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Toronto Raptors vs Washington Wizards Final: 132-102 Raptors Dominate Wizards

Changes to the lineup and renewed defensive effort help Toronto capture the win over a scrambling Washington team.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After a short break for the holidays, the Toronto Raptors kicked off their final road trip of the calendar year against the Washington Wizards.

Following the frustrating loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday, the Raptors were ready to make changes. Prior to the game, discussion highlighted a need for defensive engagement and the need to switch things up, a call that was finally answered with a shift in the starting lineup, exchanging Gary Trent Jr. for Dennis Schroder.

Throughout the game, a number of changes to the lineup were also apparent, with Jalen McDaniels and Otto Porter Jr. seeing extended minutes off the bench, and Malachi Flynn failing to check in until the final few minutes of the game when Toronto held a dominant lead.

It’s way too early to tell if these changes will stick, but after weeks of a slowly stagnating offence, the change is certainly welcome, especially considering the result.

By all accounts, this was a fun game for the Raptors. In a season marred by frustrating losses and, at times, lacklustre effort, Toronto showed up ready to win.

The offence felt far freer, with a number of highlight dunks, improved 3-point shooting, and second chance opportunities that seemed impossible. Even more significant though was the Raptors’ defensive effort that helped limit Washington’s chances from the start.

Washington won the tip and opened up scoring for both teams with a dagger 3-point shot from Jordan Poole who was hot early in the frame. The Raptors were able to keep up initially, exchanging baskets to stay within a few possessions, with both Trent Jr. and Anunoby able to cash in 3-pointers.

Foul trouble started early, with Pascal picking up two in the opening minutes of the game, but it appeared as though Darko wanted to allow this lineup to have some run, and kept him in the game.

Despite limited minutes playing as a unit, the starting lineup still looked fairly organized, although they missed a couple close range baskets and allowed some uncontested shots on the defensive end, indicating the lack of reps they’ve seen together.

Scottie was able to be a disruptive presence defensively in the paint on a number of possessions, helping to limit the Wizards to some degree. Down by 8, Dennis Schroder checked in for Pascal, the first substitution of the game, and was able to make a positive impact fairly quickly.

He scrapped for a loose ball, hustling down the floor to find Trent Jr. for a long range shot, followed by Barnes and Boucher with a similar setup. The combination of shots starting to fall for Toronto and a rough shooting stint for Washington allowed the Raptors to go on a 15-0 run.

It wasn’t for lack of trying for the Wizards, as they hustled for a number of offensive rebounds, but were unable to convert any of them, giving the Raptors a 31-25 lead to end the quarter.

The second quarter scoring began with a tough turnaround shot by Schroder, who then found Otto Porter Jr. for the easy bucket with a perfectly placed pass the following possession.

The Raptors’ run continued, but a pair of tough calls found the Wizards taking free throws on consecutive possessions. The trips to the line may have acted as a catalyst for Washington, spurring them to finally connect on a field goal attempt that sparked a 10-2 run.

Only up by one possession, Darko decided to talk it over and called for a timeout. O.G. connected on a 3-point shot immediately out of the stoppage, along with a far more effective defensive showing by the Raptors that prompted a 13-0 run of their own. Scottie cashed in a pair of long range shots, showing the continued improvement he’s been making from that distance this season.

The Raptors continued to look for opportunities in the paint as well, where a diving Jakob Poeltl was fouled, finally taking a trip to the line, the first of the game, compared to the 10 free throws attempted by Washington.

In the final minutes of the quarter, the Raptors were engaged, forcing a number of turnovers that generated easy baskets for the Raps, highlighted by a lob pass from Trent Jr. to a soaring O.G. for the slam. After a strong showing late, the Raptors once again allowed an easy bucket by Kispert, beating the clock with a layup that closed the half with 59-50 in the Raps’ favour.

After halftime, the offence was slow for both teams, each missing a number of shots early. A timeout by Unseld Jr. helped provide an opportunity for both teams to get organized, although Toronto appeared to utilize it a lot better, out-scoring Washington 12-4 in the first four minutes.

Washington tried again, calling a second stoppage that proved to be more beneficial, with Kuzma and Jones both able to convert shortly after. Midway in the quarter, buckets were exchanged back and forth, with the role players from Washington taking a step up to contribute.

Despite improvements to the Wizards’ offence, the Raptors continued to emerge dominant in the matchup, outscoring Washington for the third straight quarter to enter the final frame with a dominant 16-point lead. Pascal’s contributions throughout the quarter helped carry the Raptors, either scoring or assisting on 28 of their points in the quarter that closed 97-84.

Despite the significant lead, it felt a little early to become too confident about the Raptors’ dominance, but the Raptors didn’t waver, with Scottie picking Poole’s pocket and immediately tossing lob-pass to a running McDaniels for the dunk.

A combination of missed shots and turnovers for Washington allowed Toronto to go on another run, now up by 22. Washington called another timeout, but still were unable to slow down the Raps.

With an insurmountable lead, Darko called for time to make major substitutions to the lineup, getting Gradey, Thad, and Malachi finally into the game. The Raptors’ starters each scored in double figures with O.G. quietly leading all scorers with 26 points, Scottie with 20-12-8, and Pascal with 22-6-11.

Schroder also performed well despite his transition to the bench with 10 assists. The bench unit of McDaniels, Achiuwa, Dick, Young, and Flynn played out the final minutes and were able to add to the lead, closing the game 132-102.

One of the most important takeaways from this matchup was the defence, and although there were a few breakdowns that lead to wide-open shots, for the most part this was probably the best we’ve seen in recent memory. Everyone was equally engaged in help, switching when needed, and doing everything they could to alter and contest shots.

It’s also worth taking another look at the lineups that deviated significantly from the last couple months. There weren’t the same substitutions, Scottie plus bench time, or a number of familiar faces in the early minutes and it’s hard not to wonder if that was one of the major contributors to the outcome of this game. Hopefully we can get more time with what we got tonight, especially the starting line that had only logged a grand total of 8 minutes together prior to this game.

While this can be a feel-good game the Raptors can use to boost their morale, it’s difficult to gauge how this will translate to other matchups moving forward, given the abysmal performance of Washington throughout both this game and the season.

The Raptors now have a tough back-to-back against the league-leading Celtics and a desperate Detroit Pistons team, so in the meantime it will be important for them to gain what they can from this game and keep it in their arsenal moving forward.

The Raptors will continue their road trip on Friday, Dec. 29 against the Boston Celtics at 7:30 pm ET.