The Washington Wizards came into the Air Canada Centre on Sunday evening and bullied their way to a 107-96 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
For all their regular season dominance in winning 12 of their past 14 meetings heading into this one, there is a bit of a little brother vibe for the Raptors against the Wizards. Washington can hold their playoff sweep over Toronto’s heads until they meet in the postseason again, and the Raptors’ biggest strength — their backcourt — has no advantage in the face of the Wizards’ starting guards.
Even the absence of John Wall helped little in this game, as Bradley Beal more than picked up the slack for his missing backcourt mate by dropping a game-high 38 points, five rebounds, and four assists to dominate the matchup with opposing shooting guard DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan finished with 26 points, but needed 21 shots to do so, and missed all five of his three-point attempts while finishing with a game-low plus/minus of -17. Otto Porter had the primary responsibility of guarding him, and Porter’s length and smarts in not falling for DeRozan’s pump-fakes paid dividends.
Porter has made an excellent start this season, averaging 18.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.3 steals while shooting 52.5 percent from three. Washington spared no expense in re-signing him to a four-year, $106M deal this summer, and there is already enough evidence to suggest that last season was no fluke.
The rest of the starters, save Norman Powell, were atrocious as the Wizards jumped out to an early 26-10 lead. Kyle Lowry, who appeared to be rounding into form over the final stretch of their six-game West coast road trip, was poor to start, and let his frustration get the better of him.
With the Raptors trailing 40-23 with 8:08 remaining in the second quarter, Lowry was incensed over not getting a call, and appeared to repeatedly yell, “that’s a f***ing foul!” at the referee. J.B. De Rosa was the official in question, and had a surprisingly quick trigger in calling two technical fouls on Toronto’s point guard who had just two points and one assist to his name.
The first technical seemed warranted with Lowry having had a go at the referees a few times already, but the second seemed much too hasty. With or without him, though, the ejection made no difference to how the Wizards broke down the Raptors defence.
Washington repeatedly attacked Jonas Valanciunas in the pick-and-roll, and the Lithuanian center struggled to cope with his limited quickness and overall mobility. Marcin Gortat continues to dominate their individual matchup, and finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds for the double-double.
Serge Ibaka looked lethargic as well, getting beat by Markieff Morris, who was playing only his second game of the season after recovering from surgery for a sports hernia.
Although Ibaka did pick up his energy in the second half and finished the game with his first double-digit rebound total of the season, the damage inflicted in the first half was too much to overcome.
If it weren’t for the bench unit, it’s safe to say that the Raptors would have been put out of their misery well before the fourth quarter. The defence of Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, and Lucas Nogueira was instrumental in building some momentum for Toronto and cutting the lead down to as little as three, keying a 20-8 run that began with under four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Offensively, it was VanVleet who stole the show, as he bridged the third and fourth quarter with eight points and two beautiful assists to Siakam and Nogueira that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
The Wichita State guard had struggled to this point of his 2017-18 campaign, but put together his best game of the season on both ends with the Raptors in desperate need of some production at the point with Lowry taking an early shower.
“Freddy came in and brought great energy,” DeRozan said after the game. “He got everybody going. Lucas was out there, made some big blocks, got some stops. They got out in transition, made some big plays, and got the momentum going our way.”
This was followed by arguably the most curious point of the game, when Dwane Casey turned back to the starters who had failed throughout this contest. As soon as Valanciunas checked back into the game, the Wizards went back to their pet scheme of abusing him with screens, and the lead swelled to over double-digits in no time.
Wanting to give rest to a unit that had worked so hard to chip away at a daunting deficit was understandable, but to hand over a get-out-of-jail card to a faltering team by bringing back Valanciunas when both Ibaka and Jakob Poeltl would have provided better resistance.
While some may argue the Raptors deserved to lose this game based on the way they started, the argument can also be made that the bench should have been the ones to decide that having put in their best effort.
The first game back home coming off a long road trip can often prove very difficult, and the Raptors will be hoping that was the case. They get a much easier go of things on Tuesday when they play the Chicago Bulls, who they already defeated in their season opener.