Coming into Saturday’s Game 1 against the Wizards, all anyone could talk about was the Raptors’ past and its role in shaping the team’s incoming future. In a vacuum, Toronto should have been easily favoured in a series against Washington; they’re the East’s number one seed, having won 59 games this season, second most in the league. In short, they’ve shown themselves to be good all year. But this is the Raptors in a Game 1 — there will always be doubters.
Just before tip-off it became apparent the ACC roof was leaking, with a bevy of staffers taking turns towelling a single spot on the court. As omens go for Toronto, this one was painful to see. Here we all were, ready to watch the Raptors play in yet another huge Game 1, and the sky was already falling. Meanwhile, the game hadn’t even begun.
Fortunately, this is indeed a different Raptors team, one prone to exciting flights of fancy, and a gripping talent for saving games when they looked to be careening into a ditch. Powered by a strong fourth quarter effort from Kyle Lowry and his mix-and-matched supporting cast, Toronto cast the bad omens aside and won Game 1 against the Wizards, 114-106. We can all exhale now.
It was a good sign that the Raptors got off to a confident start. DeMar DeRozan and Lowry were relatively quiet, but Toronto held the game in control for most of the opening frame. The team was powered by some big plays from their biggest players — both Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas made noise at the rim, going for 6-and-3 and 7-and-4, respectively, in those first 12 minutes. And as a bonus: rookie OG Anunoby had eight points, including two 3s, in the frame. Coach Dwane Casey said the rookie looked “as cool as a cucumber” and it was hard to disagree. But the bench’s first run (without Fred VanVleet mind you) did not quite match-up, with the mob looking out of sorts.
That confusion bled into the second quarter, with the Wizards weathering some semi-all-bench minutes (with just Marcin Gortat on the floor for a time), before Bradley Beal, John Wall, and Otto Porter Jr. returned. That Wiz unit pushed Toronto hard, right into a 13-2 run, and a deficit that found the Raptors behind by four at the half. It silenced the crowd and brought back the spectre of Raptors playoff failures. It also felt like the kind of turn that could undo Toronto as a whole.
But the third quarter saw the Raptors come back behind more strong play from Ibaka, and a few big buckets from DeRozan. The former had another seven points in the frame, and the latter put up 12, on 5-of-10 shooting, to take a one point lead into the fourth. It was a tense time, but it also felt like one of those moments we’d all been in before — in a good way.
Naturally, the Raptors went to Lowry in the fourth, paired with Wright in the backcourt. The two guards played the entire 12 minutes, and managed the game on both ends. Lowry only had four points in the frame, but his defense on Wall — including two straight awesome plays at the rim — was fantastic. Wright meanwhile blew up for 11 points in the frame, including a pair of threes. And let’s also give a shoutout to the surprise of the game: playoff Bebe!
Lucas Nogueira got to play just over nine minutes in the fourth, as the Wizards went small with Mike Scott at the five. To Scott’s credit, he had a good game — 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting — but it felt like Bebe’s presence undid most of what Scott was bringing to the floor. The Raptors immediately ripped off a 10-0 run, in part keyed up by Nogueira making the classic Bebe play: passing up an easy-ish lay-up for a kick-out to C.J. Miles from three. Miles hit the shot, and it effectively sealed the game.
That was the story of this Game 1. The Raptors were shaky for stretches, and could maybe use more consistent scoring from Lowry and DeRozan — they probably won’t always be able to count on Ibaka putting up 23 and 12, or Wright hitting 3-of-4 from deep. But as has been the case all year, Casey found a line-up that worked, found ways to counter whatever the Wizards tried to do, and then just rode it to the final buzzer.
Lowry finished with 11 points and nine assists. DeRozan managed 17 and 6, on a tough 6-for-17 shooting night. Meanwhile the bench produced an awesome 18 point, four assist, three steal game from Wright, 12 points from Miles on 4-of-7 from three, and the customary 9-and-5 from Pascal Siakam. For his part, Nogueira had but one point, one rebound, and one assist, but it felt much louder than that.
In fact, you could say it was a spectacularly good omen. Bebe went for 1-1-1 in Game 1, and the Raptors won. Wow, look at that.