Other than a glorious final four minutes, last night’s Game 5 was a rather angst-filled affair that looked like it could go either way. But the final outcome—a 108-98 win for the Toronto Raptors over the Washington Wizards, and a 3-2 series lead—was what the team, its fans and the whole city needed.
Delon Wright is the New Norman Powell
Norman Powell, first-round Game 5 hero, is a Raptors Thing (tm). I’m not the only fan who hoped Game 5 Norm would make an appearance last night, and I think Dwane Casey was hoping too, as Powell saw the floor late in the first quarter after not playing at all in Game 4.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Powell played fine, but didn’t make an impact in his eight minutes.
But then! When the Raptors needed someone to step up and make an impact in the fourth quarter, who should appear but Delon Wright! Or, as he shall now be known:
Delon. Delon. De-MF-lon.— LSM (@iamlaurenmiles) April 26, 2018
We all know Wright didn’t play well in Games 3 and 4; he was hesitant, passing up open looks, and not making much of an impact in his usual ways (deflections, rebounds). But he was solid at home in Games 1 and 2, and that Delon was back last night. Through 3.5 quarters, Wright had nine points, two steals and a block. Then came the final stretch, where he drained a massive 3-pointer (“from Barrie,” per Dwane Casey), laid in an alley-oop from DeMar DeRozan, grabbed three rebounds, and hit 4-of-4 free throws.
Game 5 Norm is alive. He’s simply possessed the body of Delon Wright.
Please Stop Giving the Wizards Extra Possessions
Turnovers had been an issue for the Raptors through four games, and they finally cleaned it up last night, committing only 10.
But instead of letting the Wizards take the ball out of their hands over and over, the Raptors simply let the Wizards take all the rebounds.
A 50-35 rebounding advantage for Washington is... well, it’s ridiculous. And unacceptable. At one point it was 44-21!! Rebounds are simply effort plays: You find your man, box him out (something everyone learns in fifth grade gym class) and go after the ball. And time and again the Wizards simply outworked the Raptors, often times with John Wall and Ty Lawson pulling down the boards over or around Serge Ibaka and Jakob Poeltl, and it was nearly disastrous. Amazingly, the Wizards only turned their 14 offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points; it could have, and probably should have, been 20. The Wizards did end up with eight more shots than the Raptors, but thankfully their shooting percentage remained low throughout.
Ultimately the rebounding difference didn’t matter. But imagine, if the Raptors had grabbed a few of those boards, how much less stressful the second half could have been?
Fourth Quarter JV? Fourth Quarter JV!
Dwane Casey finally gave Jonas Valanciunas some fourth quarter minutes (after giving him zero through four games). As all of us super-smart fans predicted, it worked out wonderfully: the Raptors went on a 26-12 run after Valanciunas checked back in with 8:52 remaining. They even managed to turn the rebounding around during that stretch, with a 14-6 advantage with JV on the floor in the fourth.
It’s easy for those of us out here blogging and tweeting to complain about the Raptors’ lineups and Dwane Casey’s disinclination to play his complete starting unit down the stretch of these games. We watch, we see the Raptors get out to big leads and the starting unit, see the numbers that say DeRozan and Kyle Lowry play better with Valanciunas on the floor, and say: “Why aren’t the Raptors playing their most effective lineups more?”
But I feel like—as much as the Raptors as a whole need to trust the things that won them 59 games—we, as fans, have to trust that Casey and the staff know what they’re doing when it comes to lineups and matchups. I mean who could have predicted that a Lowry-Wright-DeRozan-Valanciunas-C.J. Miles lineup (minutes played together in the regular season: seven) would close the most important game of the year? But Casey found a mix that worked.
Still, seeing JV take the floor in the fourth last night... well, I’m just gonna say it: Thank the Basketball Gods that Casey finally listened to all of us super-smart fans!
I’m All for 2-for-1s, But Not When You Have to Force it
The Raptors are well-known for working the clock in the final minutes of quarters to try and create a 2-for-1 situation, which is a smart thing that smart teams do.
But those situations have to come naturally. When teams try and force it, it backfires.
Case in point: At the end of the first quarter last night, DeMar DeRozan sat on the ball, took two dribbles around a Poeltl, and launched an awkward 3-pointer leaning to his left with 32 seconds on the clock.
And that really frustrated me. DeRozan crossed half court with 50 seconds on the clock—plenty of time to run the offense and generate some action and get a shot in the natural flow of things, or get something going to the rim, while preserving the 2-for-1.
Of course, the Raptors botched things even further when they failed to get the offensive rebound on Washington’s “for-1” side of the situation, and the Wizards ended up with the final shot—which, naturally, John Wall hit at the buzzer.
At the end of the second quarter, DeMar did the exact same thing—but this time, he at least came around the screen (from Valanciunas this time), went straight up, and drained the triple. Still not a great shot, but at least the desired result. But, the Raptors then blew the “2” part of the situation—after Bradley Beal nailed a 3-pointer of his own, DeMar lost sight of the situation, walked the ball up, and allowed the Wizards to use their foul to give with 5 on the clock. The Raptors couldn’t manufacture a decent look at the basket on the inbounds.
Ultimately the Raptors had the advantage in two 2-for-1 situations but managed to get outscored 5-3. When every possession matters, little things like this can add up at the end of games.
I Can’t Contain all my Thoughts After That One!
I’m gonna cheat the format here and throw a handful of mini-thoughts at you:
Hey, Remember Playoff Serge? Did Ibaka look in the mirror after Game 1, think to himself, “OK, I did what I came here to do” and then decide not to give a crap anymore? I mean, what happened to this guy? In the last three games Ibaka has 13 points and eight turnovers!
DeRozan needs to go harder around the screens. One thing that Wall does—and Beal, occasionally—is when he comes around a screen in a pick and roll, he picks up speed—he’s going downhill, and he puts the defense on its heels. All too often, DeRozan comes around a screen, pauses, and surveys the scene. Which has been, at times, beneficial to his improved playmaking—but mostly, what it does is allow the defense to set itself. Even when he ends up with a mismatch, he’s giving the Washington D time to get set. Go hard, DeMar! At least mix it up more.
John Wall looked gassed. Wall played 44 minutes and I think he was out of steam at the end. He missed his last three shots and had two turnovers in the fourth quarter, and I’m sure he was a big part of the reason Washington’s defense collapsed down the stretch. Even in the third quarter I saw him blowing hard. The Raptors should keep an eye on it and attack it when they can.
So what’s a shooting foul again? On four plays last night, Wizards players were fouled—legit foul calls, as far as I can tell—but even though they didn’t appear to be shooting the ball, they were awarded free throws. None of these were in the last two minutes so we won’t see a report on it, and the Raptors won, so we’ll likely never hear about it again... but I found it very confusing. I’d love an explanation for those calls.
I’m not sure how I feel about this game. Thrilled with the win, of course... and, outside of end-of-quarter situations, thought the offense was good, and the defense was mostly good as well. But that effort on the boards was so terrible, it’s left a really bad taste in my mouth.
It should be easy to clean that up. They cleaned up the turnovers! If they could finally put it all together for a game... I am so ready for it.