The Raptors stomped the Bradley Beal-less Wizards on Tuesday night, securing the regular season sweep of the Wizards. Obviously the stakes are a lot lower during the 82-game grind than they were last April, but it has to be at least a little comforting for Raptors fans that Toronto has proven, with little doubt, which team is better as of today.
Kyle Lowry was deadly and efficient, scoring 29 points, adding four rebounds and four assists on 8-of-14 shooting (5-of-9 from long range), and was the catalyst behind the Raptors blowing the game open in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
That made it all the more painful to see Lowry go down with under 4 minutes to go with the Raptors up 17 points.
WATCH: Kyle Lowry leaves game with an apparent hand injury. X-rays have since come back negative: https://t.co/YzYnMTqH5P— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 27, 2016
While we don't quite know what injury, if any, Lowry sustained, we know the x-rays he underwent after the game came back negative.
"He says it not anything wrong," Casey said.
How's Lowry's wrist? "I'm fine". Would he tell us if he wasn't? "No, I wouldn't"— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 27, 2016
If Lowry is to miss any length of time, Cory Joseph's play tonight should help ease some concerned onlookers. While he's had his ups and down in recent weeks, Lowry's backup dazzled tonight, pouring in 10 points and six assists while being an absolutely unstoppable force driving to the rim.
He looked eerily similar to the Wizards' John Wall, who continued to drag his teammates along with him. He tuned up the Raptors for 13 points and eight dimes in the first 24 minutes. During that stretch, the Raptors were consistently trying to go over picks to stay glued to Wall - not the greatest of strategies against perhaps the fastest player in the NBA. Wall beat Lowry and Joseph around the corner consistently in that half.
In the back half of the game though, the Raptors guards started going under the pick, giving Wall space to pull up if he wanted to, although he rarely took advantage. He shot just 2-for-7 in the last two quarters as the Raptors seized control of the game.
A big part of the Raptors late-game dominance was thanks to the Lowry-Joseph-Ross-Patterson-Biyombo unit that is starting to leave small samples in its dust.
Lowry+bench unit has now outscored opponents by 32.6 points per-100 possessions over 116 minutes. Lovely.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 27, 2016
Toronto has the second-best NET rating of any team in fourth quarters this season (+10.2; Spurs lead at +11.1), and that lethal combination has been a big reason. Yet another reason to hope that Lowry's wrist is as fine as he says it is.
One of the nicest surprises of the night was the play of Jonas Valanciunas. As was mentioned in the GameThread, Valanciunas has struggled to get anything going against Marcin Gortat and Nene either this season or in last year's playoffs.
Instead of getting stymied once again, Valanciunas turned in a strong effort, dropping 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and adding 12 rebounds. He still got denied by Gortat a few times while attempting his patented post moves, but found other ways to be effective, including this play in which he ran faster than he has since his Lietuva Youtube days:
It wasn't Valanciunas' offense that got Casey excited though. The Raptors coach commented on his big man's improvements in defending the pick-and-roll, something that helped to contain Wall in the second half.
He is doing a much better job of getting down, getting in the stance, challenging shots once they come in, understanding and gauging the speeds ... Whereas before he was kind of in no-man's land ... Now he is doing a much better job of gauging the speed and the force that guard is coming down with and the angles.
Lowry was also impressed with Valanciunas' progress.
I think he is starting to understand the game a little bit better ... He's just learning the repetition he's been put in with many pick-and-rolls. Teams have been picking on him and I think he's getting tired of teams picking on him ... His timing is getting better every single day.
Optimism, progress, consistency - it's all present with this Raptors team right now. Losing Kyle Lowry for any extended period of time would surely stifle the positive vibes radiating from the team, but it appears - for now - that he's escaped with something less serious than what it could have been.
Whether Lowry is in the lineup or not, it's tough to shake the feeling that the Raptors have a great chance at making history against the Knicks on Thursday - on national TV in the U.S. no less. And damn it if it isn't really cool to have that kind of belief in this team.
What did you think of tonight's big win?