Gameday: Raptors @ Wizards, Game 4, April 22

The reviews seem mixed with regards to what the Game 3 loss means.

Zach Lowe’s mother-in-law was disgusted by the Toronto Raptors’ performance and that made him feel the need to urge the city to stay strong.

There are plenty others who seem to echo those same thoughts, but Raptors Twitter also seemed to suggest there were a decent number of people on the other side of the fence who still believe the Raptors are the better team and acknowledge that this was a game the Washington Wizards absolutely had to get considering no team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit. Adrenaline, the energy of the crowd, the zig-zag effect, they all had their role to play.

Either way, things must be well in Raptor land if it has taken three whole playoff games to bring about their first loss. Were there some areas of concern with how they defended the pick-and-roll and allowed the Wizards to get out in transition? Absolutely. Were they largely due to correctable mental mistakes? The evidence of the 2017-18 regular season as well as Games 1 and 2 seem to suggest so.

“You can’t really judge your defense until you come down and give it a chance,” head coach Dwane Casey said at Saturday’s practice. “Let’s get back, take care of the ball, get a quality shot, good floor balance getting back, and that way we can judge our defense from a set standpoint but when you turn it over that many times — some of it is Washington’s good defense, some of it is taking a gun and pointing at our foot and shooting ourselves in the foot — a lot of it was uncharacteristic.”

Game 4 presents an opportunity to show they can be who they’ve been all season in a crunch game on the road.

Tip-off is at 6:00 p.m. ET on Sportsnet One for TV viewers and the Fan 590 for listeners.

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to grab a hold of a Wizards expert for the typical Q&A session (Wale stans are still salty, I guess), so, here are some things to keep in mind heading into Game 4:

Casey game-to-game adjustments

For all the criticism Casey has received over the course of his four prior playoff appearances with the Raptors, one area in which he has consistently had success is adjusting from one game to the next.

When it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it, and so Casey didn’t have much choice but to roll with what had served him well through the opening two games of the series. With Washington having struck their first blow in the series, it is up to Casey to respond. Excluding the two sweeps at the hands of the Wizards and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Casey-led Raptors are 11-3 in games following a playoff loss.

I’m not sure there are significant changes to be made on this occasion with regards to lineups or rotations, perhaps a bit more Kyle Lowry with the bench here, a bit less DeRozan with the bench there, but, largely, I expect to see better tactical approaches whether it be defending the pick-and-roll, limiting the Wizards’ transition game, or even being the ones to set the physical tone for the game. Maybe not in the same manner that the Wizards went about their business in Game 3, but establishing the whistle early and ensuring that they sell the calls they need on Gortat picks or DeRozan drives.

Where the Bench Mob at?

There’s been plenty written about Toronto’s second unit the past few days over concerns that their level has suffered a considerable drop-off and that Fred VanVleet’s absence is the reason why. No doubt, VanVleet’s absence has hurt the unit, as his ability to space the floor while also bringing a sense of calm and composure to the unit is sorely missed.

However, it is worth noting that players like Mike Scott and Ian Mahinmi fit the prototype of players who have caused problems for the secondary frontcourt during the regular season. Poeltl has consistently struggled when matched up against players bigger and stronger than him, while Siakam’s test has been to find a way to be a pest in the passing lanes but also not succumb to that trap by leaving Scott open.

After finishing among the best on the team in deflections and loose balls recovered during the regular season, Siakam has just one deflection and not a single loose ball recovered over the first three games. In the absence of VanVleet, it is imperative that the Raptors bench unit create as many transition opportunities as possible.

Focus

The Raptors played Game 1 like it was a Game 7, at least according to Lowry. In order to make a statement, they need the same approach here. The Wizards have tasted success now, and with their perfect home playoff record over their last seven games, they will expect to finish this mini-job and turn the series into a best-of-three.

Minimize the turnovers, push with composure, and don’t get caught up in the mind games.

Raptors updates

There’s no word on Fred VanVleet as of yet but it seems as though it would take something out of the ordinary for him to be given the green light. Sitting out on Sunday allows him Monday and Tuesday to heal as well, and with that either being a crucial game with the series tied or an opportunity to close out the series, it makes all the more sense for the Raptors to hold him out until the injury is truly past him.

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
TBD: Fred VanVleet
OUT: None
INACTIVE: Malachi Richardson

Wizards updates

After teasing that there would be a change to the starting lineup after Game 2, Scott Brooks rolled out the same five for Game 3. Despite the lopsided result in favor of the Wizards, Brooks will still be concerned by the slow start that had them trailing by nine late in the first quarter.

Marcin Gortat finally showed some life and combined with the rest of the Wizards’ frontcourt to utterly and completely outplay their Raptors counterparts. Expect more of the same in terms of rotations, but also be prepared for quick hooks if things don’t quite go according to plan.

Otto Porter Jr. hasn’t looked right all series and this will be another opportunity for him to try and carry over the success from his best regular season till date.

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
TBD: None
OUT: Jodie Meeks
INACTIVE: Ramon Sessions, Chris McCullough

The line
Game 1: Raptors -8 (Series Raptors -630) (Raptors 114, Wizards 106)
Game 2: Raptors -6.5 (Series: Raptors -800) (Raptors 130, Wizards 119)
Game 3: Raptors +1.5 (Series: Raptors -800) (Raptors 103, Wizards 122)
Series: Raptors -700

The Raptors are 1.5-point favorites with a 218.5 over/under.

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