The seemingly season-long quest for a top-8 seed is reaching its (exciting?) conclusion as the Raptors have pulled even with the Atlanta Hawks.
Toronto continued their charge toward the postseason with a wire-to-wire victory over the visiting Washington Wizards. Toronto was led by O.G. Anunoby, who finished with 29 points, 8 rebounds, 4 triples, 3 blocks, 1 steal and was a game-high +29. With an almost similar line, Fred VanVleet contributed 28 points, 7 assists, 5 triples, 3 steals, 1 block and was an equally impressive +28.
The Raptors welcomed back Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa after each had missed the previous two games. Meanwhile, Gary Trent Jr missed his third straight game with right elbow stiffness. Scottie shook off some rust and finish with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Oh, and he did this!
With Washington missing two of their top scorers in Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma, the Wizards looked lost on offense for the first half of the opening frame. On the defensive end, they continued to go under screens and generally dared Toronto to score from outside. Considering Toronto’s propensity for poor shooting performances, that wasn’t a bad strategy. However, the Raptors came out on fire. Specifically, O.G. Anunoby was hot as he scored 18 points, including three triples, in the first quarter. He “only” scored two points in the second quarter, but at least it was highlight material.
OG Anunoby gets FLASHY with the double-clutch reverse slam pic.twitter.com/cjRxm6cAnA— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 26, 2023
After growing the lead to 22-10, the Raptors took their foot off the gas and the Wizards obliged by going on a quick 7-0 run, capped by a fastbreak dunk by Porzingis off a lazy Siakam pass. After a Nurse timeout, the Raptors re-focused and closed the quarter on a 15-4 run. (For the non-Math-ers, that’s a 37-21 lead at the end of the first)
If the first quarter was about Toronto’s ability to knock down shots from the outside (18 points from threes), the second quarter centred around the Raptors’ ability to score from inside (18 points in the paint). Siakam scored all 11 of his first half points in the second frame.
The second quarter also saw the return of Precious Achiuwa, who had missed the previous two games with a hamstring injury. Nick Nurse spoke pre-game about utilizing a “wait and see” approach with Achiuwa’s playing time. What we did “see” during his first stint was a signal that the Raptors may need to “wait” a bit longer for Achiuwa to get back into form. In his 3:31 minutes of game action, Achiuwa missed both of his free throws, lazily flew by Anthony Gill at the three-point line (who didn’t even fake a shot), drew an offensive charge, and allowed Deni Avdija to drive on him AND grab his own offensive rebound (luckily, he missed the putback attempt).
VanVleet continued his impressive play of late with an array of dazzling plays. After hitting a fadeaway at the end of the shot clock, VanVleet followed up on the next possession with a pull-up three in transition. He’d finish the first half with 18 points and 6 assists.
Everything that went right for the Raptors in the first half went in the opposite direction in the third. Washington didn’t have any fouls over the first nine minutes of the quarter, generated 4 turnovers (after only getting 5 in the first two quarters), and hit 8 threes (after connecting on 5 in the first half). After the Wizards closed the gap to 80-79, VanVleet went on a personal 5-0 run to push the lead to two possessions.
Toronto had led by as many as 21 points, but Washington’s strong third quarter dwindled the deficit down to three by the end of the third quarter. With the Pacers debacle still fresh in everyone’s minds, the tension inside Scotiabank Arena increased to ludicrous speed when Nurse started the final frame with Jeff Dowtin Jr., Scottie Barnes, O.G. Anunoby, Chris Boucher and Christian Koloko.
The unorthodox no-Pascal-no-Fred-no-Jakob lineup surprisingly turned the tide! After a shot clock violation on their first possession, the lineup scored on five(!) straight offensive possessions: Dowtin hit a huge three; Anunoby was aggressive and earned a trip to the line, where he split his free throws; Anunoby drained a mid-range jumper; Boucher scored on a putback; Barnes finished the impressive stretch with an and-one layup. The bench unit provided over five minutes of quality minutes. When Fred and Pascal checked back in, the Raptors lead had grown to 102-90.
The Wizards were led by Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. Deni Avdija had 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists while filling in for the injured Kuzma. Cory Kispert paid tribute to his alma mater, Gonzaga, by finishing with a game-low -23.
Other noteworthy Raptors stats include the tandem of Jak and Skills. Siakam turned up the aggression whenever Washington made a run. He finished with his 22nd double-double of the season: 19 points and 11 rebounds. Poeltl also had a double-double, his 18th of the season, as he compiled 12 points and 12 rebounds. Jakob only played 26 minutes because of Boucher’s (and to a lesser extent, Koloko’s) admirable performance to start the fourth. He didn’t re-enter the game until there were only three minutes left and the game was essentially out of reach.
Toronto wraps up their 4-game homestand with a crucial matchup with the Miami Heat. With only 7 games remaining for each, there is still a very real possibility these teams could see each other again in the 7-8 matchup in the play-in tournament. Add in the Kyle Lowry element and there probably won’t be a more playoff-like game until the actual playoffs in two weeks!