It wouldn’t be the Toronto Raptors if a playoff series went down without some serious soul-searching. While they eschewed the usual Game 1 melodrama this year, it didn’t take too long to pop up in the form of a 19-point beat-down at the hands of the Washington Wizards, one the Raptors were never really in once the second half began. The Wizards are good and played quite well, but the Raptors have themselves to blame for this one. They came out strong and then completely lost the plot, playing uncharacteristically sloppy throughout and never finding a way to sustain any push back once they got behind.
“They came out and punched us and we allowed them to,” Dwane Casey said. “Nineteen turnovers, they shoot 55 percent, that’s the ball game. Some of it was self-inflicted, making passes that weren’t there, soft passes. But again, a lot of it was their intensity. We knew they were going to come out in a desperate mode, I thought we met it in the first quarter but after that, we didn’t.”
The Raptors don’t at all sound like they’re panicking after one loss, as they shouldn’t. They took care of their games at home, and while there are outside questions about Washington’s locker room, this is a Wizards team that’s too good to expect them to lay down. On one hand, though, that means the Raptors should have expected a response like this. And they talked up that they did expect it, they just didn’t look the part.
“They played well tonight,” Kyle Lowry said. “We knew they were gonna come back and be aggressive and protect home…We kinda lost our focus a little bit.”
There isn’t long to dwell on things between games now. For the first time in the series, there’s a quick turnaround, with just one practice day and no shootaround before Sunday’s earlier tip. There are a lot of areas to clean up – pick-and-roll defense and the plethora of turnovers chief among them – but the big change might just need to be playing with a more appropriate sense of the situation. It is reductive, I realize, to point to focus and effort when every game matters so much. The Raptors didn’t have enough of those qualities here, and they’ll need them for Game 4 or else the pressure will be much higher heading back home.
“We’ve gotta have a level of respect,” Casey said. “That level of toughness and readiness and ready to fight, ready to compete.”
Wizards home dominance, getting stars going
This is the seventh consecutive home playoff game the Wizards have won now, and their advantage there is a big part of why they haven’t lost a first-round series in their last three playoff appearances. No, their crowd is not particularly full or loud, and GameOps offers up mistakes like playing a US protest song as a jingoistic anthem against those damn Canadians, but they’re 10-2 at home since 2014-15 and clearly play a lot more comfortably there.
“It helps being home, and our crowd. That obviously gives anybody a big boost, and we all need it,” Scott Brooks said. “Sometimes as a player if you’re not making shots, sometimes your home court gives you a big hug.”
Brooks credited the home crowd with helping get Bradley Beal, in particular, going after a tough Game 2. The Wizards had discussed finding ways to get him more touches, and they worked – Beal got 19 shots off, one below his pre-game prediction, and scored 28 points on 22 used possessions. John Wall meanwhile, was as dominant as he’s been all series, scoring 28 points with 14 assists, six rebounds, and four steals. That’s a lot of offense flowing from two key players, and the Raptors had little in the way of answers, even with some of the approaches that worked in the first two games of the series.
“Yeah, I mean, you have two All-Stars on the floor just like they did. All four All-Stars played well,” Brooks said. “We need both of our guys to step up and play good basketball. Part of being an All-Star is not just your numbers, it’s how you present, it’s how’s your body language, it’s how you present…They played like All-Stars.”
Finding a way to slow down those stars again will be the focus in Game 4, and it might mean taking a page out of Washington’s own book and leveraging up the pressure on their guards and daring other players to beat them. That’s not tenable when Wall’s getting as deep into the paint in the pick-and-roll as he is, and the Raptors did themselves no favors abandoning their drop-backs just because a 30-percent shooter briefly got hot with his jumper, so they’ll need to first find a way to keep him from getting downhill.
“John and Brad, they’re the heads of the snake. And we got to cut them off,” Lowry said.
Easier said than done.
- Fred VanVleet did not suit up once again here and is still considered day-to-day.
- His minutes once again went to Norman Powell and Lorenzo Brown. Powell played 6:21, some of it garbage time, and provided the full mixed bag of his season, with a few nice plays and a few real head-scratchers. Brown got the nod in the second half and looked better, although he had the benefit of Kyle Lowry in his fivesome initially. The bench groups continue to struggle without VanVleet, and on a night where Lowry didn’t have it, both the star-and-bench groups struggled. The strategy of playing Brown the entire fourth quarter, even with some nice defensive moments, probably needs to be re-evaluated.
- I’ve plugged it a few times now (sorry) but over at The Athletic, I went deep inside Fred VanVleet’s attempt to make it back for Game 2 and how frustrating the process was. There are some context clues within that cloud his potential return date.
- Pascal Siakam caught an elbow to the lip from Kelly Oubre and required three stitches.
- The Wizards sticking with their starters worked out well enough. Toronto should still win those minutes, but that fivesome was a +3 in 14 minutes for the Wizards here. They still own a -18.2 net rating for the series.
- Washington couldn’t do much wrong in general with their high-usage looks. Mike Scott in Markieff Morris’ place, Scott and Kelly Oubre in for Morris and Marcin Gortat, and a Bradley Beal-and-bench group were all positives in four minutes or more, and Scott Brooks did well to move away quickly from anything that didn’t work – no Wizards fivesome had worse than a -2 in this one.
- Somewhat ironically, Washington’s best unit through three games by net rating is their all-bench unit (+40.4, 14 minutes).
- The Raptors played their starters a whopping 23 minutes and were +2 in that time, doing a lot of their damage early in the first and then against some Wizards hybrid looks. They’re now a +16.9 net rating in the series, playing 60 minutes total. I liked Dwane Casey’s move to go back to the full starters much earlier than normal in the second, even if it didn’t work out. It’s the team’s most effective lineup available to them right now.
- By the way, the starters have played more minutes (total and per-game) than any other fivesome in the playoffs so far, so at least Casey is leaning on them a lot.
- Not much else worked for the Raptors. The all-bench group in the second was -1 in three minutes, the DeMar DeRozan-and-bench group was a disaster (-8 in two minutes), and most of Casey’s somewhat random pulls from the hat in the second half produced little. There was a brief spark from a three-point guard, four-out look with Pascal Siakam at center, but otherwise every non-starter unit continues to struggle.
- “Everyone has to, when they go in the game, they have to do their job. They’re gonna get their opportunity,” Casey said. “Whether Fred is here…It’s not because of Freddy. The second unit’s gotta come in guns a-blazing.”
- The Raptors have already used 33 different lineups in this series, which is a lot of mixing and matching and reaching. Their depth is a huge advantage, but it needs to be leveraged better than just trying new unfamiliar fivesomes to see what sticks. Only four of those lineups have played more than five minutes together and only two (the starters and the disaster-thus-far DeRozan-and-bench group) have played in all three games together.
- The two sides seem to have a bit of bad blood brewing at this point, with a pair of pull-apart moments in this one. The first saw OG Anunoby foul Markieff Morris and Morris not take kindly to it, leading to some shoving, Serge Ibaka inserting himself in the proceedings, Morris brushing off a referee, and Anunoby and Morris earning double technicals. Later, Jonas Valanciunas declined to give Bradley Beal the ball after an offensive foul, and Beal earned a technical for trying to rip it from him. Ibaka and John Wall then got into it, earning double technicals. Kyle Lowry also got hit with a flagrant foul on Beal on a play similar to one Wall had on Anunoby earlier, and he joins Mike Scott with a flagrant in the series.
- Brooks on the scuffles: “Naw, I mean, that’s playoffs. You gotta stand your ground. We’re not looking to fight anybody, we’re trying to play basketball….Give our guys credit, they kept their cool, actually both teams.”
- Casey on the incidents: “Naw, no, they played the way you’re supposed to play a playoff game. Physical, aggressive, into you. That’s the way the game is supposed to be played…It’s a playoff battle against two really good teams and they won the battle tonight.”
- Casey used the opportunity to once again try to prime the officials about Gortat’s screening tactics, essentially saying the physical play is fine, and if Gortat is going to do illegal stuff, the Raptors need to do the same. It’s a very diplomatic way of pointing things out to the referees that Casey has mastered over time.
- Kelly Oubre had a different take, per Candace Buckner: “OG didn’t read the scouting report. He didn’t know ‘Keef is one of the people you don’t mess with in the world.” I do not think OG would be particularly moved by the comment, or by Morris, one way or the other.
- Lowry had a level-headed take on it: “Ain’t nobody fighting out here, let’s keep that (real). It was a heated moment, but that’s the game of basketball.”
- Beal agreed: “We’re not going out trying to box.” He also said his issue with Valanciunas was nothing but joked that Morris is “a bully.” Wall said that he just told Ibaka to stop putting his fingers in everybody’s face.
- Brooks was asked why Marcin Gortat was better in this one: “He got an age-appropriate haircut.”
Programming note: I don’t travel with the team, so pre- and post-game news and notes are all you get while they’re in Washington. There were no shootaround notes today and will be no practice notes tomorrow (and there’s no shootaround, period, Sunday).