If Kyle Lowry couldn’t tell you what angst was before Toronto’s 108-98 victory in Game 5, surely he must be able to now. For the majority of the pivotal swing game, fans were treated to frustrating back-and-forth basketball that saw the Raptors fail to pull away from the Wizards, like they had so many other times during the regular season.
Let’s face it: we’re just not accustomed to seeing close games this year, and the lion’s share of the Raps’ past close-game experience is shrouded in bitter defeat. So seeing the Wizards run up the score to 87-82 with less than nine minutes left in the game, angst is the only word fitting enough to describe the moment.
But then Jonas Valanciunas checked back into the game.
What happened next should be all the evidence Dwane Casey needs when deciding whether or not to unbutton that top button—let loose—every once in awhile when it comes to picking his lineups. Casey, long considered the most stubborn personality on a team filled with stubborn personalities, was treated to a 21-6 Raptors run immediately following his decision to put JV back in, thanks largely in part to the Lithuanian placing his four teammates on his back and carrying them over the finish line.
It was a brilliant performance to say the least. The first thing JV did—literally within ten seconds—was find a cutting C.J. Miles from the top of the key, which led to Miles hitting two free throws to start the run.
And then he made another play, this time on the defensive end, in the form of an open-court steal on John-fricken-Wall. You’d have to see it to believe it, so I included it here:
Up until the point of his return, the Raptors looked as if they were going through the motions. The offense was watching DeRozan dribble around as he searched for a point of entry in the Wizards’ half-court set and guys were fouling on the other end instead of, you know, defending. It was like the team was watching the world in black-and-white until JV brought colour into the frame, a cliche movie-moment like no other.
The shot in the arm that he provided everyone was ultimately the catalyst that lit Delon Wright (18 points) on fire, as the two joined forces after the five-minute mark to seal the victory. In total for the two heroes, Wright scored 11 points during the run, and Valanciunas added six points, seven rebounds, and the critical energy needed to put the game away for good.
We’re rarely treated to classic playoff performances from Valanciunas, so when we get one, it needs to be celebrated. He’s the winner of this year’s ceremonial Game 5 Hero award (given to Norm in its inaugural year).
Now hopefully this starts something of a trend with the Raptors, with JV, with the team’s overall play, with the series, and on and on.