There is no panic around the Toronto Raptors right now. They always expected a tough series with the Washington Wizards, and so while a pair of losses on the road have been discouraging and evened the series at 2-2, the Raptors are projecting an expected business-as-usual approach to the changes they need to make with the series now returning home.
“To come and think this was gonna be an easy series, I said it before it even started, it’s gonna be a nip-and-tuck dog-fight for seven games, like a lot of other series around the Eastern Conference. The Eastern Conference is a very balanced conference, a lot of even teams, you put John Wall on this team for 82 games and I guarantee they wouldn’t be eighth,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “The series is 2-2, that’s why you play the entire season to get home-court advantage, now it’s a 3-game series and we’ve got two at our house. That’s the way we’ve gotta look at it.”
All of that is true, but it would not be particularly notable or refreshing if the Raptors were saying the wrong things after a step in the wrong direction Sunday. In recent years, such games would produce quotes like “I guess I have to force shots” or “Empty the clip,” and while those were great soundbites, they would now stand out as antithetical to how the Raptors want to play, and how they’re best built to win this series. Instead, the Raptors appear keenly aware of what they need to improve upon. Namely, getting back to the team they were for the first 84 games of the season.
“A lot of mistakes that we made upon ourselves. Mental mistakes, turnovers, late-game execution, stabbing in the backcourt in transition late in the game. A lot of things,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s just one of them nights where you find yourself sometimes you come off great, sometimes you could find yourself looking back and wishing you could take a few shots back that could have been, that you probably felt was forced. Last night was that.
It’s hard to directly ascribe causation to the offensive stumbles from Sunday, and you can look at this one of two ways. One, the Wizards changing their coverage and inviting more one-on-one play froze out the role players a bit more than usual because ball movement and, just as notably, off-ball movement were both restricted. That lead to a lack of rhythm and hesitance when the non-stars got opportunity. The other would be that the role players hesitating or making bad plays in those scenarios – Delon Wright looked allergic to open threes late and C.J. Miles and Serge Ibaka somehow combined for seven turnovers – and that encouraging DeRozan to use nearly 50 percent of the team’s possessions, and even more in the fourth.
The responsibility, as always, is shared, though the primary emphasis seems to be on shooting more aggressively.
“Let ‘em fly. CJ Miles, Delon Wright, they’ve got to let those shots fly. I don’t care if you miss six or seven of them, if they’re in the shot spectrum, they’re your shots, you’ve got to shoot those shots,” Casey said. “‘Cause again, you turn down that shot and you turn it into, we turned down one corner three and it turned into a layup for them ’cause of a bad pass. So those are things, what do you do, how do you show it? You just show it and then trust that the guys gonna make the decision. And we will, I have no doubt in my mind.”
“Shoot it man,” DeRozan added. “Every one of my teammates, I don’t care if they miss 20 shots in a row, if you get a shot, shoot it. That’s the confidence we’ve had in one another all year.”
What made the hesitancy additionally frustrating was that it produced not only poor shots but plenty of turnovers. The Raptors have gone from being the fourth-stingiest team with the ball in the regular season to its most error-prone in the postseason, and Casey estimated that 10 of the Raptors’ turnovers on Sunday were bad-pass turnovers. That is, they were instances of the Raptors making unforced errors rather than Washington doing anything especially notable. That stands to make things much too easy on an opponent that doesn’t exactly need a leg up like that with how they’re playing right now.
“You continue to show it. ‘Cause again, it’s uncharacteristic,” Casey said. “Our passing numbers are way up, our assist are way up, and no disrespect to Washington, it’s not like they’re doing something, trapping or doing something that’s confusing us. We’re confusing ourselves. As a coach, all we can do is show it to the guys and trust. We’ve gotta trust the pass. That’s something I think we got away from in the fourth quarter once we did not make shots or turn down shots or whatever, I thought we didn’t trust the pass and we’ve gotta continue to do that.”
It’s certainly better than proclaiming to force shots or empty the clip. This team has matured a lot in that sense, and it stands to reason that they’ll play more to form in Game 5 despite the discouraging signs in Game 4. There’s just no sense losing the old way when they’ve been winning the new way.
- I’ll be posting some updates/quotes/T-shirt news/etc regularly on my Instagram story throughout the playoffs.
- You still have a few weeks to apply for the Raptors’ Wayne Embry Fellowship.
- The Raptors are still pretty heavy favorites to win the series and are the narrowest of favorites (ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers and then the Cleveland Cavaliers) to come out of the Eastern Conference. The drop off after those three to everyone else is extreme.
- Fred VanVleet was getting up shots and the sense was that he was able to do a little more today than in recent sessions. He’s still wearing a wrap/brace on the shoulder more or less around the clock to stimulate healing, but his range of motion hasn’t progressed to 100 percent and there will be risk of re-injury for a few weeks still. Game 5 will mark two weeks since the initial injury, and he’s truly day-to-day at this point, though he’s listed as doubtful right now.
- There was no update on OG Anunoby, who rolled his ankle in the second quarter of Game 4 and looked a little hobbled in the second half. The Raptors only had a film and treatment day, so there was no actual practice for him to participate (or not participate) in. He is not on the Game 5 injury report as of right now.
- Dwane Casey admitted that he liked what he saw with Pascal Siakam seeing some possessions on John Wall but declined to give away any gameplan specifics for Wednesday. He also referred to Bradley Beal’s “featheriness,” which I thought was a great adjective.
- Both sides are complaining about the officiating again. Casey was once again priming the officials to be aware of Marcin Gortat’s screens, DeMar DeRozan noted that he thought he got a few non-calls late, Gortat himself is lamenting “soft” calls in the series, and Markieff Morris offered what amount to a humorous “I’ll keep my money, thanks” in Washington. No side is ever happy with the whistle in a playoff series, and this is the kind of back-and-forth you always see play out in the media as either side looks for even a slight psychological impact on the referees. Both fanbases also feel they’ve been short-changed by the whistle. So it’s business as usual on that front.
- When talking about the turnovers, Casey used the example of trying to pass to one reporter and throwing the ball somewhere else, then doubled back to add “and not just because I know you wouldn’t be able to do anything with it if you caught it.” It wasn’t me, but you want to talk about hesitant shooting, I’m your guy.