Mantras to repeat for the rest of this series

Take a deep breath and repeat after me.

Tear Down This Wall!

You don’t dismantle a wall by hucking more bricks at it, and very rarely do you get the results you want ramming through it at high speeds. The same goes, in the Raptors’ case, for John Wall. John Wall has shown he’s adept at forcing Toronto into sloppy turnovers for him and his team to take full advantage of. As for guarding Wall, boxing him in by sticking close is a recipe for disaster. Lowry opted to guard him tightly over the last two games and Wall either slipped him via a screen or ducked around him all together with the joy of slipping in an easy access window after curfew and never getting caught.

What are the options, then? One is putting Siakam on Wall and opting for his length to trip Wall up and chase him from the paint. But Siakam has been playing extremely quiet—I refuse to say shook—in this series, along with the rest of the bench. Washington threw their weight around in Game 3, starting chippy and staying that way, and were pushed off only a little, and probably just to stay out of foul trouble, in Game 4. It is supremely weird to see Toronto’s bench just shrink away, after they seemed the louder of the team’s rotations all throughout the regular season. But Washington’s bench is besting our own in perseverance and confidence. Would guarding Wall give Pascal Siakam the mental shot of adrenalin he needs to show up as the spectacularly lively, long-ranged and spicy shooter that we know and need him to be? And is this game the one to be making adjustments like that? To both points, yes. For everything that has been said about whether or not this Raptors team is relapsing into an earlier iteration of themselves, the bygone era of Before Culture Reset (BCR), now would actually be the best time to make some must needed adjustments and adapt to the series as it’s being played, even if it’s not being played as expected.

And if one guy is not up to doing it, or Siakam seems a little bit shaky, why not toss some double teams in for good measure. Likewise, some of the same screen traps the Wizards have been running on Toronto would work well to push Wall out of the paint, so would picking Wall up in the full court. Wall, like Lowry, is an exceptional driver. He’s extremely fast and once he’s got the rock and a road to get there, it’s hard to put up any defence that is likely to chase him off. He’s not especially great at the long shot though, and that’s a place the Raptors can try to put him to help themselves. In the last game in Washington Wall attempted five three-pointers and missed them all. In Game 2 he missed two of his three attempts and in Game 1 he went 1-of-5 from the field, missing 14 shots. Keep Wall out of the paint or slow him down on his way there and it could provide the right chip in getting him to crumble.

Honestly, Shoot It

Does Toronto need to take more shots? Hm, let’s see. On Sunday in Washington, Serge Ibaka and C.J. Miles, took two shots in a combined almost 14 fourth-quarter minutes. Delon Wright played the last seven and change minutes of the game without shooting a single shot. Yes, absolutely, the Raptors need to be shooting more—from 3, from 2, from under, beside—and more than that they need to be able to bounce back from bad shots.

We know them to a be a team who can deeply hit a funk when the ball is not falling, and more panicked, long-range shots are the last thing the Raptors need to keep the game in hand. But we also know that there’s sometimes no rhyme or reason in a game as to why shots don’t go. There is literally only one answer to this, and that’s to shoot through it. It is both bane and soothing balm, and the Raptors need to get back to the confidence in which they were letting lobs go all season. I don’t care if you clunk a three, it’s embarrassing sure, but generally math and luck and the rabid screams of fans imply that what once clunked will eventually fall. That’s just physics.

Remember, You Like Each Other

What might seem very surface level is actually fairly important when it comes down to a team’s longevity and the ability to bounce back. This Toronto team, out of all the other Toronto teams before them, really, generally, like each other. They support one another, they joke around, they know each other’s families and they communicate, a lot, on and off the court. There have been some hiccups in the Raptors on the court communication in the last two games away, and it’s led to frazzles and bigger flare-ups, and there’s no doubt the next however many games will have more of the same. Washington understands how the Raptors get along and it’s in their best interests to insert themselves into the dynamic in a bad way. Specifically? Markieff Morris is a goon. More generally, the Wizards were just getting the hang of the buttons to push and what they could get away with. Ibaka is going to have to cool it, Poeltl needs to control some of his range and not get picked off by getting into foul trouble early, and Lowry and DeRozan are going to have to lead and know what fires need to be flamed (gently, think blowing on warm embers) and what needs a blanket thrown on it and stomped on.