Final score: Raptors 140 – Wizards 138 (2OT)
For the first time this season, the Raptors took the court for a truly early start yesterday … at 1 pm, in Washington DC to take on the Wizards. Granted the Raps have played a 3 pm game earlier this season, and 1 pm starts once used to be common place on Sunday afternoons in Toronto, but it definitely felt weird this time around (even for me, the fan) to tune into a Raptors game over lunch. If it feels that different for a fan … it’s probably different for the players too.
Despite the early start however, the Raptors came out and took it to the Wizards early. They raced out to a 36-21 lead at the end of the first quarter behind Kawhi and Pascal, who were simply cooking Wizards defenders. Washington wasn’t exactly doing their part to keep things competitive, shooting just 39% from the field in the first half, but the constant threat of Bradley Beal potentially heating up is always what makes guarding Washington a tricky proposition for Toronto – and yesterday afternoon was no different.
With no Fred VanVleet, CJ Miles, and Jonas Valanciunas in the lineup, it meant more playing time for Delon Wright, Norm Powell and Greg Monroe – capable offensive weapons for Nick Nurse, that have just been inconsistent throughout the season. But they generally played well in Washington; especially encouraging was the 17 points the Raptors got from Delon Wright, who’s efficient shooting and steady play was sorely needed for the Raptors without Fred in the lineup.
The Wizards supporting cast of Jeff Green, Trevor Ariza, and Otto Porter kept the Wizards within a respectable striking distance in the early stages of the second half, but the Raptors’ starting unit was always able to respond, and the game never really felt in danger early on. Danny Green found his shooting stroke once again, and Kawhi was able to easily flex his offensive muscle against whomever the Wizards threw at him – en-route to his 19th straight 20-plus point game.
But after the Raptors dominated most of the game and held a double-digit lead for nearly the first 40 minutes, the Wizards went on to close the game with absolutely scorching hot shooting. Hitting on their first 12 shots in the fourth quarter, the avalanche of made shots just got bigger and bigger. Bradley Beal scored 20 points in the quarter, and capped off his 6th made 3-pointer with 20 seconds to go in regulation to tie the game at 124. The shot completed an unbelievable comeback for the Wizards and all of a sudden, this game had the feeling of Game 4 from last year’s playoff series against the Wizards – the Raptors dominate for 3 quarters, before Washington shoots their way right back into it.
Though the Wizards did eventually miss a few shots later in the quarter, defensive rebounding once again became an issue for Toronto, who relinquished 18 offensive rebounds, with most of them coming at seemingly the worst times in the fourth quarter and in the overtime periods. The one guy you couldn’t blame however was Pascal Siakam, who finished with a career-high 19 boards, before fouling out in the second overtime. The Raptors weren’t too shabby on the offensive glass either however, with 17 of their own second chance opportunities.
While the end result was a good one, it was after after a long fourth quarter and 2 overtime periods, which featured an onslaught of Bradley Beal shots that made us all wonder – why does it always have to be so hard against these Wizards? Beal’s ability to stretch the floor and capitalize on second chance, loose ball and transition opportunities with his quick-strike jumpers was just too much for the Raptors to handle – and when Trevor Ariza, Otto Porter and Jeff Green are hitting from outside as well, you know you’re in for a long one. The Raptors got nineteen 3-pointers rained all over their defense (a Wizards franchise record).
But knowing 2 rest days were ahead, Nick Nurse confidently employed his starters for the full length of the 10 extra minutes and the Raptors came together. Despite Kawhi’s leg tightness that he started feeling in the fourth quarter, and Kyle’s suspect offense down the stretch, the Raptors scratched and clawed their way through each possession – culminating in a Kawhi drive-and-kick to Serge, for a game-sealing 3-pointer that put the Raptors up 139-138. Serge was off for most of the game, but in his final shot, which came after a slick ball-fake, he made it count. The Raptors managed to bend without breaking.
The extra playing time in the game definitely allowed for some amazing stat lines to be put up – namely from Bradley Beal, who went off for a 43-point triple double. Trevor Ariza nearly also had a triple double, falling just 1 rebound shy, and with 23 points and 10 assists. Kawhi was equally as impressive for Toronto with 41 points and 11 boards. As a pure basketball fan, watching offensive titans Beal and Leonard clash the way did was amazing; it was clear that these dudes were a cut above from everyone else on the floor.
The Raptors will now have the benefit of 2 off-days before squaring off against the Celtics at TD Garden on Wednesday. Despite Boston’s continued underachievement so far this season, this will be another marquee test for Toronto against a familiar foe in the Celtics, and, rightfully so, on US national TV. The Celtics have been up and down all year, and more recently, are coming off 2 disappointing losses to the Heat and Magic. Tip-off on Wednesday is 8 pm.