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Game 3 Turning Point: Raptors lose the lead after bench unit enters the game

Before a 12-2 Washington run to end the first quarter, things were looking more like Game 2. After the bench entered, things quickly went downhill for Toronto.

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Things can’t always be good and well, and tonight was a humbling experience for the entire Raptors family. The shakiness of the youthful bench unit finally came back to bite Toronto in the backside Friday evening, as Toronto lost to Washington 122-103.

After two positive turning points, tonight featured an ugly one. Toronto began the game off looking great—jumping out to a 27-18 lead—before succumbing to a 12-2 Washington run to finish the first quarter after the bench entered the game.

The bench unit began to leak onto the floor with under three minutes left in the first quarter. C.J. Miles, Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl entered the game with 2:42 remaining. After Pascal Siakam checked in at the 2:14 mark, the Raptors next four offensive possessions looked like this:

  • Kelly Oubre blocks Delon Wright

DeMar DeRozan bad pass (turnover)

  • Jakob Poeltl offensive foul (turnover)
  • Ian Mahinmi blocks C.J. Miles—

—Kelly Oubre blocks DeMar DeRozan (shot clock violation)

  • DeMar DeRozan misses 27-foot jumper

In just two minutes, everything went awry. If you only watched the first ten minutes of the game, you’d be right to assume the Raptors took a 3-0 series lead. The next 38 minutes went about as horribly as you could expect.

Bradley Beal decided to show up, and the Raptors once again had no answer for John Wall (they combined for 56 points), who got whatever he wanted for the second game in a row.

Meanwhile, the Raptors still have no answer for Mike Scott, aka “Dunder Mifflin Reggie Miller” (12 points on a perfect 4-of-4 from the field), torching Toronto for the third straight game. These three things combined left the Raptors with little-to-no room for error, and err they did—to the tune of 19 turnovers leading to 28 Washington points.

So, onto the bench: Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl have never looked worse this season. Poeltl’s speed that helped him play such incredible defense all year is inexplicably absent. Conversely, the awareness Siakam displayed—which helped him make such incredible passing plays time and again—is also absent.

Specifically, the DeMar DeRozan + bench unit is absolutely horrid this series, and things didn’t change in Game 3. When the five-man group shared the floor tonight, the Wizards ripped off an immediate 12-2 run. Their total value in 12 minutes of floor time in three games? -58.9 (net rating).

The first group in this image is the starting lineup. The second group is the DD+bench lineup. Okay, then.

The DD+Bench lineup that typically closes the first quarter is failing at a rate that is sure to get Dwane Casey’s attention.

So, Dwane Casey has an identifiable weakness in his rotation without Fred VanVleet. One can only hope the Raptors’ steady 6th-man will return for Sunday’s Game 4 in order to establish some bench rhythm, and to reduce the DeRozan+bench lineup, or more preferably, get rid of it altogether.

Casey, for one, doesn’t believe the struggles are all due to VanVleet’s absence, saying post-game, “everyone has to go in and do [their] job. Our guys have done that all season. It’s not because of Freddy. We didn’t do [our job].”

It’s hard to prove VanVleet’s injury is the sole reason for Siakam and Poeltl struggling so badly so far in the series, but the sudden drop in productivity from the Raptors promising bench front-court (and bench unit as a whole) is shocking to say the least.