It took 11 tries over 17 years, but the top-seeded Raptors (59-23) finally have a 1-0 series lead after opening this Eastern Conference best-of-seven with a 114-106 victory Saturday. Toronto, whose only previous Game 1 win in 13 tries came against Philadelphia to start the 2001 conference semifinals, got a total team effort as their role players picked up leading scorers Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who were held to a combined 28 points on ten-of-26 shooting.
Serge Ibaka totaled 23 points and 12 rebounds while reserves C. J. Miles and Delon Wright accounted for 30 of Toronto’s 42 bench points and made seven of 11 shots from 3-point range to compensate for a second five without injured guard Fred VanVleet. The Raptors shot 53.2 percent overall and made a playoff club-record 16 3-pointers in 30 attempts from beyond the arc as five different players knocked down at least two treys.
Washington (43-39) did not play all that badly, but Mike Scott’s flagrant foul with 10:02 to play swung the momentum of the game as the Raptors scored four points off that possession to trigger a game-breaking 15-5 run in which Miles and Wright accounted for 13 of those points.
John Wall had 23 points, 15 assists, and four steals but also was just six of 20 from the floor. Markieff Morris added postseason career highs of 22 points and six assists while matching a playoff career best with 11 rebounds, and Bradley Beal had 19 points for the No. 8 seed Wizards, who had 29 assists on their 41 field goals and shot 47.7 percent.
Washington have lost five straight road playoff games and nine of their last ten postseason contests outside the nation’s capital, with the lone victory their Game 6 triumph at Atlanta last year to advance to the conference semifinals.
Three keys to the game
The Raptors bench mob delivers - All season long, Toronto's bench has received praise for their efforts and were key contributors to the Raptors winning a franchise-record 59 games. It was no different Saturday, with the 41 points right on the season average (41.8) for the Raptors' reserves.
“They’ve been battle-tested all year, so you’ve got to let them get a shot at this,” Miles told the Toronto Star after scoring all 12 of his points from beyond the arc. “Those guys have put in a lot of time just to be ready for game situations. You might not call certain guys shooters, but it’s part of their skill set. The shots we get in our offense, we work on them every day. We drill them every day.”
Will the Wizards keep trapping DeRozan and Lowry? - Washington used an aggressive trapping defense to keep the ball out of the hands of the Raptors top two scorers, and while they were held 11 points below their combined season average of 39.2, they finished with 15 assists between them and may have forced Wizards coach Scott Brooks into a re-think of this plan.
"It's definitely a pick your poison but we have to do it better," he told The Washington Post. "We have to be able to close out on point, close out on the catch, know who has the ball and which way to close out on them."
Anunoby unexpected contributor offensively - Raptors rookie OG Anunoby scored in double figures just twice in his final 25 games, scoring 21 in a meaningless game versus Orlando on April 8 and 11 in a loss at Washington on February 1. Despite averaging just 5.9 points, Anunoby is a serviceable 3-point shooter at 37.1 percent and contributed a pair in helping Toronto jump out to a 22-13 lead in the first 7:14 of the game.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey will usually opt for the veteran Miles over Anunoby similar to how he did for the final 14-plus minutes Saturday, but the Raptors will be tough to beat if the rookie forward can provide anything above his scoring average like he did in Game 1.
Matchup to watch
Wizards C Marcin Gortat vs Raptors C Jonas Valanciunas - Gortat played well Saturday, finishing with 12 points and six rebounds while making six of nine shots, but he needs to stay on the floor. He picked up two fouls in the first 2:44 of the game, forcing the Wizards to scramble defensively. It started a chain reaction in which his backup, Ian Mahinmi, also ran into foul trouble, which then forced Brooks to use the 6' 8" Scott in the middle.
While Gortat's counterpart Jonas Valanciunas did not have huge numbers with nine points and nine rebounds, the Raptors are versatile enough offensively and deeper than the Wizards where they can mix and match personnel to create greater advantages and separation similar to what happened Saturday.
Washington Wizards projected starting lineup
PG - John Wall | SG - Bradley Beal | C - Marcin Gortat | SF - Otto Porter Jr. | PF - Markieff Morris
Toronto Raptors projected starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | C - Jonas Valanciunas | SF - OG Anunoby | PF - Serge Ibaka
Ibaka has recorded six career 20-point games in the postseason, and two of them have come in his last two games. Saturday also marked his second career 20-10 playoff game, with the other coming in 2011 with Oklahoma City. The forward had totaled 39 points and 25 rebounds in the four meetings with the Wizards this season and has averaged 15.0 points in his last three matchups against them.
Wright has scored 29 points in four games versus Washington this season after his 18-point outburst Saturday, and all of them have come at home. The backup guard is 12 for 17 in two games at Air Canada Centre, including four of five from 3-point range, compared to missing all four of his long-range attempts and all seven of his shots overall at Capital One Arena. Wright has not scored in double figures in back-to-back games since a four-game run from March 16-21.
Wall has recorded double-doubles in points and assists in his last four playoff games versus Toronto, averaging 20.5 points and 14.3 assists in that stretch. He also has been getting to the foul line consistently, making 32 of 38 free throws to offset 39.3 percent shooting. He has a streak of five double-doubles at Air Canada Centre in all competitions, totaling 19.6 points and 14.0 assists per game.
Morris has averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in his last three games against Toronto this season and has recorded double-doubles in four of his last five playoff games, totaling 16.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest in that stretch.
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites, with the line moving one point against them since it opened. They have covered in their last four first-round playoff games and are 4-1-1 against the spread in their last six overall and against Eastern Conference opponents.
Toronto are also 3-0-1 against the number in their last four home games at Air Canada Centre but only 1-5-1 there in their last seven when facing a team with a sub-.500 road record.
Washington are 1-4 against the spread in their last five first-round playoff games and when facing Atlantic Division opponents. They also have failed to cover in eight of their last nine road games and 4-10-1 versus the number in their last 15 against conference rivals.
The over/under is 215 points, and Saturday's game marked the first time in the last six at Toronto the over hit. The under is 10-4 in the Raptors' last 14 first-round playoff games, but the over is 6-1 in their last seven at home versus teams with losing road records. The over has posted a 7-2-1 record in Washington's last ten first-round playoff games and a 10-3 mark in their last 13 against Atlantic Division teams.
That sound you may have heard across Ontario after the final buzzer Saturday was a collective exhale after the Raptors won Game 1. The bigger point is that Toronto did not stray from their season-long identity of winning as a team, with Casey going 11 deep and getting contributions from his bench as opposed to shortening his rotation and relying on the star power of Lowry and DeRozan.
With the series now underway, the coaches now take center stage in making adjustments from game to game and even within the game. But what may be discouraging for the Wizards is that this may be where Casey and the Raptors separate themselves further.
There was a point around the start of the 2015/16 season where little separated these teams even after the Wizards swept the Raptors in the first round of the 2015 postseason. Since then, Toronto have won three playoff series, losing only to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the postseason while the Wizards missed the postseason in 2016 and lost in the second round last year before this season's rollercoaster ride made in part due to Wall's absence.
While Brooks said his team will make adjustments, his players do not always carry them out. Compare that to Toronto where everyone has a defined role and everyone wants to contribute without being a hero.
The Wizards may have the best individual player in this series in Wall, and Beal is definitely in the top four among players on both teams, but how the Raptors pulled away in Game 1 is indicative of the 16-game gap between the teams this season.
Look for the Raptors to hold serve and hit Washington D.C. with a 2-0 series lead after a 111-100 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on NBA TV and nationally in Canada on TSNN. It will also be televised locally on NBC Sports Washington D.C. Tip-off time is 7 pm EDT.
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