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Now’s not the time to abandon the team ethos

Oh c’mon man, we have to beat the Wizards. Don’t we?

I jammed my fingers playing ball and can barely type but as I’m scheduled to write, here I go. This will be short.

There is no innovation required in beating the Wizards. Pound for pound, the Wizards stars may be bigger, but the Raptors have been the better team throughout the regular season and that trend has little reason to not continue. I get that the regular season is ultimately too long and somewhat pointless, but over the course of 82 games it gives way to some unassailable facts that are true even in a playoff context. Some of those facts include the Raptors being a more balanced, productive, and cohesive unit than the Wizards. Over the course of a seven game series, individual explosions from guys like Beal and Wall should still not be enough to beat the team who has been playing like a team for a full season.

Unless of course, we abandon the team concept.

Game 4 was one of the most frustrating games I have ever watched, and surpassed Game 4 versus Philadelphia 17 years ago. You can replace the Oakley high-dribble and ensuing Iverson three with DeRozan’s ill-timed fadeaway threes and the subsequent Washington scores and it’s the same effect. Even the series situation was the same – the Raptors were up 2-1 and Philly stole pivotal Game 4 to tie the series up. The only difference is that the Raptors now head home instead of on the road.

The turnovers (many of them unforced) have been a major issue which have made defending the explosive Wizards’ backcourt a nightmare. Couple this with a porous perimeter defense that can’t stop the Wizards’ two-man game, or the one-on-one situations when Beal and Wall pull back and drive with momentum, and the defense can best be classified as leaky. Relying on shot-blocking to bail you out in akin to the pull-out method – in both cases you’re not playing any D and relying on pure athleticism and timing to bail you out. Risky. Very risky.

The source of these turnovers is often panic and carelessness, two traits that the regular season Raptors never demonstrated. In crunch time, the Raptors are playing as if they know they aren’t capable of getting a good shot, therefore they force the issue and take an available shot, regardless of quality. Pull-up threes are great when they go in, but they’re not a dependable source of production. Same with drives where you’re ignoring four of your teammates and relying on the refs for the assist. Most evident is the lack of two-man games the Raptors are running – off the high pick, the guard just keeps the ball and moves on, instead of even entertaining a return pass. It doesn’t help that one of the most experience bigs is rotting on the bench while the second-year man learns on the fly.

Basketball is a game where confidence counts in three different ways. First is what’s happening with the Wizards. Long known for being a somewhat selfish, uncoordinated and inconsistent unit, they’ve figured out what breaks the Raptors down and are no longer reliant on John Wall to dominate every other possession for them to have a chance, unlike in the first two games. Their role players are figuring out their…ahem…role, and even key guys like Gortat who struggled earlier and finding their niche. Second is what’s happening in the Talking Raptors league: we know we’re crap and proceed to play like crap and nobody’s mad. Third is what’s happening with the Raptors: they’re losing confidence in their team ethos and individuals feel their contributions can be greater than what the team produces – this is counter to our regular season. That shit needs to change.

Some thoughts:

  • Can we please keep an eye on the Kelly Oubre Jr. back-cuts?
  • If John Wall is pulling all the way back to the half-court line to drive, you don’t go out there with him
  • Make Bradley Beal go left – he’ll want to pull-back for a J every time, which you can deal with
  • Our guards need to stop taking that one forward step when thinking about getting the offensive rebound, it’s killing our transition D
  • DeMar DeRozan trying to live at the FT line is what the Wizards want, as that way he’s not creating for anyone else
  • Delon Wright needs to play 30 minutes in the next game
  • Game 5 pressure is huge because we haven’t won a game in Washington, and will weigh heavily on the Raptors (unlike against Milwaukee, Miami or Indiana)

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