The Toronto Raptors slipped into some predictable patterns again Friday night, casually allowing big leads to dissolve before they quickly snapped to attention and seized the game right back.
The Washington Wizards kept in interesting by stealing the lead a few times, but ultimately the Raptors won 125-107. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 27 points and 10 rebounds, while his team hit a season-high 17 three-pointers.
The Raptors were back at home after a four-game road trip on which they’d gone 3-1. It was Toronto’s second win of the season over the Wizards, the same team they defeated in the first round of last year’s playoffs. The victory gives the Raps an NBA-best 16-4 record.
The Raptors ever-shuffling starting lineup this time included Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas and Danny Green. It was the first ‘Welcome Toronto’ night of the season, with the team wearing its OVO City Edition white and gold uniforms and playing on its special black-and-gold themed hardwood. Drake sidled into his courtside seat fashionably late, decked in a periwinkle-blue puffy jacket.
The Raptors built a 12-point lead in the first quarter, holding Wiz star point guard John Wall scoreless in the stanza, and it looked like that 3-point mojo that had been missing the past while was returning. Coming into Friday, the Raptors were 24th of 30 NBA teams in three-point shooting efficiency at 33.8 percent.
“We are shooting it not very well and I'm crossing my fingers and rubbing my rabbit's foot that hopefully some of those shots start going in,” said Toronto Coach Nick Nurse before the game.
In the second quarter, with the Raps’ bench players in the game, the Wiz went on a 9-0 run behind scoring from Markieff Morris and lots of trips to the free throw line. The Raptors were able to recover from that and take an eight-point lead into the half.
The third quarter had some concerning moments for Toronto. The Wizards mounted another big run and took a three-point lead as Wall, Bradley Beal, and Kelly Oubre Jr. were causing some havoc. The Raps were plagued by turnovers, and Siakam picked up his fourth personal foul.
Again, the Raptors were easily able to bounce back from the brief deficit and rebuild another comfortable lead. Leonard had a monster quarter in which he nabbed six boards and posted 10 points.
Washington Coach Scott Brooks called Leonard “the best two -way player in basketball.”
Leonard said it has come with experience: “I started off guarding the best player when I was a rookie. You have to have even-keeled throughout the whole game, never too down, never too high.”
Brooks also had kudos for Lowry, who had 15 points and nine assists Friday after his triple-double on Wednesday. Brooks called Lowry “ageless” and was amazed at how he leads the NBA in assists:
“You usually don’t do that at his age if you have not done it before, unless your last name is Stockton,” said Brooks. “But he’s great. He helps that team win every night with his toughness and leadership.”
The Raptors got some of their injured players back Friday. OG Anunoby returned and looked sharp despite missing the past three with a sprained wrist. He contributed 15 points – including a trio of 3-pointers. C.J. Miles (adductor strain), was back after being sidelined for five. He had seven points on 2-of-9 shooting, just 1-of-7 from deep.
Fred VanVleet had 13 points, Serge Ibaka had 12, and Delon Wright added 10 to Toronto’s plentiful night.
The Raps may have improved to 43.6 percent from three-point land on the night, however they had 15 turnovers that cost them 22 points.
“I think we played some really dominant basketball for stretches and, again, it’s streaky a bit,” said Nurse. “You want to try to extend our consistent play and extend that out longer and the times when we’re not playing that well, can’t be so underneath average.”
The Raps held Wall to 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Beal lead the Wiz with 20 points, while Otto Porter Jr. had 17, Morris 16.
The Raptors will be back at home for another contest Sunday night, when the Miami Heat come to town.