TORONTO — John Wall and Bradley Beal lingered around the restricted-access area inside Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. While the Washington Wizards’ backcourt waited, their Toronto Raptors counterparts — Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — appeared from behind a black curtain. The four all-stars shared daps, hugs and hushed conversations.
Even after their 114-106 loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Wizards couldn’t stop paying attention to Lowry and DeRozan.
The Wizards’ defense was geared to trapping and making life hard for the two Toronto guards — and the plan effectively worked as the pair combined for 28 points. In Game 1, Lowry and DeRozan were good but not special.
However, while the Wizards spent their energy minding two guys, the defense did not account for Toronto’s formidable supporting cast.
“Their bench was great,” Wall said. “They played well, made some big shots for them, and that’s what they are going to do every game. We got to make adjustments.”
The biggest adjustment will start with paying more attention to Delon Wright and CJ Miles. As the pair traded baskets in the fourth quarter to build Toronto’s lasting lead, the once-anxious fans, bred to expect failure in playoff openers, grew comfortable and loud.
Entering Saturday, the Raptors had a 1-12 record in the first games of playoff series, but the bench spark and consistent play from the team’s core — Serge Ibaka (23 points) led four Toronto starters in double figures — pushed the Raptors past their playoff stigma.
“They are the No. 1 seed for a reason,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “They have a lot of good players. Guys off the bench came in and stepped up.
“It’s definitely a pick your poison but we have to do it better. 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.”
Even without top reserve guard Fred VanVleet (shoulder), Toronto went six deep into the bench. Lowry played more minutes than usual, and he manned the point guard spot early in the fourth with several substitutes for the Raptors’ push.
As the Wizards led by three, Lowry took a flagrant foul from Mike Scott, and after his free throws, Wright scored on the baseline. Then Miles, who mostly worked from beyond the arc, pulled up in transition to hit his third three-pointer of the game.
Brooks tried to silence the run by calling a timeout, but by this time, the Raptors’ second unit had wrested control of the game. Wright and Miles combined for 30 points — nine more than the entire Wizards bench.
The Wright-Miles duo combined to hit seven three-pointers. As a team, the Raptors overwhelmed Washington with 16 threes on 30 attempts, including a 4-for-6 performance in the final quarter.
“We didn’t expect Wright . . . to come off the bench and [score] 18, 20 points,” center Marcin Gortat said. “I mean, we definitely are going to watch the tape, like I said, and we’re going to try to correct mistakes we made on him.”
Wall paced the Wizards with 23 points and 15 assists, Beal added 19 points, and Markieff Morris controlled the frontcourt with 22 points (9-for-15 shooting) and 11 rebounds, but they could not match Toronto’s offensive wave.
“There were a lot of sloppy plays, transition threes, offensive rebounds, kick-out threes,” Beal said, summing up how Toronto took over the final quarter. “CJ and Wright — they hit some big shots down the stretch, a lot of threes. DeMar even made some threes in the fourth. They were 16 for 30 from three, so that hurts you when you’re competing.”
Washington will have two days to find a counter to Toronto’s depth.
Early fouls disrupted the Wizards’ rhythm as Gortat picked up a loose ball foul one second into the game while going for the jump ball against Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas. By the 9:16 mark, Gortat was sulking toward the sideline after his second foul.
His replacement, Ian Mahinmi, couldn’t avoid the whistle either, also only surviving for three minutes. Though less than six minutes had expired in the opening quarter, Washington had to turn to the 6-foot-8 Scott and play a small lineup.
It took nearly half of the next quarter for the Wizards to find themselves — their best version with five starters on the floor. Washington ran the floor on alert for when Wall wanted to get fancy. His stutter-step and look-away pass to Gortat pulled the Wizards to a 42-41 lead and forced a Toronto timeout.
A couple possessions later, when the Wizards recognized the mismatch between Morris and Lowry, giving him the ball and the space to back down the smaller guard, the bucket capped a 13-0 run.
“We did a good job moving the basketball,” said Brooks, after his team amassed 29 assists and shot 47.7 percent from the field. “We still think we can shoot the ball better from three (8 for 21), and hopefully next game we do.”
— Candace Buckner
Game 1 recap and biggest moments:
*Washington ends a losing streak in the playoffs: Toronto’s losing streak, that is. The Raptors had lost 10 straight Game 1s, including six straight at Air Canada Centre, before Saturday night’s win over the Wizards.” It’s the start of something,” Kyle Lowry said on ESPN after the game.
*Depth indeed matters: When the playoffs arrive, talk begins about teams shortening their depth, and how depth doesn’t even really matter. Toronto proved that wrong in its 114-106 Game 1 victory over Washington.
Not only did the Raptors play 11 guys, not including their top reserve, Fred VanVleet, but they got plenty of production from their second unit. The result was Toronto finally snapping its 10-game losing streak in Game 1s, and showing this year might finally be different in Toronto.
The Raptors doubled up the Wizards in bench scoring (42-21), including 18 points in 25 minutes for Delon Wright, who stepped into VanVleet’s role behind Kyle Lowry. C.J. Miles chipped in with four three-pointers.
Washington, meanwhile, got 17 points from Mike Scott off the bench, but virtually nothing from its other reserves, most notably Kelly Oubre Jr., who had just three points on 1-for-4 shooting in 16 minutes.
— Tim Bontemps
*Markieff Morris ankle watch: Morris tenderly walked to the bench after it looked like he rolled his left ankle late in the fourth quarter. Remember, that’s the same ankle he hurt in the series against Boston last year. Morris returned to the game a few minutes later.
*Careless Wizards costing themselves in final quarter: When a lower seeded team is trying to pull off an upset win on the road, it can’t be making dumb plays. Unfortunately for the Wizards, they tend to specialize in dumb plays, and two of them early in the fourth quarter could prove to be costly.
A flagrant foul by Mike Scott resulted in two free throws for Kyle Lowry and a four-point play overall for the Raptors. Then, just a few minutes later, Kelly Oubre’s casual pass to Bradley Beal under the Wizards’ basket became a turnover that led to a C.J. Miles three-pointer.
That has allowed the Raptors to go on a 10-0 run that’s put Toronto ahead by nine a little over midway through the fourth.
If the Wizards lose this game, they’ll point to this stretch as the reason.
— Tim Bontemps
*Kelly Oubre scored! He may be 1-for-4 from the floor, but that was a big three-pointer for Kelly Oubre Jr., who has been embroiled in a horrific, weeks-long slump on the perimeter.
Then he made a sloppy pass that was stolen and CJ Miles hit a three. Welp.
*Speaking of … It’s raining in Toronto: Raining THREES! The Raptors drilled their 15th three-pointer of the game after Oubre gave up that latest turnover. They’re 15-for-29 from beyond the arc, which, as the Villanova men’s basketball team will tell you, makes them very hard to beat.
*Well, Mike Scott is a hockey fan: Okay, he’s more of a hockey jersey fan. But still. That shoulder/elbow check that resulted in a Flagrant 1 could be the first truly chippy moment of the series.
*Guards will be the difference in Toronto: This Raptors-Wizards series was billed as a battle of all-star backcourts. With Toronto holding a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter, that’s exactly how Game 1 has played out.
So far, John Wall (18 points and 14 assists), Bradley Beal (17 points and three steals) and DeMar DeRozan (17 points and six assists) have showed up. Kyle Lowry (nine points, five assists, four turnovers) has not.
How those four guys play in the final 12 minutes will determine whether the Wizards pull off an upset or the Raptors finally end their Game 1 losing streak.
— Tim Bontemps
* END OF QUARTER 3: Toronto leads 86-85 after a tight 10 minutes: A back-and-forth quarter left Washington trailing by one. John Wall continues to lead a pretty balanced scoring effort on the Wizards’ part — he’s got 18 points and is 3-for-5 from three — while Serge Ibaka had a monster third quarter. Ibaka has 21 points including three three’s for Toronto.
* Toronto’s All-Stars aren’t leading the team? Old news: Serge Ibaka (14 points) and OG Anunoby (10 points) powered the Raptors throughout the first half, while DeMar DeRozan (five points) and Kyle Lowry (two points) lagged more than they usually do. But, somewhat surprisingly, that’s nothing new for the pair against Washington, especially when looking at their defensive stats.
*HALFTIME: Washington leads 59-55, and Wall has a double-double: John Wall has 13 points and 10 assists in his first game against Toronto this season as the No. 8 seed Wizards look to give the Raptors their 10th consecutive Game 1 loss.
* The other highlight of the half? That would be Mike Scott, back from the concussion protocol to add 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the floor
* Need an assist? The Wizards sped up the pace and increased their passing for a 13-0 burst in the second quarter. They’ve got 14 assists on 20 made field goals now.
* Kelly Oubre in a funk: Oubre is a critical part of the Wizards’ second unit, but in eight minutes off the bench tonight, he’s 0-for-3 from the floor.
* Mike Scott is no longer concussed: Oh look! It’s Mike Scott, back in the lineup after entering the NBA concussion protocol on Wednesday night after taking a hit to the head against Orlando.
* END OF QUARTER 1: Toronto leads, 28-23: John Wall had nine points and four assists as he helped Washington survive a first quarter in which the Raptors shot 52 percent from the field. Toronto, meanwhile, is getting its offense from somewhat unexpected sources …
*Washington is weathering the storm: Toronto started strong as the Wizards dealt with some odd fouls early, but Washington bounced back with an 8-0 run — including a three-point play from John Wall and a nice dunk from Markeiff Morris — to stay competitive.
*Otto Porter is limping, both the bigs have fouls: Washington’s got some minor troubles early that could turn into major troubles. After sinking a big three-pointer early, it looks like Otto Porter is limping, or at least not able to run comfortably. Meanwhile, both Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi have two fouls. Nothing to do but put a small lineup on the floor.
* Just FYI, here’s something to keep an eye on: Who’s guarding DeRozan?
* Leaks don’t just happen in Washington: There’s been freezing rain all day in Toronto apparently, and it looks like Air Canada Centre sprang a leak. That delayed the game while officials made sure the court was safe enough for players.
* Of course I want to talk about the pregame outfits: Do you see that bee on John Wall’s Gucci sweater? Of course you do. John Wall wants you to know it doesn’t matter how polished and preppy John Wall looks. John Wall will sting you.
Kelly Oubre looks very Kelly Oubre in his high-waters. It wouldn’t be an NBA player arrival-outfit montage without a Supreme label somewhere. Markieff Morris looks well prepared for the snow in Toronto, but I have questions about the button-placement on his coat. I also don’t think I would look so imposing if I were carrying that pouch.
*UPDATE: I told you, John Wall will sting you:
* John Wall’s “legit brother”: John Wall’s pregame handshake ritual with his teammates apparently extends to opponents — when that opponent is Wall’s good friend DeMar DeRozan. Wall calls the Toronto all-star his “legit brother,” not just his “NBA Brother” (there’s a crucial difference), and spends time with DeRozan in the offseason. Saturday is the first time the two guards face each other this year, as Wall missed all four of the Wizards’ games against Toronto in the regular season.
Game 2: Tuesday, at Toronto, 7 p.m., NBCSW+ and NBA TV
Game 3: Friday at Washington, 8 p.m., NBCSW and ESPN2
Game 4: Sunday, April 22, at Washington, 6 p.m., NBCSW and TNT
Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, April 25, at Toronto, time TBD, NBCSW
Game 6 (if necessary): Friday, April 27, at Washington, time TBD, NBCSW
Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday, April 29, at Toronto, time and television TBD
Washington Wizards (No. 8 seed, 43-39, 2nd in Southeast Division) at Toronto Raptors (No. 1 seed, 59-23, 1st in Atlantic Division)
Date and time: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Channel: NBC Sports Washington and ESPN
Location: Air Canada Centre
Regular season series: Wizards 2, Raptors 2
>>On Thursday, Washington announced that forward Mike Scott is going through concussion protocol and that the team had signed veteran guard Ty Lawson for the playoffs. Friday, the league suspended Wizards sharpshooter Jodie Meeks for 25 games for violating the terms of the NBA-National Basketball Players Association anti-drug program, meaning he will be ineligible for postseason play.
>> Anyone expecting Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal to preview their first-round tilt against the Raptors by proclaiming themselves as “the best backcourt in the NBA” will be disappointed. Washington’s duo holds their northern rivals’ Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in high esteem.
>> While Toronto is the East’s top seed, the Wizards are still attempting to complete the task of finding themselves, which might be a greater challenge than the daunting opponent, writes Jerry Brewer.
>> In his postseason predictions, Tim Bontemps writes of Raptors-Wizards, “I want to pick Washington to win this series. The Wizards match up well with Toronto and have shown no fear for them this season … But it’s just impossible to put that much faith in this Wizards team after the way they’ve played this season.” He says it’s Toronto in seven games.
>> Though they’re the underdogs, the Wizards view a matchup with Toronto much more favorably than some of the other teams with lower seeds. And while the Wizards struggled all season with under .500 teams, just as they did on Wednesday in the loss to the Magic, they knocked off nine playoff-bound opponents after the all-star break. They also split the regular-season series with Toronto, players reasoned, and five-time all-star John Wall didn’t play a second in the four games.
>> Regular season success isn’t foreign to the Raptors, who have exceeded 50 wins each of the past two seasons. But in the postseason, the Raptors have clammed up, needing every ounce of their energy to escape from their first-round series and then continuing to struggle against actual contenders. Tim Bontemps explains how Toronto changed its approach this season in hopes of getting a different result.
>> The Raptors have the NBA’s best bench and have had a strong reserve unit for a while — their 2015 team actually had a higher bench BPM than their starters, which is unprecedented for a good team. But the reliance on the bench is also one of the causes of Toronto’s disappointing playoff results. Here’s a deeper look at the Raptors bench, with some names you may not recognize who are making a big impact.
>> Neil Greenberg crunched the numbers and the Raptors have the second-best chances of winning the title this season at 22.1 percent. The Wizards? Eh, you don’t want to know. But there’s better news for the Wizards: Washington has a 12 percent chance of upsetting Toronto in the opening round. So that’s something!
>> Finally, here’s a complete schedule for the NBA’s first round, with some quick analysis from Tim Bontemps.