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The Raptors played to score down the stretch in Game 5, and it paid off

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Another lineup we maybe should have expected, the Raptors closeed with Jonas Valanciunas, and other notes on a big Game 5 win.

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

With a Game 5 win in the books, the Raptors look to close out the series in Washington, where they have yet to win a game this spring. We covered the big reasons why they dropped Game 4 in our last piece — how did Game 5 differ?

Closing with Valanciunas

This is the big story out of Game 5. After leaving him on the bench in the 4th in all four games, the coaching staff went back to the big man for the final 8 minutes of the 4th quarter in this game. They were rewarded with Jonas Valanciunas posting a +18 in the 4th quarter alone (team-best +19 on the night).

Valanciunas filled the box score on the night, in spite of some inefficient shooting, putting up 14 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal in 32 minutes. 6 of those points and 7 of those rebounds came in the 4th quarter alone.

This comes back to the idea I advocated since before the playoffs, that Valanciunas should be closing games for the Raptors on a nightly basis. Ideally, OG Anunoby would be closing as well, but baby steps.

But they didn’t really close with the starting group as I envisioned. No, they went with another “could have expected it” look, not unlike the bench lineup with Kyle Lowry and Lucas Nogueira from Game 1.

The Finishing Group

Usually when the Raptors go small at the forward spots (with a SF at PF, and often a PG at the SF spot), it is to go with Serge Ibaka at centre. But occasionally in-season the Raptors played around with looks with Valanciunas at centre instead.

That’s the concept the Raptors closed Game 5 with. Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Valanciunas, alongside Delon Wright and C.J. Miles.

Just like with the unexpected Nogueira look in Game 1, this was a look we could have predicted might be used, but was used sparingly enough in season that it didn’t make the cut in earlier pieces.

That exact lineup was barely played at all, but the biggest minutes lineup with Valanciunas and no other typical big men played 37 minutes in the regular season, a small but not ridiculous sample.

Lineup | Minutes Played | ORTG | DRTG | RTG
KL-DD-OGA-CJM-JV: 37 MP, 111.3 ORTG, 104.9 DRTG, +6.4 RTG

So, in a small sample they were moderately successful on both ends of the floor. Nothing amazing, but positive results. To get a bigger sample, we can look at all lineups with Valanciunas and no other typical big man on the floor (no Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Nogueira or Jakob Poeltl). That yields a sample of 75 minutes on the season, with a similar output (+5.6 net rating).

So, although that look doesn’t figure to be as good as the starting lineup, it’s an option to try when Ibaka is having a rough game, and it paid off in spades in game 5.

Odds and Ends

  • The Lowry bench unit was barely used in this one. Instead, we saw a return to the all bench unit, with Powell in VanVleet’s place, and they managed to outscore Washington 12-11 over 6 minutes. Although we are spoiled by the bench unit building leads with neither star in the game, this is still a positive development - if the team can stay afloat while buying Lowry and DeRozan rest, that’s a good thing.
  • The various DeRozan bench units tried in this one were again largely ineffective, outscored 9-7 in 4 minutes. Closer to break even than they’ve been lately though. Still, it will be nice to get VanVleet back to help bolster those looks.
  • The Raptors largely went away from the nonsensical Ibaka-Poeltl lineups in this game, only playing the pair together for just over a minute. Great sign.
  • They did try out a Valanciunas-Siakam transitional lineup for a couple of minutes. On the season that pair has struggled (though not nearly to the same degree as Poeltl-Ibaka), and managed a positive showing in game 5.
  • But the main point is that for the vast majority of the game the frontcourt pairings were as they should be, with only a few minutes of transitional lineups and then the small ball look at the end of the game. If the Raptors can stick to that, they will be far better off in Washington than they have been.

All stats per NBA.com.