Wizards show some fight, top Raps 122-103, get series to 2-1

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WASHINGTON (AP) — All of about 2 1/2 minutes into the game, Washington forward Markieff Morris and Toronto’s OG Anunoby needed to be separated after a near-fight that drew in other players.

Early in the third quarter Friday night, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was called for a flagrant foul when he swiped a hand across Bradley Beal‘s forehead as the Wizards guard went in for a breakaway layup. Later in that period, things really came close to spiraling out of control, but John Wall‘s bodyguard interceded when Washington’s All-Star jawed with Toronto’s Serge Ibaka.

As that scene unfolded on the court, spectators directed “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chants at the opponents from Canada, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” blared over the arena’s speakers. Amid all the ruckus, Beal and Wall kept their heads and helped the Wizards pull further and further away for a 122-103 victory.

What was once a dull, lopsided series is suddenly quite interesting.

Beal heeded his coach’s plea to “do his job” by scoring 21 of his 28 points in the first half, Wall delivered 28 points and 14 assists, and the eighth-seeded Wizards cut their Eastern Conference first-round playoff deficit to 2-1.

“We’re not going out to try to box every game,” Beal said, before describing Morris as “a bully with a smile.”

Added Beal: “We came out tonight with an edge about ourselves.”

After letting the Raptors grab the first 2-0 series lead in franchise history, the Wizards came home and checked off every box coach Scott Brooks presented. They got Beal more involved after he made only three shots in Game 2; they actually led after the first quarter, 30-29; they produced 19 turnovers that led to 28 points.

“They came out and punched us,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “And we allowed them to.”

He meant that figuratively, of course, but the choice of words sure seemed apt.

The Raptors did appear to take the worse of the physical nature of the game.

DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 23 points, wore a Band-Aid under his right eye afterward. Reserve Pascal Siakam held a bag of ice over a cut on his lip that required three stitches.

“Ain’t nobody fighting out here,” said Lowry, who had 19 points and eight assists. “I mean, it got physical, but ain’t nobody fighting. It’s a heated moment, but that’s the game of basketball.”

Each team boasts a pair of elite, All-Star guards. This time, Washington’s pair came out on top.

The start initially had the look of “Here we go again,” as Toronto moved ahead 27-18. The Raptors, after all, outscored Washington by an average of 11 points in the first period over Games 1 and 2. But this time, Washington responded with a 12-point run capped by Beal’s 3 with under a minute left.

Beal scored 12 in the quarter a day after he, Wall and Brooks met to discuss ways to get Beal more involved in the offense. Entering Friday, Beal was averaging only 14 points in the playoffs, well below his 22.6 average during the regular season.

“We need both our guys to step up,” Brooks said about Beal and Wall. “It was good tonight.”

 

Raptors set records, exorcise demons in Game 2 rout of Wizards

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Maybe the pessimistic Toronto fan base is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe the sports talking heads that watch NBA basketball on Christmas and during the playoffs expect a meltdown.

But the Toronto Raptors have started to believe in themselves.

Toronto set records and exorcised demons in Game 2 against Washington Tuesday night. Here are just a few highlights:

• They set the franchise playoff record for most points in the first quarter (44), the first half (76), and the game (130).

• They set the franchise playoff record for most threes made in a half with 11 (on 22 shots).

DeMar DeRozan looked completely comfortable in the postseason spotlight with a career playoff high 37 points on the night.

• When John Wall led a Wizards comeback to cut what had been a 23-point deficit to 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Raptors got back to executing and defending and quickly put the game out of reach again.

• Most importantly the Toronto Raptors had never been up 2-0 in a playoff series.

They are now after a 130-119 rout of the Wizards Tuesday night in Toronto.

Game 3 is in Washington on Friday night — the Wizards better bring a real sense of urgency to that game.

Because they didn’t on Tuesday night. This game was effectively over in the first quarter.

From the opening tip it was all Toronto, racing out to a 14-4 lead, hitting threes, with OG Anunoby getting seven fast points. And the run just kept going and going and going, soon it was 34-13 Toronto. They are getting shots at the rim and if the Wizards defense collapsed they kicked it out for an open three. The Wizards had no defensive answers.

On the other end, the Wizards stuck primarily with a Wall/Marcin Gortat pick and roll, which the Raptors defended well with two players so they could stay home on shooters. Energized by their offense, the Raptors were making defensive plays, Kyle Lowry in particular. The Wizards were the opposite. The Raptors just kept getting open threes.

Meanwhile, DeRozan just got to his spots on the floor, attacked, and tore the Wizards up.

“He’s grown a lot (in reading the game),” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “Two years ago, I don’t know what he would have done, but he did an excellent job of reading what the defense was doing to him and making them pay.”

Washington made it a little interesting, cutting the lead to 10 after three quarters behind John Wall’s 22 points, but the Raptors had answers to every Wizards push.

For the Wizards, there are a lot of questions to answer going home to effectively a must-win situation.

How can a team down 0-1 in a series come out flat, without any sense of urgency in Game 2? How can they find some urgency before Game 3?

How can they get Bradley Beal going? He has averaged just 14 points per game on 39.5 percent shooting through two games, and hitting just 27.3 from three.

“The Raptors are doing a job with him, they’re being physical,” Wizards’ coach Scott Brooks said of Beal.”He’s missed some open shots, he hasn’t been able to get into the lane and to the free throw line…. We need him. We’re going to have trouble beating this team if he doesn’t play better. He will.”

How can Washington get Marcin Gortat going?

However, by far the biggest issue is Washington’s defense, which has allowed an average of 122 points per game through the first two in this series. The Wizards’ lazy defensive habits from the regular season have come home to roost in this series — the Raptors are moving the ball, cutting off the ball, penetrating into the paint then kicking out to wide-open shooters and the Wizards are being caught flat-footed on all of it.

Ty Lawson, signed just before the playoffs after having been in the Chinese league this season, played his first game for the Wizards and provided a little spark (especially with Wall in foul trouble at points). He had 14 points on 10 shots with eight assists. But Lawson was never a great defender, and he literally just joined this team — he has no defensive chemistry with his teammates. He’s not a long-term answer.

Washington has been a Jekyll and Hyde team all season. The other team had better show up Friday or this series is all but over.

Serge Ibaka scores 23, Raptors win Game 1 against Wizards 114-106

Associated Press
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TORONTO (AP) — Serge Ibaka had 23 points and 12 rebounds, Delon Wright scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and the Toronto Raptors snapped a 10-game losing streak in playoff series openers by beating the Washington Wizards 114-106 on Saturday.

DeMar DeRozan added 17 points, C.J. Miles and OG Anunoby each had 12, and Kyle Lowry had 11 points and nine assists for the Raptors, whose only previous victory in the opening game of a playoff series came in the second round against Philadelphia in 2001.

Toronto entered having lost an NBA-worst 10 consecutive Game 1s since, including six at home.

The top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, Toronto made 16 of 30 3-point attempts, with Miles making four, and Ibaka and Wright each hitting three.

The Raptors host Game 2 on Tuesday.

John Wall had 23 points and 15 assists for the Wizards, while Markieff Morris had 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Bradley Beal scored 19 points for Washington, while Mike Scott had 14 and Marcin Gortat 12.

Washington led 91-88 when Scott was called for a flagrant foul after using his elbow to knock Lowry down early in the fourth. Lowry made both free throws and, on the ensuing possession, Wright gave Toronto the lead with a layup. After a missed shot by Morris, Miles hit a 3 to cap a 7-0 run that gave the Raptors a 95-91 lead with 9:26 left.

Kelly Oubre Jr. hit a 3 and Gortat made a dunk to put Washington back in front, but Wright and Miles each hit 3-pointers as Toronto used an 8-0 run to take a 103-96 lead with 6:27 left, and never trailed again.

Anunoby made his first two 3-pointers and led Toronto with eight points in the first as the Raptors led 28-23 after one. Wall scored nine points in the opening quarter.

Gortat and replacement Ian Mahinmi each had two fouls before the first quarter was half over. Gortat picked up his first when he fouled Jonas Valanciunas on the opening tip.

Beal scored seven points in the second, five of them in a 10-2 Wizards run that gave Washington a 42-41 lead with 6:20 left in the half. Scott had eight points in the quarter as the Wizards led 59-55 at halftime.

Toronto reclaimed the lead with an 11-2 spurt to start the third. DeRozan scored 12 points in the quarter as the Raptors took a slim 86-85 lead into the fourth.

The game was about five minutes late tipping off because of an apparent issue with moisture on the court along the baseline adjacent to Washington’s bench. Arena staffers continued to dry the area periodically throughout the game.

 

Three Things to Know: Nothing but takeaways from Cavaliers beating Raptors

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Today we’re doing things a little differently, despite some other interesting games — Dwight Howard dropping 30-and-30, the genuine concern about Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ankle, and the Pelicans beating the Pacers because Anthony Davis is ridiculous — we are going to focus on the likely Eastern Conference Finals matchup of Toronto at Cleveland, which the Cavaliers won 132-129.

What we are not taking away from this is a prediction of a playoff matchup between these two teams. Forget the fact that regular season meetings are crappy predictors of playoff series in general, here are three other issues: 1) Toronto was on the second night of a back-to-back and it was their fifth game in seven days, which factored into their poor defense and late fade; 2) Cleveland is going to be healthier and have different guys in the rotation come the playoffs; 3) If Dwane Casey or Larry Drew/Tyronn Lue have a tactic they think could be a great weapon against the other side, no chance they break it out for long in a late-season game — they will save it for the playoffs. Sort of like to NFL teams playing each other in week 16 when they know they could meet in the playoffs. We didn’t see the best of either side.

That said, let’s get on to the real three things.

1) The biggest factor in the Eastern Conference remains LeBron James and his level of play. There are questions about how well the new-look Raptors will carry over to the playoffs. There are more questions (at least in my mind) about how well this Cavaliers roster can defend, even when healthy. All that said, this game was a reminder of one simple fact:

LeBron James can lift a team to the NBA Finals almost by himself — he’s been to seven straight Finals for a reason. He is the force of nature, he’s still playing at an MVP-level (at age 33 in his 15th season), and he took over this game with 35 points, 17 assists, and zero turnovers.

LeBron shot 62 percent from three on the night, had 14 points and 5 assists in the fourth quarter alone, and was the difference in this game. OG Anunoby is the guy the Raptors will likely lean on in the playoffs to make LeBron work for his buckets, but he looked like a guys still working his way back from injury (and like a rookie with tired legs late in the season), it was Pascal Siakam who did the best of any Raptor (LeBron was 4-of-10 with Siakam guarding him on the night). That’s something we would see in the postseason, but nobody really had an impact, and the Raptors need to figure out how to make LeBron work harder for his buckets.

Put simply, the Eastern Conference is all about LeBron James. Still. And it will remain so until further notice.

2) Which one of these teams will defend better come the playoffs? The Cleveland Cavaliers gave up 79 first-half points and allowed the Raptors a 135.8 offensive rating on the night (points per 100 possessions). Kyle Lowry put it this way after the game, “Disgraceful display of defense by us. We’ve got to be better than that.” The Cavaliers had an offensive rating of 140.4 (stats via Cleaning the Glass).

Neither team defended well. If this was an Eastern Conference playoff preview, the team that improves their defense the most between now and then will come out on top.

Toronto has defended better all season — they are fifth in the NBA in defensive rating — but it didn’t show Wednesday. Maybe it was the back-to-back, fifth-game-in-seven-days that took their legs out from under them, particularly for the older Serge Ibaka who had an off night on both ends. (Tired legs also would explain the lack of transition points by the Raptors on the night, they needed those easy buckets). Maybe it’s the fact nobody has a good answer for LeBron. Maybe a lot of things, but the Raptors need to do better defensively in a playoff series or the outcome will be the same.

The Cavaliers lack cohesion on defense, and while they will get better defenders back from injury — Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr. — that is not going to speed up the team getting used to each other on that end. Cleveland has to have better energy, they need to close out on shooters better (the Raptors got open looks late on kickouts, they missed injured C.J. Miles), and they just need more efforts like veteran Jose Calderon gave (it was a good night for him). Cleveland has time to get its defenders on the same page, but not a lot of it.

3) Is Toronto’s bench going to matter as much in the playoffs? Toronto’s bench unit has been key to their success all season — the Raptors took a double-digit lead in the second quarter thanks to their bench (who has done that to teams all season long). The Raptors lineup of Jakab Poeltl, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright was +6 in 10 minutes Wednesday. The Lowry plus bench unit has killed teams all season long.

Will it matter in the playoffs?

Right now coaches are going nine or 10 deep in their rotations, and the Raptors depth matters in that situation — their bench can beat your bench. It happened against the Cavaliers. However, come the playoffs the minutes that went to guys nine and 10 in the rotation go to guys one and two — the bench tightens way up, and the best players get more minutes. A deep bench doesn’t have the same impact.

What that bench will provide Casey in the playoffs is options — if Anunoby is struggling against LeBron bring in Siakam — but it’s not the same as the regular season. I love that in big games recently against the Thunder and Cavaliers Casey is still playing around with his lineups for stretches — now is the time to experiment. Now is the time to get guys used to playing with each other. That way, come the playoffs, Casey can throw the combination out there that he thinks works and there will be familiarity.

But the Raptors will need more from their starters in the playoffs because the bench will not have the same impact.

Lowry scores 30, Raptors end Rockets’ win streak at 17 games

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TORONTO (AP) – Kyle Lowry scored 30 points, DeMar DeRozan had 23 and the Toronto Raptors beat Houston 108-105 on Friday night, snapping the Rockets’ 17-game winning streak.

James Harden scored 40 points but the Rockets lost for the first time since Jan. 26 at New Orleans.

Jonas Valanciunas had 14 points and 10 rebounds as the Raptors won their seventh straight in a matchup between the respective conference leaders.

The Rockets shot 9 for 27 from 3-point range, matching their fewest made 3-pointers of the season.

Clint Capela had 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Rockets. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon each scored 14 points, and Trevor Ariza had 13 as Houston’s road winning streak ended at 10.

Houston tied it at 102 on Harden’s 3 with 2:10 remaining, but DeRozan restored Toronto’s lead with a jump shot with 1:49 left.

Paul missed a go-ahead 3 with 14 seconds to play, then fouled Lowry in the scramble for the rebound. Lowry made both, giving the Raptors a 106-102 lead with 10 seconds to go.

Gordon answered with a 3, making it a one-point game. Houston fouled Valanciunas, who made a pair to put Toronto up by 3 with 5.4 seconds to go.

Harden got the final shot but his deep 3 from the edge of the center court circle went short, giving the Raptors the win.

Lowry connected on his first five shots and scored 13 points in the opening quarter as Toronto led 32-16. The Rockets missed eight of their first 10 field goal attempts and shot 6 for 21 in the first, missing all five 3-point attempts. It was Houston’s lowest-scoring first quarter of the season and just the second time they’ve failed to score at least 20 points in the first.

Harden scored nine points in the second but the Rockets continued to struggle from long range, making one of four 3-point shots. DeRozan had seven points for the Raptors, who led 58-43 at halftime.

Houston’s only lower-scoring first half this season was a 39-point effort in a Feb. 26 win at Utah.

The Rockets were 1 for 12 from 3-point range before Harden drained back-to-back shots with 2:48 left in the third. Harden scored 14 in the third, overcoming nine points from Lowry, as Houston cut the deficit to 83-75 after three.

TIP-INS

Rockets: F Ryan Anderson (left hip) missed his sixth straight game. … Joe Johnson returned after missing the previous two games because of an illness. … The Rockets had 62 points in the paint.

Raptors: Forward OG Anunoby (sprained right ankle) missed his fourth straight game. … G Delon Wright (sprained right big toe) was unavailable after leaving Wednesday’s win at Detroit. Wright initially suffered the injury in Tuesday’s home win over Atlanta.

UP NEXT

Rockets: Visit Dallas on Sunday. Houston has won seven straight in the series, its third-longest streak all-time.

Raptors: Visit New York on Sunday.

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