Just like the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics before them, the Toronto Raptors have yet to solve the mystery that is the Capital One Arena. They looked plenty close to doing so with an eight-point lead and just eight minutes remaining in Game 4, but unraveled in a manner that left them with more questions than answers.
Courtesy of being called out on several social platforms and in person, Delon Wright provided some answers on Wednesday with an aggressiveness to his decision-making that was sorely lacking in Game 4. As long as VanVleet remains out, Wright’s willingness to score will be tested, and Raptors fans will be hoping that his brilliant fourth quarter provided the blueprint for how he can be most effective.
Jonas Valanciunas provided the vast majority of the other answers the Raptors were looking for, providing a strong presence on the defensive glass, and showing on pick-and-rolls to great effect. If you haven’t read it yet, Blake’s piece breaking down the impact the Lithuanian had is great.
The Washington Wizards will be looking to extend their eight-game home playoff win streak, and John Wall seemed to suggest that victory was a mere formality. “We love our chances,” Wall said about the possibility of winning to make a return to the Air Canada Centre. “We’re very confident.”
If there is one player who can talk because of the game he’s brought to the table over the five games thus far, it’s Wall. One the other end of the spectrum, though, is self-proclaimed A-lister Kelly Oubre Jr. Delon Wright decided to keep it classy and not engage, making clear that he’s keen to let his game do the talking in Game 6.
Tip-off is at 7:00 p.m. ET on Sportsnet One for TV viewers and the Fan 590 for listeners.
To help assess the elimination Game 6 vibes, I have with me Noah Goetzel, host of the Locked on Wizards podcast and reporter for WizardsXTRA. You can follow him on Twitter @noah_goetzel.
Vivek Jacob: Noah, the playoffs are all about adjustments. After the Wizards closed to perfection in Game 4 to rally past the Raptors, Toronto returned the favour on their home court. Delon Wright was more assertive, and Jonas Valanciunas was trusted with fourth-quarter minutes. What is the Wizards’ adjustment to this? Do you think they need to change anything at all?
Noah Goetzel: The Wizards desperately need a bigger contribution from players not named John Wall and Bradley Beal. It’s that simple. Markieff Morris and Otto Porter have combined for 18, 15, 18 and 15 points in Games 2, 3, 4 and 5. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Washington’s backcourt to create offense despite playing heavy minutes.
I would love to see Mike Scott replace Otto Porter at the power forward position in a lineup featuring Wall, Beal, Oubre, Scott and Mahinmi. Mahinmi has not played much, but his offensive efficiency rating was at least 139 in his limited time on the court over the past three games. That potential lineup’s mix of defense, energy, and proven playmakers could help revitalize the Wizards after Porter and Morris’ string of stale outings.
Vivek Jacob: The Wizards have every reason to feel confident on their home floor with the home team having won every game thus far. What was your confidence level heading into Games 3 and 4 and how good do you feel about Game 6 relative to that?
Noah Goetzel: Throughout the season, the Wizards have played best with their backs against the wall when everyone discounts them. Wall and Beal know their legacy rests on performing in the clutch and advancing past the first round. Not to mention that Paul Pierce predicted that the duo may see a divorce if not. Pierce’s nickname is The Truth, so of course, I can’t second guess that baseless conclusion for a heartbeat.
Expect Kelly Oubre to rise to the occasion, as well, after he played zero minutes in the do-or-die Game 7 against the Celtics last postseason. While Oubre has shot worse than 33 percent in the majority of the his games this series, he earned seven free-throw attempts each in Games 4 and 5, and has played formidable defense on DeMar DeRozan. My confidence level is a B+ that the Wizards make it nine straight postseason victory in the nation’s capital, and force a Game 7. The Wizards are just too cocky for Raptors to truly smell blood.
Vivek Jacob: Kelly Oubre Jr. was a nuisance during the two games in Washington, and decided to add some spice to Game 6 by calling out Wright for not playing well “anywhere else” than home. Pot… something something… kettle… Your thoughts on Oubre Jr. getting into the mind games before an elimination game?
Noah Goetzel: Speaking of Oubre (aka Wave Papi), he probably would have been better off letting his game speak for itself. But, Delon Wright had one of the worse comebacks imaginable after Oubre asserted that Wright falters when playing in the U.S., saying “I didn’t play as good as I did at home there, but he made it seem like I was just a total bust. We’ll see in Game 6.” Wright hit just 5-of-15 shots in his two contests in Washington. Although he had five of Toronto’s 19 dimes in Game 4, it’s Wright’s trash talk game that could use an assist.
Oubre is in no position to talk junk himself, however. As bad as the Wizards were from beyond the arc in Game 5 (19.2 percent), Oubre is even worse: 3-of-16 (18.8 percent). I love that Oubre never loses his swag, but he is one of the many Wizards who, to quote Migos, doesn’t quite walk it like he talk it.
Vivek Jacob: Kyle Lowry has been slandered throughout his post-season career by the American media, and it appears as though they are underrating his performances once again. He’s averaging 15.8 points, shooting 43.8 percent from deep on 6.4 attempts, 8.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 steals. What are your thoughts on how he has performed through five games?
Noah Goetzel: Kyle Lowry is a silent killer like Tim Duncan who doesn’t really make you think he had a good game until you see how well he stuffed the stat sheet afterward. Lowry is a perfect floor general for a deep, young team that occasionally needs a kick in the behind when it reverts to its old stagnant iso-ball ways. It irks me every year that Lowry makes the all-star team because I think he’s over the hill and inconsistent. But seeing his unsung contributions up close reminds me that Lowry truly is the pulse that keeps Toronto alive. He looks healthier than he has in past postseason outings, as well, and has now fully embraced being DeMar DeRozan’s second fiddle.
Vivek Jacob: John Wall has been spectacular through five games, averaging 26.6 points, 12.2 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks. What were your thoughts on his massive extension and have his performances during this stretch changed any of that? How much of a concern is his health when considering he will earn in excess of $40 million in each of his age 29-30-31-seasons?
Noah Goetzel: It sucks that John Wall missed half the season and had to limp his way into posting (often selfishly) all-star numbers the other half of the season. Those games were tough to watch after seeing how explosive he had been in previous years. I’m still relieved that Wall inked the super-max extension with the Wizards because he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, the heart and sole of the franchise, and the only player in the series to drop at least 20 points every single game.
If you think Kyrie Irving is better than Wall, you clearly have a delusional perception of the value of scoring compared to setting up teammates, igniting fast breaks by forcing turnovers, and being the greatest shot-blocking point guard in the history of the not-so-flat world. As long as Wall can continue to improve his three-point shooting and limit his turnovers, he should survive his later years despite the inevitable decline in speed and explosiveness. Simply put, the Wizards lack the necessary leadership to make the playoffs without John Wall, so he’s worth the hefty price tag despite those recurring knee issues.
Fred VanVleet is listed as questionable per the latest reports. All else remains status quo. Delon Wright should be raring to go after Kelly Oubre Jr.’s comments, and considering just how close the bench unit is as a whole, they should all be charged up to end this series in Washington. Neither DeRozan nor Lowry has touched the 40-minute mark yet in the playoffs, which bodes well for them giving whatever they have to in order to close out this series.
UPDATE: FRED VANVLEET IS AVAILABLE TO PLAY.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, 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
INACTIVE: Malachi Richardson
Candace Buckner of the Washington Post reported Thursday that Otto Porter Jr. has been playing with a bone contusion in his left leg and is now questionable to play.
UPDATE: OTTO PORTER IS OUT INDEFINITELY DUE TO A PROCEDURE REQUIRED FOR HIS LEFT CALF.
Otto Porter Jr. Injury Update https://t.co/wEXTCqC6km
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) April 27, 2018
The rest of the Wizards remain healthy, Jodie Meeks is still suspended, and Tomas Satoransky remains a mysterious omission from this series. Not like he’s a six-foot-seven guard who filled in admirably for 41 games as the starting point guard and can defend multiple positions or anything. Wall has been terrific throughout the series, but played 87 of the 96 minutes in Games 4 and 5. This has been a long drawn out series with plenty of rest days, but with this game and a potential Game 7 coming on a day’s rest each, Wall’s left knee will be severely tested.
PG: John Wall, Ty Lawson, Tomas Satoransky, Tim Frazier
SG: Bradley Beal
SF: Kelly Oubre Jr.
PF: Markieff Morris, Mike Scott, Jason Smith
C: Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi
OUT: Jodie Meeks, Otto Porter Jr.
INACTIVE: Ramon Sessions, Chris McCullough
Game 1: Raptors -8.0 (Series: Raptors -630) (Raptors 114, Wizards 106)
Game 2: Raptors -7.0 (Series: Raptors -800) (Raptors 130, Wizards 119)
Game 3: Wizards -1.5 (Series: Raptors -800) (Wizards 122, Raptors 103)
Game 4: Raptors -2.0 (Series: Raptors -650) (Wizards 106, Raptors 98)
Game 5: Raptors -7.0 (Series: Raptors -340) (Raptors 108, Wizards 98)
Game 6: Wizards -2.0 (Series: Raptors -800 : implied probability of 88.9 percent)
The Raptors are 2.0-point underdogs with a 214.5 over/under. This marks the second occasion the Raptors are underdogs and just as road teams are favored when trailing 2-0 because of the sense of desperation teams feel, this in fact is an elimination game for the Wizards. They’ve been good enough at home to warrant the favorites tag on their home floor as well. For the Raptors, they’ll be hoping that just as they improved from Game 3 to Game 4, there will be enough improvement in this one to close out the series.