Getting beaten up at every opportunity by the Washington Wizards in this series, the Toronto Raptors need to find something they haven’t been giving heading into game 4, down 0-3 without a lot of things going for them.
It’s like a de escalation situation for the Raptors. They won 49 games in the regular season, a franchise best since the expansion in 1995. They swept the Wizards in the regular season. Good signs to build on for sure, right? It started with an overtime loss in game 1, getting completely outplayed in game 2, including being down by 23 points and losing by 11 and an awful shooting performance in game 3 (37.4%), losing by seven points.
So what needs to happen? Considering that the Raptors won’t alter their game completely in this series or the playoffs, it’s going to be about not forcing shots. It’s going to be about not getting lazy on defense and making things difficult for John Wall, who has been cruising in the last two games. Lowry is shooting just 23.8% from the field in this series and 18.8% from three, which isn’t stopping him from shooting and shooting.
Not that the Raptors have too many options. There’s DeMar DeRozan, who at least isn’t awful but putting up more defensible numbers, and that’s about it. Lou Williams hasn’t been able to give them the kind of production bump they were hoping for. Amir Johnson deserves more minutes and not starting out on the bench. Jonas Valanciunas seems lost in the paint, getting hacked by Marcin Gortat and Nene.
Most of the praise on the Washington side, on the verge of moving on to the conference semifinals for a second straight season, goes to Paul Pierce (16 points per game) and John Wall (18.3 points, 13.3 assists). But Bradley Beal has been shooting well, scoring 20 per game. Otto Porter has been giving more and more quality minutes off the bench. Most importantly, Nene (even without scoring much) and Gortat have been a huge issue for the Raptors to handle, always creating an advantage of manpower and rebounding under the basket.
Maybe the biggest and most surprising contribution has been coming from Drew Gooden. He’s averaging 7.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in this series, including 2.7 on offense. The Wizards don’t have the deepest and longest bench imaginable, so Gooden being able to play both big man roles so well and effectively at his age saves the Wizards a lot of trouble and minutes.
Of all the series, including the one that just ended (Warriors-Pelicans), this feels like the most one sided, especially when comparing it to the expectations. The Raptors have pushed themselves into a corner without a lot of options to get out. At this stage, it’s more about whether the Wizards take it easy for one night than the Raptors actually outplaying them.