With John Wall sitting out for Washington once again, the stage was set for either a replay of the last Raptors-Wizards game or something new. Would the Raps get off to a slow start once again? Would they self-combust? Would they allow Bradley Beal to go off for 30 or more points? As it turns out, after a quality 100-91 Raptors win, the answers were not quite, definitely not, and hmm almost. But there’s more to the story — as is usually the case with this version of the Raptors.
The start was a modest one for Toronto — though not a disaster. It’s good to remember this was a 3:30pm start on a Sunday afternoon, so an easing into the action was to be expected. Still, when the Raptors are moving the ball (seven assists to one turnover in the first quarter) and getting attempts up (from 3 or otherwise), the game at least is moving in the right direction. In that opening frame DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combined for 14 points; Jonas Valanciunas stood tall and resisted the urge to be embarrassed by Marcin Gortat (which, uh, didn’t last); and despite shooting 3-of-12 from deep, the game was tied at 28.
The second quarter offered two sides of the Raptors. The first was the all-bench lineup featuring a backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Lorenzo Brown with C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, and Lucas Nogueira. There was a lot to like there defensively, but it was hard for that version of the Raps to build a lead. Fortunately, Toronto still employs DeRozan. The Raptors vet decided to go shot-for-shot with Beal (in the midst of his own renaissance against Toronto). It helped set the Raps lead at five points, with both DeRozan and Beal resting at 22 points apiece.
But then, ah yes, then came the quarter, nay, the half, of Pascal Siakam. With the Raptors shooting poorly from range (they finished 10-of-39 from three, good for 26 percent), and Lowry moving into a relatively quiet game (he finished with a 10-6-5), Toronto needed something more than DeRozan’s scoring. Siakam seemed downright happy to oblige. After a 12-4 run by the Wizards flipped the game in their favour, the Raptors went on a 9-2 run of their own. And Siakam was everywhere.
Pascal Siakam let his presence be known! pic.twitter.com/cO0zH87ZVw— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 19, 2017
“He really did turn things around for us,” said head coach Dwane Casey. “That run down block that he got was just all heart, hustle, toughness, and persistance.”
What run down block is Casey referring to? Allow me to pass this along:
As has been the case all season long so far for the Raptors, they were able to mix-and-match lineups to see what worked. Against the Wizards the all-bench lineup was useable — even with the tentative Brown and undersized VanVleet — because of their disastrous bench. And the Raptors’ forward-centre combos could be changed depending on who was working. This time out Siakam was the driving force, with Serge Ibaka effective down the stretch at centre. OG Anunoby didn’t quite have it, but that’s fine for a rookie. And when Lucas Nogueira fouling he also chipped in (how does eight points on 3-of-3 shooting grab you?). It was a sight to see.
Of course, down the stretch the star was still DeRozan. The Raptors calm main man went for 33 points and eventually overcame Beal’s insistent start (he finished with 27 points) to close the game out for Toronto. Even when DeRozan wasn’t hitting big shots he was finding teammates for even bigger ones. It was his pass to VanVleet for the dagger three that put the game out of reach for Washington. DeMar’s final line: 33 points, eight rebounds, six assists, on 15-of-26 shooting (and 2-of-6 from three). The guy could do no wrong.
The Raptors have now won four in a row, and six of seven, while weathering injuries to Ibaka, Norman Powell, and Delon Wright. They’ve bounced back after a tough loss in Boston, and an ugly loss to these same Wizards two weeks ago. The toughest part of their schedule is behind them and they’re 11-5. And the story — from wild rookie contributions, surprising finishes, breathtaking plays, and successful lineup combinations out of nowhere — keeps changing.