In a miserable season, now with 30 losses tallied up, the Raptors have perfected the fake comeback. There’s a script to it: they’ll fall behind early or suffer through a grotesque stretch of basketball, then push themselves into form in the fourth quarter — just enough to make a game competitive, but not enough to actually pull off a victory. Heck, Pascal Siakam alone has missed four potential game-winners this season. It’s as close to a fake comeback becoming a stolen win as you can get.
Well, karma comes around eventually. In what fell neatly into the script of another fake comeback — the Raptors took a fourth quarter lead after trailing by as many as 17, only to watch Russell Westbrook rip off a 5-0 run in the last two minutes — Toronto went and stole the game. Gary Trent Jr. hit a buzzer-beater three to beat the Wizards, 103-101.
Give the Raptors their due here. Coming into the fourth quarter down 11 points, they were able to pick up the defensive intensity long enough to knock Washington off kilter.
In a game where the team was missing Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, there wasn’t a lot of cohesion to the rotation — the lineup that ended up working included staples OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, along with Malachi Flynn, DeAndre’ Bembry and, yes, Aron Baynes. All three played their butts off in a game the Raptors desperately needed effort from their bodies.
Flynn in particular may not have gotten the start we expected, but continued to show progression and comfort at the NBA level. Forcing multiple turnovers with VanVleet-esque ball pressure, Malachi also worked his hesitation and speed on offense to create shots. The result was a 16-point effort on 6-for-13 shooting, along with six rebounds, four assists, four steals, two blocks.
Then, in an off-night for starter Chris Boucher (3-for-12, 1-for-7 from three), Baynes stepped up to fill the void. Yes, there were plenty of frustrating moments — the big man couldn’t make a swing pass to save his life when Toronto needed him to in the fourth. Still, Baynes got on the glass, neatly outplayed his former backup in Alex Len, and set punishing screens to open up driving lanes for Flynn and Bembry. A game-high +20, he scored 10 points off the bench and pulled down eight rebounds.
Let’s not forget about those who kept the ship afloat, though. That started with Pascal Siakam. Scoring 22 points and grabbing six boards, Siakam shook off a painful start and essentially kept Toronto in the game with his off-the-dribble offense. Toronto shot just 7-for-33 as a team from distance, and even though Siakam contributed to that at 0-for-4, he made 10-of-12 from inside the arc, which went a long way to keeping Washington within striking distance.
In the first, the fake comeback story got a familiar introduction. The Wizards opened 2-for-3 from distance and took a 12-1 lead before the first timeout. Some better defense out of the break helped the Raptors, including what was easily Boucher’s best play of the game: this block on Westbrook.
Unforced errors followed, though. Boucher allowed an open layup, then committed the cardinal sin of fouling Alex Len on a baseline jumper — Washington would open up their lead again and went up 28-19 after one.
The Raptors responded again, though, in the minutes almost perfectly coinciding with Flynn’s presence on the floor. A pull-up three and a steal for the rookie set off a 7-0 Toronto run. A sensational stretch continued with an and-one in the paint, but it couldn’t be extended to the halftime run. Davis Bertans hit a pair of open threes, while Westbrook started to rack up the numbers. The veteran had 10 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists before the break.
The Raptors played their worst ball of the game to start the third. Returning to a struggling starting lineup, with Bembry and Gary Trent Jr. in the backcourt and Boucher at centre, the Wizards capitalized on more missed rotations — Bertans would hit two more threes and help stretch Washington’s lead to 17.
Returning to the bench, Toronto cut down the lead to a respectable 11 points by the end of the third. Then, a ridiculous stretch from Flynn and Anunoby — who had 14 points in the game — brought the game right into range. OG hit a three, Flynn snagged one of his four steals to set up a transition OG dunk, and a mid-ranger from OG cut the lead all the way to four.
Still, in the closing moments, it looked like it would be another heartbreaker for the Raptors. After missing eight hideous shots to start the final frame, Westbrook (23 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists) nailed two contested jumpers to give the Wizards a lead. After a missed shot on one end, it barely looked like the Raptors would have enough time to get a decent look away.
Then, they did; and all of a sudden, the Raptors are on a two-game win streak. It’s funny how the basketball gods can turn things around like that.