7:00 PM EST, NBA TV – Line: Raptors -6.5, Over/Under: 215
After a one-sided Game One in which one team washed away years of recent mediocrity, the other looks to square things away before a change in venue as the Toronto Raptors host the Washington Wizards in Game Two of their First Round Series from Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada. Well, this can’t be what the Wizards (43-39, 8th in Eastern Conference) wanted as they were angling their way into a favorable matchup in these Playoffs. Losers of Nine out of their final Twelve Outings heading into the Postseason, Washington would have preferred a meeting with the wounded Boston Celtics, a team that they took to Seven Games in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. However, as it would play out, Scott Brooks and his charges booked a date with the Top-Seeded Raptors instead, who have been the East’s most complete team for the majority of the campaign. Needless to say, this is NOT the matchup that these guys were hoping to get, for Toronto poses a litany of problems for them, which were all on full display in Game One’s 114-106 defeat. After falling behind early, the Visiting Side bullied their way into a 59-55 lead at Halftime, but not matter what they managed to do, their opponent responded with run after run. Case in point: despite taking a 91-88 lead in the Fourth Quarter, the Raptors ran off seven unanswered points, followed by an 8-0 run with just over Six Minutes left to play. It was solid offensive performance for the Wizards, who shot 47.7% from the Field, while dishing out Twenty-Nine Assists in comparison to committing just Thirteen Turnovers, with John Wall (19.4 PTS, 42.0% FG, 37.1% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 9.6 AST, 1.4 STL, 1.1 BLK, 19.1 PER) leading the way with Twenty-Three Points, Fifteen Assists, and Four Steals, while Bradley Beal (22.6 PTS, 46.0% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 4.4 REB, 4.5 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.4 BLK, 18.4 PER) added another Nineteen Points and Four Dimes. However, neither of their stars were particularly efficient, which was especially true in the case of the former, who shot a miserable 6-of-20 from the Field (30.0%), with the latter relegated to background duty. The issue though, was on the defensive end of the court, where nothing that Broks’ troops did managed to slow down the Hosts, who shot well over 50.0% from the Floor, and more importantly beyond the Arc. Simply put, Washington’s defense of the perimeter was abysmal, as Toronto outscored them by a staggering Twenty-Four Points in this regard. The other, perhaps larger, issue in Game One was the disparity in Bench Production. Coming into this Series, it was clearly evident that Brooks & Co. would be at a steep disadvantage in regards to Bench Play in comparison to a Raptors’ Reserve Unit that has been arguably the best in the league this season. In Sunday’s Loss, the Visitors’ mustered just Twenty-One Points from their Reserves, with Fourteen of that total coming courtesy of the seldom-used Mike Scott (8.8 PTS, 52.7% FG, 40.5% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 1.1 AST, 13.6 PER), with their opponent’s Backups pouring in Forty-Two Points. Then again, as we stated earlier, this is nothing new for Washington, who rely far more on their Starting Lineup than most teams, and the Playoffs generally favor teams with shorter Rotations anyway. In order to make some progress in this Series, this team must instead focus on the things they did well in Game One that can be further exploited tonight and beyond. While Scott’s production was a welcome surprise off the Bench, Markieff Morris (11.5 PTS, 48.0% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 5.6 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK, 13.2 PER) was surprisingly very effective against Toronto’s Bigs, scoring Twenty-Two Points on an efficient 9-of-15 Shooting (60.0%), along with Eleven Rebounds and Six Assists, while the team’s overall pressure, particularly in the First Half, proved to rattle the Top-Seed in the East. The Wizards harassed the Raptors into Seventeen Turnovers, with Twelve of that total coming in the First Half, manufacturing those mistakes into Twenty Points.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s 114-106 victory was an exhilarating one for the Raptors (59-23, 1st in Eastern Conference), who washed away years of history of poor performances in Game Ones. While it’s ridiculous to think, coming into their meeting with the Wizards, this franchise had lost Ten Consecutive Opening Round Contests (the longest streak in the NBA by a wide margin), a string that had spanned a staggering Seventeen Years, with their last such triumph occurring back in 2001, when none other than a young Vince Carter was posterizing helpless bystanders north of the border. Lifting the Burden, Getting the Monkey off their Back, no matter which adage you choose, one couldn’t help but feel as if a weight was lifted with Game One’s Win. And quite frankly, there were a number of things in place that could have ensured that that dubious streak remain in place. First and foremost, you have to consider the caliber of their opponent, the Wizards, who despite their maddeningly inconsistent performance this season are a much better team than their record would indicate, particularly when they’re at full health, which is the case now that the aforementioned Wall has returned to the hardwood. And then there is the semi-recent Playoff History with these teams, as Washington mercilessly swept Toronto in their First Round meeting back in 2015. In addition to that, Kyle Lowry (16.2 PTS, 42.7% FG, 39.9% 3FG, 5.6 REB, 6.9 AST, 1.1 STL, 19.5 PER), who has been the team’s proverbial Poster Child for underachieving in the Postseason, entered Sunday’s affair suffering from Flu-Like Symptoms, while undrafted Free Agent Fred VanVleet (8.6 PTS, 42.6% FG, 41.4% 3FG, 2.4 REB, 3.2 AST, 0.9 STL, 15.9 PER), one of the true catalysts on their remarkable Bench, missed the affair altogether after suffering a Bruised Shoulder in the Season Finale. So given all that, could anyway really blame the faithful in Air Canada Centre for the tense atmosphere as the Visiting Side stormed back to take the lead at Intermission? Fortunately, these Raptors proved to be capable of exorcizing their demons rather than succumbing to them, putting on a veritable clinic in the Second Half in which they outscored the Wizards 59-47. After turning the basketball over quite a bit in the First Half (12 Turnovers), Dwayne Casey’s charges were far more efficient after the Half, while taking advantage of their opponent’s willingness to let them snipe away from beyond the Arc. And snipe away they did, as the Hosts knocked down a Franchise-Record 16-of-30 Attempts from Three (53.3%), burying every attempt of Washington’s to get build a lead. As a whole, Toronto shot a blistering 53.2% from the Field, employing their considerable Depth with six different players scoring in boule-figures, led by Serge Ibaka (12.6 PTS, 48.3% FG, 36.0% 3FG, 6.3 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.4 STL, 1.3 BLK, 14.7 PER), who exploited the opponent’s Bigs reluctance to step away from the Paint, knocking down 3-of-4 Attempts from Downtown (75.0%), while Delon Wright (8.0 PTS, 46.5% FG, 36.6% 3FG, 2.9 REB, 2.9 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.5 BLK, 16.5 PER) and C.J. Miles (10.0 PTS, 37.9% FG, 36.1% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.5 STL, 13.0 PER) made up for the absence of VanVleet, accounting for a combined Thirty Points on 11-of-18 Shooting (61.1%), including 7-of-11 from Three (63.6%). As for Lowry and All-Star Shooting Guard DeMar Derozan (23.0 PTS, 45.6% FG, 31.2% 3FG, 3.9 REB, 5.2 AST, 1.1 STL, 21.0 PER), who has been vastly improved this season, neither player really distinguished himself, combining for Twenty-Eight Points on 10-of-26 Shooting (38.5%), including 3-of-9 from long range (33.3%), with Seven Turnovers, but then again, they didn’t have to. While this team has floundered in past Playoffs largely due to their struggles, this particular group is proving to be capable of overcoming such issues thanks to their overall balance and depth, which should really give the Wizards pause moving forward.