When the Washington Wizards faced the Toronto Raptors in the 2015 playoffs, there was a reliable formula for beating the Raps: zero in defensively on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and limit their shooting.
But as the eighth-seeded Wizards saw in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series on Saturday, the top-seeded Raptors have evolved since then. Toronto’s new ball-moving, three-point style of play this year is holding up in the postseason, and when the Wizards blitzed and corralled Toronto’s two all-stars, they proved they could zip the ball to a host of teammates, who could capably do the scoring.
“They don’t rely heavily on just two players anymore,” said Washington forward Otto Porter Jr. on Sunday, as the Wizards arrived at Air Canada Centre for practice, one day after losing Game 1. “They have great depth. They’re good. They’re No. 1 for a reason.”
The Wizards worked away on Sunday inside the ACC’s third-floor practice court, making adjustments in the hopes of evening the series on Tuesday before it swings to Washington. They knew Toronto would focus on the three-ball, but allowing the Raps to shoot 16 of 30 from deep was far too many. Many of those threes came from Toronto role players the Wiz didn’t expect would knock them down from beyond the arc.
“Their star players get better every year, definitely, and they’ve added pieces. Their role players are big time,” said Wizards star point guard John Wall. “C.J. Miles was big, Delon Wright was big. I feel like those guys are the ones who won the game for them, making big shots, big plays down the stretch. Kyle didn’t have his best game, but did a great job of being a floor general and leading those guys. DeMar didn’t have a great game, but in the third quarter, he got that run started. ... Even when their starters don’t have it, their role players step up and they can still win. That shows what kind of evolution they’ve made as a team.”
DeRozan and Lowry combined for 28 points on 10-of-26 shooting, but together they dished out 15 assists while being heavily defended. The Raps had to find points elsewhere.
While teams typically beef up their starters’ minutes in the playoffs and shorten their bench, the Raptors played 11 players in their Game 1 victory. Toronto’s reserves accounted for 42 of its points on Sunday, while in comparison Washington’s bench players scored 21.
Toronto led the league in a couple of bench categories this season – including plus/minus – and those players had an impact on the Wiz the same way they did many other opponents this season.
“It’s almost like two different paces to the game,” is the way Beal described the Raptors. “Their starters play a little slower and the bench comes in and plays a little faster.”
The Wizards swept the Raptors in 2015, and while they didn’t go into Toronto believing they’d do that again, they did think a road victory was very attainable.
The Wizards had a list of things that needed correcting before Tuesday’s Game 2. They hoped to clean up their turnovers, especially the kind that lead to easy transition buckets for the Raptors. They would take steps to make sure they weren’t losing Raptors shooters in transition. They’d work to stop allowing the Raps too many open threes, and try to knock down more of their own easy shots (the Wiz shot 47 per cent on Saturday, and just 38 per cent from deep).
“We’re playing the best team in the East,” reiterated Washington coach Scott Brookes. “We can’t make those mistakes.”
Wall warned that the Raptors aren’t the only team who knows how to trust their teammates when the all-stars are being heavily defended.
“You have to pick your poison with me, Brad too; we have guys like Kelly [Oubre], Otto, and Tomas [Satoransky],” Wall said. “If you’re gonna trap us, we believe in our guys to make the same kind of shots that they trust their guys to make.”