But Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has yet to see a perfectly played basketball game, and when he went back over the film Sunday morning, he found more than a few areas of concern.
“A lot. A lot. A lot. A lot,” Casey said, literally four times. “We had, what, 11 turnovers in the first half? And some of them were self-inflicted. We know that Washington is a very aggressive defensive, a gambling defensive team, playing the passing lanes. And we didn’t make some of the right decisions in those situations.”
Now, this is no surprise. Nogueira has always been a plus-minus genius. The Raptors simply win his minutes. His sometimes inconsistent focus and effort can see him drop out of the rotation, but when he’s going well he can be a game changer. On the year, Nogueira had a net rating of +11.7 in his 400 minutes of court time, a mark topped only by Fred VanVleet among players who played at least as much as Bebe, powered by a team-best 96.4 DRTG, a full three points better on the defensive end than the next closest rotation player.
And his usage in this game was ideal. That is to say, he played in the one lineup he should definitely have success in, and also in a couple other lineups.
But as the eighth-seeded Wizards saw in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series on Saturday, the top-seeded Raptors have evolved since then. Toronto’s new ball-moving, three-point style of play this year is holding up in the postseason, and when the Wizards blitzed and corralled Toronto’s two all-stars, they proved they could zip the ball to a host of teammates, who could capably do the scoring.
“They don’t rely heavily on just two players anymore,” said Washington forward Otto Porter Jr. on Sunday, as the Wizards arrived at Air Canada Centre for practice, one day after losing Game 1. “They have great depth. They’re good. They’re No. 1 for a reason.”
This playoff run should be considered a referendum on what the Wizards have built. After losing Game 1 to Toronto on Saturday, Washington is three losses from following up a disappointing regular season with the ultimate reality check: If the eighth-seeded Wizards can’t upset No. 1 Toronto, the team will have officially hit a wall. Its ability to grow with this core will be in question again.
The Wizards have defied this notion before. They did it just a year ago, when Brooks took over and the team made encouraging progress after a 2-8 start. But last season ended in the second round again. And this season has been a downer that included more knee problems for John Wall, chemistry issues, bouts of feuding, noticeable roster holes and a slew of uninspiring performances.
On the other side, the Raptors keep building and growing. Their success sheds light on what the Wizards have done wrong. The Wizards don’t have a series of late first-round draft picks to rival Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. They aren’t finding undrafted gems the caliber of Fred VanVleet. They’re spending money, but they’re not signing perfect fits for their bench such as C.J. Miles.
VanVleet was back on the practice floor after having watched Game 1 in street clothes. Sunday afternoon Casey called him “much better,” but still day to day. He wouldn’t commit to him playing Game 2.
Saturday night he was on the bench in a blue blazer, white T-shirt and and perched strategically on the outer edges of every huddle during the game to avoid any undo contact with his sore shoulder, but knowing what we know about VanVleet, he was taking in everything that was being said having already processed and dissected what had been going on during the actual game action.
You see, VanVleet is a student of the game of the highest regard. He’s a basketball nerd for want of a better term.
Serge Ibaka finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, C.J. Miles hit four triples, and Delon Wright scored 18 points, including three 3-pointers. Ibaka’s scoring ability for his size and Miles’ shooting are well-documented, but Wright’s not a guy known for his 3-point shooting. Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby, both not known as deep threats, were also able to combine for three more of the 16 triples. The Wizards admittedly gave the Raptors too many open looks, contesting on 22 of the Raptors’ 30 3-point attempts.
“Certain things we’re going to have to pick our poison,” Brooks said. “Some of their shooters – who are not great shooters – stepped up and made shots. The mistakes that we had on their shooters, we can’t make those mistakes. Those are shots, when their feet are set, are 50% shots.”
Miles scored 12 points — all on three-point shots. After Sunday’s practice he stressed that the second unit’s contribution and the club’s three-point efficiency both spring from a new identity now firmly entrenched.
“They’ve been battle-tested all year, so you’ve got to let them get a shot at this,” Miles said. “Those guys have put in a lot of time just to be ready for game situations. You might not call certain guys shooters, but it’s part of their skill set. The shots we get in our offence, we work on them every day. We drill them every day.”
Later, head coach Dwane Casey described the club’s second unit as a “luxury.”
The Wizards saw the mistakes that were made, and what they have to do better to grab Game 2 in Toronto. The most obvious being guarding the three-point line, and doing a better job of pulling down rebounds on both ends of the floor.
However, Oubre needs to get back into the swing of things. Right now he’s in a bit of shooting slump, although he was able to knock down a three on Saturday.
Oubre not being able to make threes right now is not as important as some have argued.
Ujiri missed Drake’s pre-game hello on Saturday night. So the first time he saw the Humboldt Broncos hockey sweater was along with the rest of the TV audience.
“Everyone in the room turned to each other and said, ‘He wore the jersey’, like we couldn’t believe it,” Ujiri said on Sunday.
Ujiri held up his hands and pawed at the air in front of him, trying to get at how elemental the gesture seemed in the moment: “It was so much bigger than basketball.”
When Drake was first shown on the big screen inside Air Canada Centre, the crowd did not cheer as it usually does – reflexively.
Anytime can be Bebe time – and more moments aren’t — but this time?
“No. No. Fourth quarter? Playoffs? No. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to play,” said Nogueira at practice the day after the Raptors second-ever Game 1 win and first of the Dwane Casey era. “I’m always ready to play but me … as a third big, I don’t expect to play in a playoff game. But like I said, I’m always ready to contribute if I have to jump in. But I wasn’t expecting.”
The results were almost expected if you’re into unreasonable expectations.