Honestly, we were hoping this column would be a space to talk about positive trends and slight adjustments the Raptors could make from game to game. After all, this was supposed to be a competitive, coin flip series and pretty much anyone would've expected one of these teams to be up 2-1 at this point. The Raptors even had the inside track to do so with the two home games to start.
Instead, Toronto goes into Sunday's Game 4 with the Washington Wizards on the brink of elimination, down 3-0. For the record:
Teams leading 3-0 in NBA playoff history have a 110-0 mark in 7-game series -- slightly better percentage than the Lions in ancient Rome.— Mike Wise (@MikeWiseguy) April 24, 2015
The games have been close at times, but there's absolutely no denying that the Wizards have outplayed, out-hustled, and out-everything'd the Raptors.
Here are some places where things have gone wrong:
Second and Third Quarters
For whatever reason, the Raptors have fallen absolutely asleep in the middle quarters in this series. Over the three games, they have been outscored 82-50 in the second frame and 74-62 in the third.
In terms of Net Rating (points scored minus points allowed per 100 possessions), Toronto has posted a +11.7 in the first, -50.9 in the second, -20.6 in the third, and +16.7 in the fourth. They start and end just fine (giving fans hope at the beginning and end), but have lost focus and shot themselves in the feet during the middle frames, putting each game effectively out of reach by the time they make their late runs.
Ineffective Guard Play
This team relied heavily on its guard rotation and their ability to make shots this season and it worked well enough to get them to a franchise-best 49 wins. In the playoffs, however, that strategy just isn't getting it done.
It's hard to fault DeMar DeRozan's effort, considering how much he's been trying to will his team to victory with a line of 22.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists in a whopping 41.7 minutes per game, but it gets shady after that.
Kyle Lowry, Lou Williams, and Terrence Ross, by comparison, have all been from bad to abysmal. Terrence Ross gets a bit of a pass for at least being better than last year (yay?), but the Raps would have needed their All-Star and this year's Sixth Man of the Year to shoot over 30 percent from the field and 20 percent from long range to have stood a chance in this series (groundbreaking theory, I know).
Vasquez has been halfway decent on offence, but he's been a sieve on defence, as the Raptors have allowed a robust 8.2 more points per 100 possessions when he's been on the floor than when he's been on the bench.
The Three-Point-Guard Lineup
Speaking of ineffective guard play, Casey's use of the three-point-guard lineup of Lowry, Lou, and Vasquez deserves some scrutiny.
In 24 minutes of action, that lineup has had a -11.2 Net Rating, caused the Raptors to give up an eye-popping 65.3 percent rebound rate to the Wizards when on the floor (including a ridiculous 36.4 rate on the offensive boards), and shot an awful Effective Field Goal Percentage (weighted twos and threes) of 33.3 percent.
It's a small sample size, sure, but given the fact that the Raptors have been outrebounded 151-117 in the series and outshot 46.1 to 41.0 percent from the field, one can't help but wonder why this lineup hasn't played somewhere closer to, I don't know, zero minutes together?
Inability to Handle the Truth
Paul Pierce has killed the Raptors this series, hitting dagger after excruciating dagger and averaging 16.0 points per game on 53.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from long range. More specifically, Paul Pierce has killed the Raptors while playing the four (power forward).
The Wizards' second-most used lineup this series (outside their starting lineup) has been 30 minutes of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Paul Pierce, and Marcin Gortat (essentially Porter in place of Nene, with Pierce moved to the four). In those 30 minutes, the Wizards have scored 130.7 points per 100 possessions and held the Raptors to 91.5, for a Net Rating of +39.2.
Casey simply never solved that lineup in three games and it has put the Raptors on the verge of a sweep.
Reminder: James Johnson -- the team's best wing defender that plays Pierce's exact position and can defend the four just fine -- has picked up two DNP-CDs in three games this series and spent his seven minutes played not guarding Paul Pierce. The matchup simply wasn't "special" enough, I suppose. But I digress...
So, what numbers are on your minds after three soul-crushing losses? Jump into the comment section and let's share in each other's misery.