To say the Toronto Raptors have been here before would be an understatement. Few teams in the NBA have been in this exact situation as often the last five years, hosting a Game 1 and coming in as a fairly heavy favorite. That the Raptors haven’t won one of those Game 1s has become something between a supposedly telling narrative and a painful running joke, at the same time indicative of the team’s consistent playoff struggles and preference to play as an underdog and making no good logical sense.
It’s not as if the Raptors haven’t been able to win playoff games. They’ve won three series the last two years. They almost always bounce right back, and while they don’t play to their regular season level, they’ve gutted out wins and series as often as they haven’t. Every other game treats them better then Game 1, and so the Raptors are trying to treat Game 1 like a different game.
“Our Game 1 is our Game 7,” Kyle Lowry now famously said Friday.
That’s a bit dramatic, and Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Dwane Casey all talked about the need to stay loose and play their game rather than get tight and tense for the situation. It’s not a Game 7, and they’ll continue to be favored in the series even if they were to drop Game 1. The game schedules and their listed odds are in this NBA betting resource, if you want to check both at the same time. The only way to kill the narrative is to win a Game 1. It’s really quite simple. The Raptors have never been better, and they’ve never been in a better position to put this tired story to rest. They were the Eastern Conference’s best team all season, the NBA’s third best team by most measures, and if they take a 1-0 series lead for just the second time in franchise history – and the first with home-court advantage – everyone can get back to considering them as such.
Game 1 tips off at 5:30 on ESPN (Ryan Ruocco, P.J. Carlesimo, and Jorge Sedano) and Sportsnet One on TV and on TSN 1050 on radio. You can check out the full game preview here. Your officials are Scott Foster, Tony Brothers, and Pat Fraher.
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 1, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.
- Normally I do a link dump here but I’m just going to refer you to the series preview hub for all your preview content needs.
Fred VanVleet is out for this one. VanVleet bruised his right shoulder late in the fourth quarter against Miami on Wednesday when Bam Adebayo caught him with an illegal screen and was considered questionable in the days since. Dwane Casey said that VanVleet is feeling much better and the team doesn’t expect him out long, but they didn’t want to risk making the injury worse by having him go here.
This is a huge factor in this series. Not only does it threaten one of Toronto’s biggest advantages in the series, it’s depth, but VanVleet figures to be in the mix for time on Bradley Beal (he did a good job in the season series) and John Wall and for closing lineups. In more general terms, VanVleet was just plain good for Toronto regardless of usage, posting the third-best net rating in the entire league, hitting 41.4 percent of his threes, and proving a pest on defense. With VanVleet out, Casey mentioned Norman Powell or Lorenzo Brown as potential replacements. Playoff Powell could be fun, but the likelier outcome may just be that his minutes are absorbed by the nine guys in the rotation, particularly Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who figure to see their minutes increase anyway. Lowry-and-bench groups have been terrific again this year and are a nice option to open the second and fourth quarters here.
“We gotta find somebody to take those minutes, whether it’s bringing Kyle back in with the second unit, or putting Norm in that position, which we have done before, or LB, Lorenzo Brown, one of those three guys we can use in that position,” Casey said. “It impacts it until he gets back. And we don’t expect him to be out long. He feels so much better today, without pain and that type of thing, so we don’t expect it to be a long-term thing.”
Everyone else is good to go, though the Raptors will look significantly different than they did in their four earlier meetings with the Wizards. Someone from the 11-man rotation was missing in three of those games, Lowry was tossed from one fairly early, and almost none of Toronto’s most commonly used groups saw consistent, heavy run.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Alfonzo McKinnie
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Fred VanVleet
INACTIVE: Malachi Richardson
Washington received some good news early Saturday, as Mike Scott has reportedly cleared the league’s concussion protocol and will be available in Game 1. That’s a huge development for the Wizards, as Scott has emerged as one of their most important depth pieces and their best frontcourt player off the bench. Once out of the NBA, Scott has turned into quite the shooter, knocking down 40.5 percent of his threes and an eye-popping 57.6 percent from 10 feet to the 3-point line. He’s not a particularly strong defender and the Raptors will feast on the boards if and when Washington slides him to center, but he’s a terrific pick-and-pop threat and can make plays on the roll, too.
Otto Porter will also play despite being a partial participant in some practices and being considered a game-time decision. The Raptors are intimately familiar with Porter at this point, as he’s spent more time guarding and being guarded by DeMar DeRozan than almost anyone. He’s a 3-point threat, a savvy cutter, and the type of long defender that can help trap and force the ball out of DeRozan’s hands. He’s one of the better high-end role players in basketball and owns the best net rating of any Wizard, which speaks to his importance here.
While the Raptors didn’t get to use their primary lineups against Washington much, the Wizards did use some of their high-usage groups in the four meetings with Toronto. The issue there is that those lineups were high-usage while John Wall was out, and so the lineups the Wizards figure to use the most here will be foreign to the 2017-18 version of the Raptors.
PG: John Wall, Tomas Satoransky, Tim Frazier, Ty Lawson
SG: Bradley Beal
SF: Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre
PF: Markieff Morris, Mike Scott, Jason Smith
C: Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi
OUT: Jodie Meeks
INACTIVE: Ramon Sessions, Chris McCullough
Pre-game news and notes
- Dwane Casey on how the team has tried to break their Game 1 streak: ” don’t think it’s a lack of effort in the Game 1s or whatever it is. I think that we do come out with fire and everything. It’s just a phenomenon of tightness or whatever it is here at home, ’cause some of those Game 1s have been on the road, too. So it’s a psychological phenomenon that I don’t have an answer for. We’ve changed up routines, changed up practice, changed up scouting reports, a lot of information, not so much information. We’re trying to find the right niche or fit or whatever it is, preparation, going into Game 1.”
- On a similar note, Casey was asked about going away from the team’s successful identity as a potential cause. The Raptors are preparing to be the same Raptors they’ve been all year: “We’ve been in the top ranks all year, so why change now? We gotta approach it that way and not think about history or streaks or whatever else it is. It’s a basketball game.”
- A good Casey-ism on OG Anunoby no longer being a rookie: “He’s improved tremendously since the beginning of the year from what we call him a rookie. We call him an old-head rookie now so we have to treat him that way.”
- Scott Brooks is feeling more comfortable because the Raptors are really good, ironically, because the Wizards were terrible against bad teams: “It’s zero-zero right now. They tie their shoes the same way we tie our shoes. We’re gonna go out there and compete. We have a confident group. What does that mean? I don’t know. I know we can go out and play good basketball. We played some of our best basketball on the road. We played some of our best basketball against really good teams. If Toronto had a below-.500 record, I’d be really concerned.”
- I’ll be posting some updates/quotes/T-shirt news/etc regularly on my Instagram story throughout the playoffs. Selfies if I look cute.
- So let’s start there, with what everyone cares most about: The t-shirts for Game 1. They’re good.
It’s all white for Game 1 pic.twitter.com/3dXZBSyC0b
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 14, 2018
- This DeMar DeRozan from the TSN crew is terrific and will get you appropriately excited if you’re not already.
— Matthew Scianitti (@TSNScianitti) April 13, 2018
- The viewing party in Jurassic Park/Maple Leaf Square has been cancelled for safety reasons due to the ice storm.
Game 1: Raptors -8
Series: Raptors -630 (implied probability of 86.3 percent)
The Raptors are 8-point favorites with a 213.5 over-under. That line hasn’t really moved since it came out, and it matches the biggest line the Raptors have had for a playoff game during this core’s five-year run together. In other words, the Raptors have never been more expected to win than this. At the same time, they were similar-sized favorites for Game 1s against Milwaukee and Indiana in recent years (and were also favored in their Game 1s against Brooklyn and Miami, by smaller margins) so it’s not as if these opening lines have proven sharp for Toronto. On the season, the Raptors went 43-38-1 against the spread and 21-19 against it at home, while the Wizards were 37-44-1 against the spread and 21-20 against it on the road.