Remember the last time the Toronto Raptors went up 2-0 in a playoff series? Oh, right, it’s never happened before! Hard to believe, but after a 130-119 victory over the Washington Wizards, we are in uncharted territory.
Let’s talk about OG Anunoby’s opening quarter
The Raptors’ rookie played a mere 6 minutes in the opening frame, but what a stretch it was.
On one play, John Wall found Bradley Beal isolated on the left wing with Anunoby on him. Beal probed, stepped back, probed, spun... and Anunoby stayed with him every step of the way. Beal forced up a fadeaway that barely grazed front iron. Going the other way, Serge Ibaka got the ball on the wing and drove, finding Anunoby in the corner for a wide open 3-pointer... and Anunoby nailed it. A couple plays later, OG also stole an offensive rebound straight out of Marcin Gortat’s hands; the Raptors couldn’t capitalize but you gotta love the hustle.
He also drew a foul on Beal while shooting a 3-pointer (he hit 2-of-3) and hit another pair of free throws to finish the quarter with seven points.
Anunoby did have a couple nice plays in the third, hauling in a JV airball and making a tough layup, and blocking a John Wall runner two plays later, but only ended up playing 18 total minutes. I found that to be a bit low, considering how easily John Wall was scoring in the second half; I might have like to have given OG more of a chance to slow down the Wizards’ penetration. Overall, Anunoby has been fantastic as a fifth starter in these playoffs, with his solid defense, hustle on the glass, and ability to hit shots when the ball finds him. He’s everything we could have hoped for through his first two NBA playoff games.
Jonas Valanciunas Simply Dominated
Jonas Valanciunas hit his first career playoff 3-pointer in the first half! As if that wasn’t enough, on the next possession he drove at Gortat, drawing a foul; the Wizards then replaced Gortat with Mike Scott, and JV shrugged and said OK—and drove right through Scott for a finger roll.
Valanciunas added a sensational sequence with about two minutes to go in the first half. The Wizards were driving down on a fast break, with Otto Porter Jr. trailing; Porter took a pass from Wall and went to the rack but Valanciunas got a hand on it, recovered it, and got it to DeMar DeRozan, who took it the other way. Valanciunas was right behind him, and went straight into the paint; DeRozan found him, and even though DeRozan’s pass was off the mark, JV recovered, posted up Bradley Beal, and laid the ball in and drew the and-1 foul.
In the third, Valanciunas made what may have been my favourite JV sequence of the night. The Wizards got a stop, and had a chance to cut the lead the 14; Wall found Gortat with a nice pass in the lane and a clear path to the hoop: and Gortat straight up blew the gimme. Going back the other way, Valanciunas sealed Gortat and Wall on a pick-and-roll, opening a wide open lane for DeRozan—who soared in for the two-handed slam and an 18-point lead. You gotta love the big man getting up and down the floor like that and opening things up for his teammates.
Valanciunas finished the first half with 12 points, 12 boards and a staggering +30; he finished his night with 19 points (on 11 shots), 14 rebounds and a +27.
The Wizards Made a run... and I Didn’t Start Hyperventilating
While the Wizards were making their run, and I was grumbling under my breath about the lineup, my wife looked over and asked, “are you gonna have a heart attack?” She knows how stressed I get any time a Raps opponent makes a run! And yet... even though I was angry... I wasn’t stressed. And I was actually surprised by this fact! “Actually, no,” I said, “I think I’m fine.”
Yeah, the Wizards cut it to five. But Dwane Casey was messing around. The 12th and 13th (!) guys off the bench were out there, after all. (Although the Wizards did cut the lead to 10 against the usually-effective DeRozan+Bench unit at the end of the third.) When the oddball Kyle Lowry-C.J. Miles-Lucas Nogueira-Lorenzo Brown-Delon Wright lineup went out there, the lead was 13; the Wizards quickly shaved six off that and then two more after DeRozan and Ibaka replaced Brown and Nogueira.
After that, the Raptors went on a 19-4 run.
And, honestly, frustrated though I was, I can’t blame Casey too much for this lineup. Bebe had played well in game 1, and with Fred VanVleet still hurting and Norman Powell ineffective, it only made sense to give Brown a shot. And it was only a 2-minute, 7-second run.
(Any longer than that, though... yeah, the stress levels probably would have reached a much less healthy point!)
Hustle over Hype? I’ll Take it
That’s what the Raptors in-arena t-shirts said last night: “Hustle over Hype.” (Thankfully the ACC t-shirt game is significantly better than last year.) The Raptors embodied it last night, in three specific plays. The first I outlined above—Valanciunas’ block-on-one-end, score-on-the-other end sequence. The other two:
- With about five minutes left in the game, and Toronto in the process of slamming the door on Washington, Bradley Beal isolated on Serge Ibaka on the left wing. He bobbled the ball, and Serge dove on it like it was dinner from his favourite Congolese restaurant. It led to a jump ball, and also this moment:
- A few plays after that, the Wizards again had the ball, and John Wall floated an entry pass to Markieff Morris—or rather, he tried to, but the long arms of Delon Wright batted it away. Bradley Beal gave a half-hearted attempt to reel it in, but DeMar DeRozan knocked it away from him, and then stretched out to save it from going out of bounds—right to Kyle Lowry, who took one dribble and found Wright streaking the other way for an alley-oop.
Hustle over hype? It’s just a slogan, but those hustle plays made a huge difference last night.
Now, It’s Time for the World-Famous “Adjustments”!
There’s no doubt that Scott Brooks will need to make some adjustments ahead of Game 3. He hinted at it in the postgame, in fact, inferring that Mike Scott may join the starting lineup in an attempt to go small and combat the Valanciunas/Ibaka frontline.
I don’t think the Raptors need to worry about that too much. Although he’s a +19 overall (the only Wizard to be on the plus-side both games) and has shot 14-20, Scott’s already averaging 27 minutes per game in the series; how much more run can he get?
And although he’s looked great in the majority of those minutes, most of Scott’s damage has come against the bench: He’s scored 21 of his 34 points with Poeltl and Siakam as his primary defenders.
He has, of course, played against the Raptors starters in the first quarter in each of the first two games, as Marcin Gortat has made early exits. The score was even in Scott’s first-quarter run against the Raps’ regular frontcourt in game 1, and in game 2, the Raptors starters outscored the Scott-at-centre lineup 20-7 in the first quarter before Valanciunas subbed out. And in terms of a Raptors smaller counter-lineup. Scott’s played against that in the fourth quarter of both games, and in 33 possessions against Serge Ibaka, he’s scored a mere four points.
All of those numbers (courtesy nba.com) come from incredibly small sample sizes of course, but, the point is: That’s not an adjustment that should scare Toronto.
On the Raptors side, obviously I want the team to keep doing what they’re doing; if anything, I’d like to see Casey give Anunoby a little more run—he’s young, he’s played well, he’s the team’s best perimeter defender—he’s earned it and he can handle it.
Isn’t it refreshing to be the team that doesn’t need to make adjustments after the first two games?
They say a series doesn’t start until the home team loses. Yet teams that go up 2-0 go on to win the series 93.5% of the time. So either this series hasn’t started... or it’s all but over.
I’m going with the latter. See you after game 3!