I wonder if anyone outside of Ontario would have agreed that the Toronto Raptors would suffer more without C.J. Miles and Fred VanVleet than the Washington Wizards would without John Wall? Crazy as it sounds, it was definitely the case last night as the Raptors’ heralded bench unit looked completely out of sorts and the starters, despite playing excellent ball on the night, couldn’t pull of a miracle against the Wizards.
Rebounding Hurt the Raptors Again Tonight
I’m starting to sound like a broken record I’m sure, but the Raptors were thoroughly outrebounded once again, and once again gave up offensive rebounds to the Wizards on key possessions.
The critical one tonight came with a minute to go, and the Wizards leading by three; Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka combined to play stellar D on Bradley Beal, who was on fire in the second half, and forced a long fadeaway two-pointer.
But DeMar DeRozan gave a pitiful effort boxing out Otto Porter Jr., allowing Porter to simply pick the rebound out of the the air over DeRozan’s shoulder without even leaving his feet.
This one didn’t lead to second chance points—the Wizards called timeout and the Raptors later forced a turnover—but it cost the Raptors 20 seconds of possession they couldn’t afford to give up.
The final tally on the glass was 44 rebounds for the Wizards (12 offensive) and a mere 32 for the Raptors (8 offensive). Those numbers are a bit low because both teams shot the ball well, but a -12 is not pretty.
Norman Powell Showed us the Pride he Takes in Defense
With both C.J. Miles and Fred VanVleet out tonight, we got more Norman Powell minutes, and once again he played well.
He hit his first 3 Js, including two shot-clock-beating 3-pointers, had 2 assists and only 1 turnover (he did leave his feet with the ball a couple times but managed to bail himself out).
Most importantly, harkening back to Tuesday and the Norm of the past two seasons, was the defense he played on Bradley Beal.
He was solid on Beal in the second quarter, where Beal was 0-for-3 but wasn’t really looking for his shot. But after Beal caught fire in the third and the Wizards took the lead, Norm got the call from Dwane Casey to put the clamps on the Wizards’ All-Star. Powell played the final 18 minutes and although Beal still scored (he was 5-of-10 over that stretch) most of that came on switches—switches Norm was reluctant to make.
He clearly wanted, and relished, the challenge of guarding Beal, just as he did guarding Butler and Towns the other night. It’s great to see that energy, enthusiasm and pride from a guy who’d looked lost for the last month.
Welcome back, Norm.
Shockingly, the Wizards’ Bench Outplayed the Raptors’ Bench
Aside from Powell, Toronto’s bench unit was just plain bad tonight.
In the first quarter, the Raptors starters built an 11-point lead, and normally you’d expect the bench to maintain that—especially against a notoriously weak bench like Washington’s. After the first group of subs, the lead did stretch to 12—but then it went sour.
Michael Scott, one of that oddly large group of Random Bench Dudes that Love to Torch the Raptors, scored 5 straight and assisted on a Ian Mahinmi dunk to cut the lead to 5. Thankfully the starters steadied things late in the second quarter, but then the Bradley Beal show began in the third and the Wizards jumped ahead.
Then the Raptors 5-man bench unit conducted these four lovely minutes of offensive music to start the fourth:
- Delon Wright carried the ball
- Powell turned it over on a bad pass
- Jakob Poeltl got hit with a 3-second violation
- Pascal Siakam scored on a layup
- Lorenzo Brown missed a wide-open corner 3
- Wright blew a layup
- Brown hit a long two
What’d the Wizards do over that period? Just two Jodie Meeks threes, a Meeks layup and a Kelly Oubre Jr. dunk to build a 7-point Wizards lead. (Oh, did you forget Jodie Meeks was also on the Random Bench Dudes That Love to Torch the Raptors team?) Needless to say, four Raptors’ starters came back after that (Powell stayed on to handle Beal).
Washington’s much-maligned bench outscored Toronto’s 44-23. Clearly, the Raptors missed C.J. Miles and Fred VanVleet big-time.
The Raptors made a Couple of Curious Decisions in the Closing Seconds...
The game was pretty much out of hand and the Raptors had already used up one miracle, when Beal bobbled the ball and fouled Lowry; Lowry of course missed the first free throw.
So trailing by 2 with 3 seconds to go and no timeouts, why didn’t Lowry intentionally miss the second free throw? I know that’s a low-percentage play but I imagine it’s higher than trying to get another steal, or fouling, getting the ball back in and scoring again with no timeouts and less than 3 seconds...
...which they then had to do. But why did the Raptors think their only option in that situation was a downcourt football pass? They had 2.7 seconds, which is time to inbound in the backcourt and get a decent—if long—look at the hoop.
Armchair quarterbacking is easy, and making those plays in the moment is hard, but... they sure aren’t helping the Raptors’ growing “poor close game performers” reputation.
...But at the End of the Day, it’s a Make or Miss League
That’s a favourite Jack Armstrong expression and it was certainly true tonight.
Lowry, of course, missed the free throw with 3 seconds to go that they needed to tie the game (though he still would have had to hit the second). And he missed the FT after an absolutely sensational drive-and-score-plus-the-foul call on Beal with 12 seconds to go.
DeRozan and Valanciunas each missed one in fourth as well.
That’s three 82%+ free throw shooters combining to go 6-10 in the quarter.
There was also Lowry’s missed wide open 3-pointer with 2:05 to play, and Ibaka’s two missed 3-pointers in the final two minutes, including a pump-fake-probably-traveled-but-got-himself-wide-open corner three with 35 seconds to go that would have tied it.
The rebounds and defense played a part too, of course. But the Raps had excellent scoring chances, they just didn’t make ‘em.
Two losses against the Wizards without Wall is not a good look, and will absolutely dominate the headlines should these two teams meet in the playoffs. But that’ll be the least of the Raptors’ worries if they don’t clean up their rebounding and start performing better down the stretch of close games.