Fresh off receiving word that Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, and Marc Gasol would all be out indefinitely with various injuries, there were some things you could expect from the Toronto Raptors.
First, it wouldn’t be as bad as the worst possible scenario. We’ve seen enough over the last two seasons that Toronto has the systems in place to survive when players miss time. That said, a lot more would be on the shoulders of Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to lead.
We also knew that the real test would be for the guys at the end of the rotation. Can Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, and Malcolm Miller step up and be consistent threats?
On Friday, we got the most entertaining version possible of having our expectations confirmed. The Raptors beat the Wizards despite a furious comeback from the visitors in the fourth quarter, winning 122-118 and improving to a perfect 16-0 against opposing teams with sub-.500 records.
How were expectations met? Start at the top with Lowry and Ibaka, who were both exceptional under a heavy minutes load. Lowry played the entire fourth quarter and 41 minutes total, lifting up a struggling bench unit then hitting the dagger three with under a minute left.
*Checks watch* pic.twitter.com/N216vILADX— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 21, 2019
He would finish with 26 points and nine assists, making seven of 14 shots and 3-of-7 from three.
Ibaka was similarly demonstrative against a league-worst Wizards defence. He had 23 points, ten rebounds, and three blocks getting to the line ten times and drilling two threes to get to his total.
Bang Bang— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 21, 2019
21p - 8r pic.twitter.com/xeprUbXeNL
The game even stuck to script, partially, on the other side of the floor. Known Raptor killers Bradley Beal and Ish Smith had excellent outings for Washington. Beal had a game-high 37 points, seven rebounds, and six assists while Smith came off the bench and hit a perfect 9-for-9 from the field for 26 points.
The only deviance was a blessing for the Raptors, as Wizards sharpshooter Davis Bertans shot a miserable 2-for-12 from behind the three-point arc, helping to drag Washington’s team percentage down to 35.9% — an area they usually excel in and needed to be just a touch better to win this one.
The expected negatives were also in full force for the Raptors in this one. Despite building a 17-point lead in the first half, Toronto’s bench units struggled to keep things afloat early in the second and fourth quarters. With only 11 players dressed and neither 905er — Oshae Brissett and Dewan Hernandez — getting into the game, the offence looked discombobulated with Davis, Miller, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson swinging the ball around trying to find an open shot.
Credit the Wizards a bit here too, as their bench was far more solid on defence in the second half — led by stout on-ball coverage by Admiral Schofield — to limit Toronto’s looks at the rim. As the games go on without Siakam, Gasol, and Powell, guys like Miller and Boucher will need to be more confident putting the ball up when it’s delivered to them. There’ll also be more cost on Lowry, who helped them tread water early in the fourth, but ultimately couldn’t hold off a Wizards run.
Still, the Raptors point guard got plenty of support on offence from guys besides Ibaka. OG Anunoby was relentless attacking the rim, coming up bloody on two separate occasions on hard Wizards fouls, finishing with 18 points (6-for-11) and seven rebounds, marking a team-high +10.
Fred VanVleet was also great returning from a knee injury, nearly marking a triple-double with 18 points, eight assists, and a career-high nine rebounds. The combination of VanVleet and Lowry helped the Raptors build an early lead they only briefly relinquished late, scoring or assisting on the first five Toronto field goals.
Even Patrick McCaw, often blighted for his lack of offensive contributions, made use of his daylight on Friday night. He made one three, a critical one to put the Raptors up late in the game, and finished with 11 points and three steals.
Big bucket McCaw pic.twitter.com/wTqHVZPcSH— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 21, 2019
Next up for the Raptors is a Monday afternoon game against the Dallas Mavericks at home, their last warmup before a Christmas date with the Celtics.