It’s not business as usual at the Air Canada Centre. Not this year.
Deep down, we all knew it would happen — the monkey on the backs of every Toronto player, no matter the length of their tenure with the team, was finally discarded by everyone on the team on Saturday night.
It was only a matter of time before DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Dwane Casey won a Game 1 together. Sure enough, it was their revamped offense that delivered the win during the final minutes.
Despite the win however, there were areas that Toronto can improve upon, as Casey would attest, and better yet — the Wizards showed their hand on defense, and that should help Toronto better prepare for tonight’s match-up.
John Wall did his normal stuff in the fourth quarter — missing shots, pounding the air out of the ball before logging just one assist in the final 12 minutes (after racking up 14 in the first three quarters). Bradley Beal spent the second half suffocating on offense, guarded by Kyle Lowry who, despite being sick, played one of his better playoff games in recent memory.
In fact, the Raptors defense was so solid overall, the Wizards’ $100 million man, Otto Porter Jr., scored just nine points on seven shots while being guarded by DeRozan most of the game. Limiting the three of Wall, Beal and Porter Jr. on offense are the critical bullet points in the Raptors’ defensive game plan this series; they executed brilliantly on defense Saturday evening.
Fred VanVleet, who has been recovering from a Game 82 collision with Heat forward Bam Adebayo, seems to be a game-time decision. His steady play off the bench would be a huge boon in helping Toronto maintain their pace in Game 2. His status will be updated accordingly.
Here are the details for tonight’s Game 2 match-up:
Where to Watch:
TSNN, 7:00 pm EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Washington — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat
Toronto — Fred VanVleet (Shoulder — Questionable)
Washington — Jodie Meeks (Suspended — Out)
Scott Brooks showed a hand on defense Saturday that might have scared Raptors fans at first, until they remembered this wasn’t the 2017 Playoffs. Trapping DeRozan and Lowry — a scheme that gave opponents an edge in years’ past — allowed the new offense to shine on center stage. Both Lowry and DeRozan logged four assists a piece, with only eight shots attempted between the two of them, in the first half of Saturday’s Game 1.
Tertiary options like Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby put up double-digit points to support the stars on offense, while Delon Wright and C.J. Miles carried part of the load later in the game.
If someone were to inform Wizards coach Scott Brooks that this is a new Raptors offense, Toronto might be worried. Until then, fans should breathe easy after Saturday saw the Raptors make 16 threes on 53 percent shooting in addition to 26 assists.
One option Brooks could roll with Tuesday night is to guard DeMar and Kyle one-on-one and dare them to make their shots. It’s an option that could work, however, DeRozan is a nine-year vet who, this season specifically, has risen above any level of shot-making he’s showcased in his career. If Washington does go this route, it may not last long.
The Raptors tried out a simple option on defense that involved double-teaming John Wall. Most fans were right to be confounded by the decision — which often left Markieff Morris (22 points) and Mike Scott (14 points off the bench) open to score throughout most of the game.
Toronto would be better suited to go the aforementioned one-on-one route and double-team only if a player goes supernova on offense. From point guard down to centre, the Raptors have a great collection of positional defenders, even if they are prone to switching when it isn’t necessary.
The starting lineup specifically matches up beautifully with Washington, so it won’t be a surprise if Casey opts for man-to-man defense from the start in order to limit the Wizards accurate long-range shooting and efficient pick and roll attack.
Raptors are on Fire From 3
The Raptors are a six-shooter team — well, they have six-shooters. Personally, I’ve never been more confident in the team’s ability to make long-range shots, even over the course of this season.
Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka have been knock-down shooters in the starting lineup over the last month. Add to that list Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and Fred VanVleet (should he suit up Game 2) off the bench, and the Raptors have three times as many confident shooters as they did this time last year (which were Lowry and Playoff-Norman Powell?).
Here are the three-point percentages of those six players over the last 10 games of the regular season:
Kyle Lowry: .373
Serge Ibaka: .429
OG Anunoby: .462
C.J. Miles: .227 (shooters shoot! 4-of-7 in Game 1)
Delon Wright: .348
Fred VanVleet: .500
Let’s go boys.