If you can believe this, it’s a tad hard to pinpoint who exactly was the Raptors’ best player in Game 2 of their opening round series against the Washington Wizards. Toronto won the game handily, 130-119, but the consensus on who specifically was powering said winning kept changing. The temptation is, per usual, to select DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry — who Wizards coach Scott Brooks called a “volume winner” pre-game. But in the fullness of Game 2, it feels limiting.
The truth is, as has often been the case this season, it’s impossible to separate the components of this Raptors win and highlight a single thing. Toronto has stars — again, DeRozan and Lowry definitely qualified tonight — but the team really is at its best when it’s even greater than the sum of its parts. And watching these different Raptors add (multiply?) together to put the Wizards away with — relative — ease was, if you’ve been watching the Raps for some time, a delicious and delightful sight.
I stress the word “relative” there though because, in typical old school Raptors fashion, it was a bit stressful. Despite leading for all but the first minute of the game, and putting up 44 points in the first quarter (a post-season franchise record), Toronto let the Wizards comeback in the second half. Toronto’s torrid three-point shooting cooled (from 50 to 15 percent) and the combination of John Wall, Mike Scott, and (who knew) Ty Lawson, decided to power Washington back into it. Toronto’s lead, which had gotten as big as 23 in the first half, was gradually chiselled away to five before the midway point of the fourth. Naturally, the rollicking atmosphere inside the ACC dissipated, and we all got a bit tight.
But this is where the fun can sometimes be for Toronto. Stressful fun, but fun nonetheless. We can marvel at DeRozan and his 37 points, on a beautiful 14-of-23 shooting night (including 3-of-6), or be charmed by Lowry’s magical 13 points, seven rebounds, and 12 assists — a Lowry-type line, minus the poor 3-of-10 shooting. Then we can tumble on down the box score and be amazed at what coach Dwane Casey managed to coax out of the squad tonight.
The rest of the starting lineup — Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and OG Anunoby — were all superlative in this one. OG had nine points and three rebounds, but was confident again with his shot, played big at the rim, and even blocked Wall on a floater attempt. Valanciunas, meanwhile, finally, finally, got the better of nemesis Marcin Gortat, going off for 19 points (on 8-of-11 shooting, including a beauty faked hand-off drive and scoop shot) and 14 rebounds, compared to the Polish Hammer’s invisible zero point, three rebound night. JV played so well the Wizards had to go small again, and it meant way fewer JV minutes in the second half.
For his part, Ibaka confirmed a couple of things once again: he loves the two days off between games, he’s definitely anchoring the Raps’ defense right now, and Playoff Serge is for real. Ibaka had 10-and-9 in this one, plus two assists and three blocks. It felt good every time he was out there, especially in the fourth as the Raptors blew the game open once again.
Now, the bench. This is when we get to the wild part promised in the headline. It was confirmed pre-game that Fred VanVleet would try to give it a go on Tuesday night, but it became apparent after his three minute shift that he wasn’t ready. So Casey opted instead to roll out the full monty: for better or worse, all 13 active Raptors played in this one — and I’m not talking garbage time minutes.
The leaders of this particular pack were indisputably Delon Wright and C.J. Miles, who worked together and apart to help keep Toronto steady, and eventually break the game open in the fourth. Miles went off for 18 points (and 4-of-6 from three, including a back-breaker late); Wright felt like he was literally everywhere on the court, finishing with 11 points, three assists, and three steals. It was Wright who blocked Wall late in the game, and Wright who also got this play started (his contribution — knocking away the entry pass — happened just before this clip starts):
And that’s what I mean by fun. Watching Lucas Nogueira put a ball off of Ibaka’s head in a pass attempt got me to chuckle; rooting for Lorenzo Brown as he drove down the lane and found Pascal Siakam for a dunk was a treat; guessing at what Norman Powell may do next, sure, it’s something sometimes — you never know! The Raptors theoretically could have blown this game apart in the second half, and made it a complete laugher the whole way. I admit, that would have been nice. Casey himself made sure to admonish his bench group for letting things get a little out of control for awhile there.
But there is also a part of me that enjoys the shear invigoration of watching Toronto’s young guys careen off the path, find their way again, and then remember, collectively — and yes, sometimes with serious veteran and All-Star help — hey, we’re the Raptors and we’re really good together. That’s what Game 2 tonight felt like.
Maybe this kind of play will run the Raptors into trouble down the line. A better team than the Wizards, an opponent that doesn’t have players who appear to actively dislike each other, may not let the G League MVP see the floor, or they could expose Bebe in a way that feels far more mean than the single block he did experience. But on this night, it was not a problem. Miles hit that big three in the fourth. The starters, led by DeRozan, piled the points back on. And we all cheered like crazy as the Raptors, for the first time in franchise history, took a 2-0 series lead.