Coming into Game 4, the series between the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards was at an important juncture, both from a basketball and a sphincter-tightened Raptors fan perspective.
Win, and the Raptors remained in the driver’s seat — they held the possibility of closing proceedings at home, then getting some rest before the second round. Lose, and all those old disappointments come creeping back in. This team hasn’t won a series walking away in its entire franchise history. Get Game 4, and you at least keep spirits high instead of bringing in thoughts of disappointment.
With that context, the actual proceedings of Game 4 get all the more frustrating. Toronto was leading through most of the game, until late in the third quarter. From there, they reverted to what got them in trouble in Game 3: too many isolations, not enough confidence for role players, and an opponent with the stamina to fight through a poor shooting night. Washington won 106-98, and this series heads back to Toronto tied at 2-2.
Again, it was John Wall and Bradley Beal who led the way for Washington. Wall was less efficient than Game 3, scoring 27 points on 24 shots in 43 minutes; he added 14 assists and six rebounds. Beal was exceptional, though, scoring 31 points, including five threes, on 19 shots. He did this despite fouling out on a polarizing fourth quarter call, where a sloppy attempted charge was called a block as a slow-moving DeMar DeRozan tried to dribble around him. That foul opened a window for Toronto, but they refused to climb through.
The game started positively for Toronto. There was a renewed sense of optimism in the offence after the quick shots that defined Game 3. The Raptors got off to an 11-4 start thanks to excellent ball movement, along with a couple steals from OG Anunoby and a Washington offence that settled for mid-range jumpers. The Wizards got back in after a 3-for-13 start, though, as a frontcourt lineup of Jakob Poeltl and Serge Ibaka struggled. Jonas Valanciunas had to sit with two fouls, as both teams got a tight whistle through the first half.
To start the second, the Raptors went with the much-anticipated bench lineup with Kyle Lowry in place of the injured Fred VanVleet. Bench lineups with DeMar DeRozan had struggled through three games, and Lowry’s shooting presented issues for the Wizards defence. Despite having two fouls of his own, Lowry led Toronto to a solid +3 stretch of play, building the Raptors lead to 35-24. The stretch also showed some improved play for Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl, the latter having his best game of the series — 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, with seven rebounds (three offensive).
There was also some awesome defensive sequences, including this Delon Wright and Siakam combination block.
YOU LIKE THAT! pic.twitter.com/i0OHicvUoJ— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 22, 2018
The Raptors would hold Washington to just 18 points in the second quarter and go into halftime up nine.
In the third, though, it started to get weird. Otto Porter Jr., who had been comatose through three games, hit a pair of threes out of the break to get the Wizards close. On the other end, the Raptors started to revert and stagnate.
DeRozan was occasionally excellent today, but the numbers should bear out a huge usage rate — his 35 points came on 29 shots, and a lot of the offence started with him running shot clock at the top of the key. While this worked on the possessions he’d finish with a basket or drawing a foul, there was a lot of missed opportunity for ball movement too. Eventually, Washington took a lead in the third, and the game was tied at 80 headed to the fourth.
Finally, the dam broke in the fourth. A Lowry plus bench lineup opened up a six-point lead, but it quickly fell apart once Dwane Casey returned to the Ibaka-Poeltl frontcourt pairing. Beal fouled out with five minutes left, but the Raptors failed to capitalize. Uncreative offensive possessions — including a truly wild DeRozan step back three — sunk Toronto in the aggregate. They didn’t run their offence and scored just 18 in the frame. Much like it did in Game 3, that fact sunk them.
The Raptors finished with 44 of their 79 shots going through Lowry and DeRozan. In two games in Washington, the supporting cast showed a lot of moments where they couldn’t or wouldn’t shoot — surely killing some of the trust for the two stars. The four-man bench was just 1-for-6 from three, and the confidence that was so lacking on Friday didn’t show up on Sunday either. The Raptors have shown that they’re a volume shooting three-point team. In this game, they put up just 18 attempts from deep.
One can hope home court will help matters; shooters shoot better at home, after all. The Raptors now find themselves in a dogfight with the Wizards, another long series for a franchise that excels in playing them. As Kyle Lowry will surely intimate: Game 5, much like Games 1, 2, and 4, will feel like a Game 7.