No longer will the Toronto Raptors have to hear about how they can’t win a Game 1, no longer will the lead-up to a playoff series center solely on how they’ve squandered home-court advantage in every series they’ve ever had it, and no longer will there be a specter of impending doom around what should be one of the most exciting days of each year. The Raptors beat the Washington Wizards 114-106 on Saturday, taking a 1-0 series lead for just the second time in franchise history and just the first when playing Game 1 at home.
“It’s out the way now,” DeMar DeRozan said. Amen. “We got Game 1, as we should. We’ve been great at home all year, and that’s something we’ve worked for and gained that reputation from the beginning of the season, how we ended up playing at the end of the season, so we already had that in our minds. On home court, we’re supposed to win, and that’s our mindset.”
Exhale. Or don’t, if you’re more levelheaded than I am.
“It’s not a sigh,” Dwane Casey said, asked about a sense of relief. “It’s a journey, it’s a marathon. Whatever it was that first game was about, hopefully we got it off our back. But we’re not satisfied. We’re in this for the long run. We’re in a tough series against a very athletic, fast team, so we can’t, there’s not a sigh of relief. I think there was more made of it than anything else, so we just gotta go out and do what we do. I think 82 games is a good sample size of who we are.”
It never made a ton of sense that the Raptors couldn’t win that game, what with a strong home-court advantage, being favored in every instance, and the fact that they’d go on to win a handful of those series anyway. To be sure, Dwane Casey mixed up the routines and prep work ahead of Game 1s to try something new. Here, it was really just about the Raptors sticking to who they were and not tightening up when Washington made a strong counter-push in the second quarter. The Raptors went into the half tense, but they responded appropriately, which hasn’t always been the case in these spots.
“Felt great. Felt lovey-dovey. I was happy as a lark,” Casey joked. “It’s one of those things, you feel the angst a little bit. We weren’t playing well defensively, I thought, they were shooting at a high rate the entire game, still ended up at 47 percent, I was more concerned about that than anything else. And I thought we missed some easy plays, missed some easy shots in the first half. So nervous but not out of whack. Confident that we’ve been in that position before, I knew guys would come out and play hard, not harder but a little bit smarter, make plays in the second half. Nothing any different than we were up, I probably would have been more nervous if we were up 10.”
Keeping Wall and Beal in moderation
The Raptors did a decent job on Bradley Beal and John Wall most of the night.
Those are two players talented enough to get theirs no matter how well you guard them, and they each had stretches of dominance. In the second quarter, it looked like Wall was primed to take over. Beal had a great second half. That resulted in the Raptors mixing up their coverages, with OG Anunoby switching on to Wall after doing a solid job on Beal and Kyle Lowry taking a crack at Beal. Lowry’s defense in the second half was phenomenal on both, and mixing things up seemed to help.
“He was great. He was cool as a cucumber. He was as cool as anything,” Casey said of Anunoby, who he called an “old-head rookie” before the game.
Wall finished the night 6-of-20 and scored 23 points on 30 used possessions, though his 15 assists helped keep a balanced Wizards attack in a groove for the first three quarters. Some of the improvement was the Raptors gearing up in the fourth – the league’s best fourth-quarter defense allowed Washington to score 107.6 points per-100 possessions in the first three quarters and 87.5 in the last – and some was them cutting down on the turnovers that serve to fuel Wall’s transition attack. Washington scored 12 points off of turnovers in the first half and just eight in the second and the Raptors won the fast-break point battle on the night.
Beal had a better final scoring line, putting up 19 points on 18 used possessions. Keeping those two below a point per-possession combined is a huge victory, and the Raptors did well enough in limiting Washington’s 3-point attempts (21 of 86 field-goal attempts) around them (they combined for 11 of those). Yes, Washington ended up shooting 47.7 percent for the game, and the Raptors can do better on that end overall. It was a decent starting point to make adjustments from.
One other note on Wall and Beal: The Raptors only won the minutes they sat together by two points. Scott Brooks said after the game that he doesn’t like playing with neither on the floor, but he also thought 41 minutes for Beal were a few too many, and Wall (39 minutes) is coming back from injury still. The Raptors have to take advantage of those minutes moving forward, whether it’s with the all-bench group or a star-and-bench group.
- John Wall had his hand stepped on in the fourth quarter. He downplayed any concern about it, saying it’s happened before and we was relieved it didn’t seem serious. “I’ll be alright.”
- Markieff Morris rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter and required a timeout and assistance to get back up initially. He’d re-enter the game after a brief rest, but it’s worth monitoring his status given how ankle injuries can swell up after the face.
- Kyle Lowry was pretty sick for this game. He sounded like hell in his post-game press conference. It was a heck of a performance considering he was under the weather. The two days off should help.
- Lowry was feeling no ill effects from Mike Scott’s game-changing flagrant foul on him.
- There was no update on Fred VanVleet after the game. Beforehand, Casey said that it wasn’t too serious and the team didn’t expect him out long-term, though obviously a player as tough as VanVleet missing a playoff game is cause for at least minor concern.
- VanVleet averages 20 minutes on the season. Soaking up those minutes today were Norman Powell (five), Kyle Lowry (six above season average), and Delon Wright (five about average), and some combination of everyone else as lineups were juggled.
- No update on the status of Ma Fuzzy after Kelly Oubre through a ball into it.
- The Wizards starters were -10 in 18 minutes together. That group owned a plus-6.0 net rating in the regular season, so the Raptors taking it to them is notable. The Raptors starters were +10 in 20 minutes, essentially matching up minute for minute at the top of the first and third and then playing a little extra together to even.
- Semi-related: OG Anunoby was a game-high +11 in 22 minutes. If he’s playing this well, he doesn’t need to be contained to the pseudo-Scola role of the start of halves only.
- The Raptors’ closing lineup of Lowry-Wright-DeRozan-Ibaka-Nogueira played nine minutes together chopped over five different games this season. They played four here, and while they earned a -2, that’s fine given that they were in lead-holding, clock-eating mode. The lineup that preceded it with Miles and Siakam in place of DeRozan and Ibaka was +8 in four minutes. That lineup played one minute together this year. Obscene depth.
- Nogueira’s impact was pretty subtle but really shook up Washington’s defensive decision making. Wright was a stud all game.
- Lowry with one or fewer other starters on the floor was +8 in eight minutes. Lowry-and-bench remains undefeated.
- Washington did the bulk of their damage with Mike Scott in Markieff Morris’ place, going +10 in three minutes. They shot 6-of-7 on twos, drew an and-one, and drew another shooting foul. Scott had a really nice game and was a team-best +6.
- The Scott-Morris frontcourt was +2 in 17 minutes together. Anecdotally, it seems like the Wizards don’t use these two correctly together – both get stationed inside the arc and were popping to the high mid-range elbow. I might need to re-watch those minutes closely – Washington still generated 11 threes in those 17 minutes, which was way more than their other minutes. Valanciunas should eat against that pairing to tilt the advantage, but the Raptors inexplicably barely won the rebounding battle during that time. It’s an opportunity more than it’s a threat, in my opinion.
- Kyle Lowry introduced Serge Ibaka as “the most stylish man in the NBA coming up…ooohhhh, that turtleneck. What kind of suit is that? Ma Fuzzy Versace?” It was very good. Ibaka then proceeded to answer podium questions in three different languages.
- There was a leak in the ceiling at the start of the game that caused a slight delay. Ice storms in April.
- The Air Canada Centre was incredible tonight. They were all over Scott Foster for a missed goaltending call and a debatable (by letter of law; plain wrong by common sense) shot-clock reset in the Raptors’ defensive end, and they hated Wall. The Raptors shared the best home record in the NBA and had the best home plus-minus. It’s never made sense they can’t win Game 1s at the ACC. It’s one of the biggest home-court advantages in the league.
- The Raptors won by eight on a night they were exactly eight-point favorites. Foster’s record against the spread this year is 30-30-2. Amazing.
- Drake was in attendance in a Humboldt Broncos jersey. After the game, all of the Raptors were signing a Humboldt jersey, likely either to raise money for the cause or send to the team. They were very nice gestures.