In what should've been an easy win Thursday night for the Toronto Raptors at home, ultimately turned into a game of cat and mouse. After playing for three hours and 31 minutes -- the longest game in team history -- it was the Washington Wizards who were able to secure the W, winning 129-132 behind DeMar DeRozan's 34 points and Grevies Vasquez's 26.
A tug-of-war- affair between both ball clubs led the Wiz to steal this one, as they were able to hang just a little tighter. Wizards' Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza were dynamic in the clutch as they made back-to-back layups, making it a two possession game and in the long run, sealing the deal with one minute remaining. It was a constant battle back and forth as Vasquez and DeRozan were left standing, but it wasn't enough.
The Wiz, as expected, went small ball and looked to their guards to do the heavy work after losing Nene to a sprained MCL. As Nene sat out with an injury, it would've been advantageous to run the offense through Valancuinas however the Raps leaned on point guard, Grieves Vasquez to produce much of the scoring.
While the game boiled down to which team suffered less injuries, less fouls and players still able to maneuver despite immense fatigue, Vasquez, had a monster night trying to keep the Raps in the game.
The Venezuelan had a stellar performance off the bench posting a season-high 26 points, eight rebounds along with two steals. He was just two points shy of a career high.
The first quarter went well for the Raps. Jonas Valancuinas had a hot start scoring the first four points for Toronto, while Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross combined for 14, enabling the team to go on an early 5-0 run. The team was shooting 52.6 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from beyond the arc. Magnificently enough, they only had two turnovers in this quarter.
The second quarter was a huge mess and essentially the exact opposite of the first. They were sloppy on the offensive end shooting a regressed 44.4 percent from the field. They even allowed Washington to score 36 points in the 2nd quarter alone, despite holding them to 21 in the first. However with Vasquez implemented into the game, he was able to spark the Rap's offense that transitioned into the 3rd quarter.
With Ross unable to return with an ankle injury, Vasquez was called upon to produce. He justifiably did so posting another seven points and two assists. Vasquez getting the ball and producing contributed to an 11-0 run for Toronto. His effectively on the court continued until the end of regulation in which he scored 14 points in the fourth quarter. However with the game in overtime, I was left questioning Dwane Casey's decisions down the stretch.
In overtime, the available starters all combined for 18 points, while Vasquez only had a measly five points. Casey is more confident trusting his starters with the ball late in the game however he seems to do so despite their current health status. He seems to abolish the idea of enforcing the ball to run through a second unit player, despite how hot they we're shooting on the field. If a player is playing so well, let him shoot because chances are, he'll post staggering results. However with four of your best defenders out, it's understandable that Casey's options were limited.
Another prime example of Casey's elusive decisions was when he put Tyler Hansborough on John Wall, but that's a whole different argument in its entirety that's best to be saved for another day.
On the roster, Vasquez is ranked third best in three points made -- behind Lowry and Ross -- third in assists, and third in +/-. It's time Casey runs the ball through Vasquez and starts trusting him more often. He could be a valuable player if the Raps make it to the post-season in the spring. He needs the ball more.
This game showed the benefit of the doubt for Vasquez. With the star players out, this allowed him to gain freedom in pick and roll situations. Allowed him to play his game, which won't happen much as the starters regain their status.
For the most part, the Raps managed shot the ball well, however they allowed Washington to have 18 offensive rebounds, and turned the ball over 18 times, which allocated for 29 of the Wiz's points.
Although the stats say the Raps are able to take care of the ball their recent games against the Magic, Cavs and Wiz are showing otherwise. It cannot be expressed enough how sloppy turnovers and poor defense play a huge role in the late game situations, especially when they should be winning games at home.
Nevertheless this loss may be a good learning experience. They played so well that, after many seasons of failure, winning games home and on the road seemed to become the norm for this team. They managed to take care of business well that losing was vitally nonexistent anymore. Occasional losses like these however can be and should be taken as a reality check. Get off cruise control and keep grinding because the road in the playoffs will be a hard fought battle.
With this loss, the Raps' five game winning streak is officially snapped. They're also ahead only one game against a Derrick-Rose-less yet fearsome Chicago Bulls team hungry for Toronto's spot.
The Raps continue their journey having two days off before taking on Golden State Sunday. The Warriors are seventh in the brutal western conference and lost their most recent game against the Bulls to a score of 83-103.
Extra Game Notes:
- Both Raptors and Wizards, if playing as they are, will make the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.
- Kyle Lowry played the notion that his ankle, after awkwardly landing on Marcin Gortat's foot, was fine, which was obviously not.
- Nando De Colo didn't play any minutes.
- If Ross' ankle is as bad as most fear, Toronto may be forced to use John Salmons for most of the overhaul.