It was a battle of the last undefeated (ahem, preseason) teams in the East as the Wizards and Toronto Raptors closed out their respective preseason schedules at Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto prevailed in convincing fashion with a 134-98 win over the visiting Wizards. The victory was bittersweet as Scottie Barnes left the game late in the third quarter with a sprained right foot.
Before getting injured, Barnes continued his impressive preseason, scoring a game-high 23 points on an efficient 10-14 shooting to go along with 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 25 minutes. His All-NBA teammate, Pascal Siakam, chipped in with 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 block in 26 minutes. The overused-but-apt-for-this-paragraph “big three” for the Raptors was capped by another outstanding two-way performance of O.G. Anunoby. His 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists don’t tell half the story. O.G.’s stellar defense on Wizards sharpshooter, Jordan Poole, kept the Raptors in the game early and helped Toronto pull away in the third quarter!
Speaking of Poole, he entered the game after dropping 41 points in three quarters against the Knicks on Wednesday. To say the Raptors swallowed him on defense would be a gross understatement. Poole shot 1-of-15, finished with 7 points (5 from the charity stripe), and continuously looked frustrated trying to get his shot off against Toronto’s length.
4 different Raptors have blocked Jordan Poole (Siakam, Poeltl, Achiuwa, and Anunoby).— Jay Rosales (@Rosalesaurus) October 21, 2023
As a result of the attention that Poole received, Deni Avdija was the beneficiary of open looks, which he converted into a team-leading 13 first-half points. He would finish with a team-high 18 points with 4 triples and 7 rebounds.
The Raptors got off to a slow start. For the first 5 minutes, O.G. Anunoby was the only Raptor who looked like he was in regular season form. He played stellar defense on Jordan Poole, forcing two missed threes from the crafty sharpshooter. On offense, he attacked with purpose and made quick decisions when the ball ended up in his hands. He scored the first Raptors bucket on a drive to the bucket and their second on a transition dunk. Anunoby’s quick entry pass to Siakam also led to free throws for Pascal.
Still, the Raptors trailed 14-5 by the 7:05 mark of the first quarter. After a Rajakovic timeout, Toronto settled down to score 19 of the next 21 points. Some of that comeback could be attributed to the first three that came off the bench — Precious Achiuwa, Gradey Dick, and Jaden McDaniels. Achiuwa received a rousing ovation from the crowd as he played his first minutes of the preseason. Precious strained his groin at the start of training camp.
Gradey gave the fans what they were looking for with an exciting sequence. He kept a possession alive after an Achiuwa missed three by sneaking in from the corner to grab the offensive rebound. He quickly passed to an open McDaniels for a triple that stretched the Raptors lead to 21-16. On the ensuing defensive possession, he forced Corey Kispert into a turnover, then canned a corner three to blow the roof off a rowdy Scotiabank Arena.
The second quarter saw the Raptors build on the momentum from the first quarter. Barnes and Siakam took turns imposing their will on helpless Wizard defenders. Anunoby took turns shutting down Poole and Tyus Jones — who was very effective in the first quarter in the pick-and-roll. The box score may tell a different story (as well as the players seemingly ahead of him on the depth chart), but McDaniels made his mark on both ends of the floor and fit right in with whoever was on the court.
A couple of late threes by Washington made the first-half score look closer than it actually was as Toronto led 58-52 at the half.
8-2 Raptors run to start the half and the Wizards have called a timeout to try to get Cairns back as an opponent— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) October 21, 2023
Toronto used the third quarter to validate what was apparent in the first half: they were the better team. The Raptors score on 8 of their first 9 possessions to push the lead to 75-61.
With the lead in the 20s and the third quarter ticking down, the starters left and the real game began. The final quarter plus would help crystallize any uncertainty about the roster. Would Jeff Dowtin Jr. — whose non-guaranteed contract became guaranteed on Saturday — get playing time? (No, this may be the end of the line for the promising guard) Could Otto Porter Jr. get more reps in as he continues recuperating from a toe injury that kept him out for most of last season? (Yes, he played 10 minutes, finishing with 4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, and a tired sigh of relief as he checked out) Would Ron Harper Jr. and the other two-ways get playing time or would garbage time go to those fighting for a roster spot? (Yes to the former as all of the two-way players got some run. Javon Freeman-Liberty has taken Dowtin’s place as the “he’d better be converted soon” title holder)
Was a surprise Gary Trent Jr. appearance in the cards? (Sorry, I got a little carried away with the Juniors)
By the time the final horn sounded, “the vibes” were definitely back in the building. Malachi Flynn looked like a formidable backup guard. Dick wowed the crowd with 4 triples. Freeman-Liberty (Happy Birthday!) showed why Chicago fans were upset to see him leave for Toronto.
Now it’s decision time. With the roster currently at 21 players, is Dowtin’s non-guaranteed contract a sign that he’s the odd man out? If Mouhamadou Gueye and newly acquired Justise Winslow are presumably cut and sent to the 905, is that....even possible? (G League teams are only allowed 4 affiliate players and already have 3 in Kevin Obanor, Darryl Morsell, and Makur Maker) Most importantly, will Scottie Barnes be ready for Wednesday’s season opener? All of these questions will likely be answered by the time this is published, so let me just say that it gets pretty cold inside Scotiabank Arena when there aren’t 20,000 people.
On to the regular season!