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.