shot after shot from distance. Contested, hands in his face, it didn’t matter, especially in the fourth quarter. He scored 32 on the night — including 8-of-12 from beyond the arc — but a put-back by Poeltl tied the game, 105-105, with 8.4 seconds left.
Miami had the final possession in regulation, but Toronto defended well to force overtime.
The Raptors went with its second unit to start the fourth quarter, a group that was led by Wright. And with the game was tied, 85-85, and 6:30 remaining, both teams began to lock in defensively.
It was knotted again, 99-99, with 2:22 to go when Ellington buried a three-ball for his 15th point of the quarter.
Casey rode his bench a bit harder in the second, and it became apparent that Whiteside was losing his minutes against both Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl. On a team full of players willing to bang, run, and cut with full commitment, Whiteside just… stands out. He pouts a lot, raises his hand for the basketball, and spends a lot of his time on defense not moving at all. It’s clear a lack of touches is dispiriting for him, but his line says another story — the man was 5-for-16 for ten points. Three missed bunnies in the second allowed the Raptors some breathing room, as they entered the break up 53-47.
Miami really hit their groove when Bam Adebayo started eating into Whiteside’s minutes. A burly dude who gets on the glass, Adebayo fit Miami’s scheme: pulverize the Raptors at every opportunity. The game took on a more physical character in the second half — that’s when the three Raptors missed time — but transition opportunities (led by Lowry) helped Toronto pull ahead in the third.
That might not have been the ideal final regular-season game Dwane Casey and the Raptors had in mind.
On the one hand, Wednesday’s 116-109 loss in Miami had the intensity and strategery of a playoff game, a nice tune-up for the real thing beginning this weekend. Then again the chippy game also featured the physicality of post-season hoops and went to overtime. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who went 5-of-10 from beyond the arc, logged 77 combined minutes, which may not be ideal.
More worrisome is the injury suffered to point guard Fred VanVleet. During the fourth quarter VanVleet took a hip check (disguised as a screen) from Miami’s rookie centre Bam Adebayo — who already cracks the top 10 of players you don’t want to run into on a screen — and stayed on the ground for awhile in pain while the play continued around him. When play stopped and the team doctors got him on his feet, VanVleet appeared dazed (and, yes, confused) and left the game. He did not return and was later diagnosed with a right shoulder bruise.
Wayne Ellington scored a career-high 32 points and set Miami’s single-season record for 3-pointers, helping the Heat wrap up the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs by beating the Toronto Raptors 116-109 in overtime Wednesday night.
Ellington finished with eight 3-pointers, giving him 227 for the season. He topped the mark set by Damon Jones, who made 225 in 2004-05.
Kelly Olynyk, Dwyane Wade, Justise Winslow, James Johnson and Tyler Johnson each scored 11 points for the Heat, who open the playoffs at No. 3 Philadelphia this weekend.
Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo each scored 10 for Miami, which rallied from an 11-point deficit in the second half.
Kyle Lowry scored 28 points for Toronto, which already had the top seed in the East wrapped up. The Raptors will meet No. 8 Washington in the first round.
DeMar DeRozan had 19 points, Jakob Poeltl had 16 and Jonas Valanciunas scored 12 for the Raptors, who were outscored 11-4 in overtime.
And maybe the Raptors will prove that they are being underestimated, and maybe they will flop in a second-round showdown. They shouldn’t have to worry about the first round, this time. They should be good enough for that, at least.
But until they finally win a Game 1, until they finally play a playoff series that doesn’t feel like a crisis — you can compose the list in your head, year by year — the doubts won’t go away. And if they fall short, well … no matter how it happens, somebody will say, condescending or angry or dispirited, same old Raptors.
And you should still remember, these are the good times. This franchise was so bedraggled for so long, so silly, so irrelevant. The Raptors once had an assistant coach yelling “JERMAINE” down the bench to call for Jerome Williams, as Williams stared into space; it once featured Vince Carter watching games happen, because the organization had told him it would consider Dr. J, who has never worked in an NBA front office since, as general manager.