Throughout the playoffs, we’ll be giving you brief notebooks after every practice, shootaround, pre-game, and post-game, just as we have the last few postseasons. They’ll vary in terms of length and analysis based on what’s said, what happens, and what else is going on. The videos will all eventually go up on the Raptors’ YouTube page, anyway, but rest assured you can use us as your first stop for the relevant quotes and notes each day during the postseason. Feedback on the format and focus of the notes is appreciated so we can spend our time accordingly.
It’s cliche season, and Kyle Lowry is in perfect form. Lowry opened his pre-playoffs media availability with a big one on Friday.
“Our Game 1 is our Game 7,” he said. “That’s just how we’ve gotta do it. We’ve gotta play like it’s Game 7, like it’s our last game. I think that’s how we’ve gotta play every single playoff game this year. Every game’s a Game 7. We’ve lost a lot of Game 1s, so we’ve gotta play it like a Game 7. That’s the mentality that we have to have.”
That’s certainly an extreme phrasing, but his point is pretty clear. With the struggles the Toronto Raptors have come out with to start each playoff series – they’re 1-10 all time in Game 1s, 0-6 the last four years, and 0-5 at home in that stretch – the team wants to bring a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Nobody has a good explanation for why the team hasn’t played well in Game 1s, even as the roster and opponent have changed, and so it’s left largely to the intangibles like energy, focus, and force. Those are immeasurable things you know when you see, and so it’s hard to tell if the Raptors will indeed treat Game 1 as they should.
“I think we just haven’t played hard enough,” Lowry said. “I think that’s one thing, we just haven’t played hard enough. We’ve just been so uptight in Game 1s, I think this is a different year for us. We wanna play like a Game 7, but we just wanna go out there and play our game. Different offense, different system, different type of way we play the game and approach it. It’ll be fun.”
There is some irony in Lowry claiming Game 1 is a Game 7 while also saying the team’s been too uptight in Game 1s in the past. The Twitter response to me putting the quote out there was pretty dramatic, and while people are going to get their jokes off regardless, there was a sense the team isn’t as tightly wound as the soundbite itself might suggest. Instead, they just understand the approach they want and need to take.
“I agree with that. We have to play every game like it’s Game 7. It’s going to be easier for you to win if you play hard and leave everything on the court,” Jonas Valanciunas said. “I don’t know. Maybe we were a young team, maybe we were excited, nervous, whatever, but we don’t have that excuse no more. We have experience under our belt. We’ve just got to go out and show we can be a team who is playing hard and knows what we’re doing.”
Interestingly, C.J. Miles said that he didn’t even realize from the outside that the Raptors’ Game 1 problems were a thing, even though he was on one of the teams that beat them at the Air Canada Centre. And again, there’s no good reason for why it’s happened – they’ve been the favorite in each game – but they’re trying to solve it. That’s at least part of why they went full dress rehearsal for their regular season finale on Wednesday rather than getting more rest.
“You tell me and we’ll both know,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ll go to Wall Street and make a lot of money in New York, Bay Street here, make a lot of money. We’ve tried a few different things. Guys played down the stretch, one game I think the guys took multiple games off. It’s a phenomenon. If we knew the history of it — there are a lot of firsts. For a while there we couldn’t win in Charlotte. There is always that one hurdle you’ve got to overcome. That’s the major one we’ve got to overcome. I’m not a psychologist. I’m a basketball coach. I know how to prepare. That’s the way we have to approach it and not overthink it.”
Accounting for Wall
In preparing for the series, one of the hurdles that’s come up from the outside (for me, I mean) is that John Wall didn’t play in any of the four meetings between the sides. The Raptors were asked about whether that’s made preparation more difficult. As the better team, it sounds like they’re comfortable making that kind of adjustment within their style of play without overhauling too much.
“No, we(‘re) still taking a lot of things from the regular season John presents a different challenge,” Lowry said. “An All-Star, NBA guy, his speed is very deadly, you’ve gotta take that into consideration, that adds a different level of their team. For us, we’ve just gotta go out there, definitely take some of the things that we’ve done during the regular season and take it into the playoffs, take into the game tomorrow.”
Interestingly, the Raptors’ defensive scheme against Washington’s backcourt is a fun contrast. The Wizards will take what the Raptors like to give up, and there’s a scenario where both sides are happy with Washington’s shot distribution and the outcome swings on shot-making. That’s overly simplistic, and it will be interesting to see how Toronto responds if Wall is able to exploit them in the pick-and-roll. Until they have experience with that – they’ve played Wall plenty but the scheme has changed this year – they want to stick to who they are on that end and adjust from there.
“You have to go back to your defensive principles,” Casey said. “Get back in transition, load to the basketball. Most of all we have to get back. That’s the number one thing, and then finding their shooters in transition. We gotta find Oubre, we gotta find Beal. You gotta find Porter and those guys and again like I said Gortat is one of the most efficient guys in the league, is setting screens, doing different things, screening his own man, holding his own man, doing all those things to create alleys and lanes and driving alleys for Wall to get to the basket, so our bigs have to do a good job of getting back and not letting him be a factor in the paint.”
It’s not surprising that for a second day in a row Casey has pointed out the questionable tactics of some of Gortat’s screens. The playoffs!
- Fred VanVleet remains questionable for tomorrow due to a right shoulder bruise. Dwane Casey accidentally referenced VanVleet being out before back-tracking, which may or may not signal the likelihood of VanVleet playing. The team is probably prepared in
- Otto Porter and Mike Scott are both considered questionable for Game 1, per Candace Buckner. Porter was a partial participant in practice and is day-to-day, while Scott is still in the NBA’s concussion protocol and has only progressed as far as on-court one-on-one testing. Porter is obviously an enormous part of Washington’s attack as their primary DeMar DeRozan defender and the league’s third-best 3-point shooter, and Scott has had a breakout season as the team’s most reliable bench big. Missing either for Game 1 would expose an already thin roster, with Kelly Oubre and, I guess, Jason Smith figuring to see larger roles at the respective positions.
- Jodie Meeks has been suspended 25 games for violation of the league’s anti-drug program, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Meeks is appealing the suspension and citing a “premature action,” per his agent via Woj, but the appeal process will drag out long enough to keep Meeks out of the playoffs. This helps explain the Wizards signing Ty Lawson yesterday, and it takes away one of Washington’s biggest outside threats outside of the starting lineup – Meeks hit 34.3 percent on threes this year and is a 37.2-percent career 3-point shooter, hitting above 40 percent in three of the last five years. Lawson, Ramon Sessions, and Tim Frazier stand to slot in as the Wizards’ fourth guard, if they even opt to use one in the rotation.
- Asked why the Raptors have played uptight in Game 1s, Lowry offered a chicken-or-the-egg answer: “I mean, we’ve lost a lot of Game 1s.”
- Lowry was also asked about the Wizards wanting the Raptors in round one, something that’s been misconstrued a bit because of Chris Webber’s anonymous sources and an out-of-context quote from Jason Smith. Lowry offered the following: “I don’t think they suggested it. I haven’t paid attention. I don’t think they, it just happened the way it fell. Did they say that? Did anybody say it? I don’t know. Did they say it? What’d he say? That’s his choice. I seen that he said they were happy they didn’t the Sixers. It’s a little bit different. That’s a little bit different.” In other words, they’re not taking your whiteboard material bait.
- One more Lowry: He said “a-hole,” then asked us whether he’s allowed to say that. When told yes, he asked “what about ass? Hole? They’re separate.” Miles followed and wouldn’t swear because he didn’t want to get a text from his mom about swearing on camera.