Coming off a 108-98 hard-fought Game 5 victory, the Toronto Raptors head to Washington for Game 6, up 3-2 in the series, in what may be their toughest closeout game in recent history. Toronto has gone 1-4 in Game 6’s since 2014 but tonight’s is far different from the other five games. In this case, the Wizards have played really well in the two home playoff games, and have won nine straight home games dating back to last year’s postseason.
The good news for the Raptors is other than Game 3, where their energy just disappeared after the first quarter and had no chance in winning that game at all, they did have a shot to steal Game 4 on the road. But like their regular season struggles, the Raptors were unable to hang on in that one. The Wizards came back from a 90-82 deficit largely in part by John Wall’s heroics, and eventually were able to pull away in the fourth, finishing the game on a 26-8 run. Both Games 3 and 4 represent worst case scenarios for tonight.
Toronto will need to come out of the gates strong like they did in Game 5 and maintain their intensity throughout the game. They cannot afford to play from behind — even like they did in Game 5 — especially tonight in front of a ruckus Wizards crowd.
Let’s get to the three keys to the game but first, here are the game details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet ONE, 7:00 p.m. ET
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Washington – John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kelly Oubre Jr., Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat
Toronto – Fred VanVleet (Questionable – Shoulder injury)
Washington – Otto Porter Jr. (OUT – Left leg procedure)
Put Bodies on Wall and Beal
In the five games played in this series, John Wall and Bradley Beal have been getting what they want on the offensive end. Wall is averaging a ridiculous 26.6 points on 44.8 percent shooting from the field, 12.2 assists, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game, while Beal is averaging 21.4 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 42.9 percent from deep.
All series long, Wall and Beal have been getting uncontested two and three-point shots as well as dribble-drive layups and dunks, especially when there is a mismatch with either Ibaka or Pascal Siakam guarding them. Yes, they’re both solid defenders and the quickest bigs the Raptors have but when Wall is guarded one-on-one by either one of them, it’s resulted in easy baskets.
The Raptors have thrown OG Anunoby on both Wall and Beal and he has an amazing job guarding them start up but when they are in motion and coming off screens from Gortat, you can forget about it. With OG getting caught in screens, It’s either a drive to the basket or an open three as no one is there to recover. He is doing all he can but it’s time to double-team them, which hasn’t happened much this series. Lowry and OG may be the ones to facilitate it but DeRozan, Ibaka, Siakam, Miles, and Wright must recover in time to guard the open man when either one is able to make a pass.
Get Ibaka Surging Early
Lowry and DeRozan are the leaders of this team and have had good games this series. That being said, they have let the games come to them and have ran the offense through one another. However, Ibaka has been the complete opposite in this series. Other than Game 1 where he played a great all-around game in which he scored 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds, and blocked two shots, Ibaka has been absent from the series.
This speaks for itself:
The difference from Game 1 to all the others is that Ibaka has either been forcing bad shots or sometimes not wanting to be involved in the offense. With a net rating of 7.2, his overall presence has been okay but what the Raptors really need from him is his scoring, especially in low and high-post.
Although he is a streaky three-point shooter, the ability to stretch the floor does help DeRozan and Lowry to create plays but if nothing is there for them and Ibaka is out on the three-point line with no one around him, he must hit his shots.
Ibaka must be aggressive to start the game and to look for his shots but not take bad ones.
Finish ‘Em Off with JV
JV Hive is alive and well, friends. This is what we have wanted all along.
Game 5 was the first game of the series where Jonas Valanciunas played a fourth quarter. Yes, full title and all, Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey opted to play JV in the fourth and it played huge dividends. Give that man the Coach of the Year award right now.
#Raptors Jonas Valanciunas: 4th Quarter Minutes this series— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) April 26, 2018
Game 1 0:00
Game 2 0:00
Game 3 0:00
Game 4 0:00
Game 5 8:27
Anyway, in the 8:27 that JV played in the final frame, the Raptors went on a 24-6 run, that all but put away the Wizards. JV scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds but the most importantly he was a plus/minus of +18 (!) He was the difference maker both on offense and defense, especially that one sequence where he picked Wall’s pocket clean that eventually led to a fastbreak DeRozan dunk.
Going into Game 6, Casey must play DeRozan, Lowry, and JV and the other two players who would be playing well in that game. Delon Wright and C.J. Miles came clutch in that final stretch and might have saved the Raptors from being down 3-2. Whichever lineup Casey goes with, it’s got to be one that is versatile both offensively and defensively, just like we saw in Game 5.
If all goes well for Toronto and end up winning tonight and if the Cleveland Cavaliers defeat the Indiana Pacers tonight, the Raptors and Cavaliers will begin the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday at — wait for it — 1 p.m. And there are more scenarios to this!
If TOR/WAS end up playing a gm 7..that will go Sunday at either 1pm or 8pm ET (depending on various other series/scenarios). Gm 7 of IND/CLE (if necessary) will be on Sunday too.— Eric Smith (@Eric__Smith) April 26, 2018
If the Raps beat the Wiz in 6 & the Cavs beat Indy in 6, gm 1 of CLE at TOR will be Sunday at 1pm ET
Everything will be fine! Enjoy the game!
(All stats, if not embedded via a tweet, used were from NBA.com.)