10 things: Shorthanded Raptors survive late charge from Wizards

William Lou
NBA reporter

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 122-118 win over the Washington Wizards.

One — Narrow: The Raptors led by double-digits for most of the night, but it wouldn’t be a Wizards-Raptors game without some drama. Washington launched a furious comeback in the fourth quarter led by two Raptor-killers in Bradley Beal (37 points) and Ish Smith (26 points, perfect 9-of-9 from the field), which forced the Raptors to execute and make clutch plays to win it. Kyle Lowry drilled a crucial pull-up three, while Fred VanVleet nailed four free throws to seal the deal.

Two — Sustained: The Raptors are now 16-0 against teams under .500, and that streak can be expected to continue even with Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell suffering injuries. Toronto has just enough talent left over and too much defensive discipline to lose to bad teams. They will be shorthanded against top-tier opponents, and this effort tonight will not be enough against the likes of Dallas, Indiana, or Boston in the upcoming schedule, but there will be enough breaks in the schedule to prevent a prolonged slide and to keep them afloat in the standings.

Three — Solid: VanVleet was rusty after missing his last five games with a knee injury, but he still delivered 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the win. VanVleet’s finishing was off, as he left a few layups short, but his burst and quickness are back to normal. Nick Nurse also showed discretion in his usage, as he resisted the urge to extend VanVleet’s minutes while Washington mounted their comeback. And once VanVleet returned, he delivered a calming presence and helped the Raptors close out the game.

Four — Productive: Lowry did the heavy lifting for the Raptors and finished with 29 points, four rebounds, and nine assists in 41 laborious minutes. Lowry was tasked with running both the starting lineup, while also propping up the shorthanded bench units. On defense, Lowry had to check the league’s hottest three-point shooter in Davis Bertans, who entered tonight averaging four threes per game on 46 percent shooting from deep. Not only did Lowry deliver in crunch time with a triple and four free throws, but he also limited Bertans to a miserable 3-of-15 performance from the field.

Five — Concern: Having said that, Lowry’s brilliance isn’t enough to compensate for the dire state of Toronto’s second unit. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson became the go-to option, and while he did nail a three and draw a handful of fouls on his unpredictable turnaround jumper, that just isn’t a formula for success. The trio of Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, and Malcolm Miller provided next to nothing all game, which opened the door to Washington’s comeback. Davis and Boucher, in particular, need to rediscover their November form, because it can’t just be Lowry and Hollis-Jefferson carrying the show.

Six — Solid: Pat McCaw drew the start at small forward, and he repaid Nurse’s trust by knocking down a momentous three in the fourth quarter to keep the Raptors ahead. McCaw was tasked to guard Beal, and although the results were bad (Beal scored 37), McCaw did execute the game plan set out by Nurse. In the first half, the Raptors were able to keep Beal in check by having McCaw pressure him, while a second help defender rotated over on the perimeter to discourage the shot. Washington eventually solved this by having Beal attack McCaw off a high screen in the middle of the floor with shooters in each corner, and by benching two entirely useless starters in Ian Mahinmi and Isaac Bonga.

Seven — Bruised: OG Anunoby hit the deck more than all the other players combined. Washington’s defenders hammered him each time, but Anunoby was relentless on his drives to the rim. At one point in the fourth quarter, after Anunoby’s nose was split open for a second time, there was blood pouring down his face as he knocked down a key free throw. Anunoby’s willingness and insistence on offense will be needed in the coming weeks, as this is a perfect opportunity for him to showcase the growth in his game.

Eight — Efficient: Serge Ibaka was excellent with the starters, and seems to have rediscovered his chemistry with Lowry. Ibaka delivered 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, and was consistently in the right spots to punish the Wizards’ lack of focus on defense. Ibaka is fully capable of putting up 20-point efforts if given extended run, and his confidence seems to be restored after a shaky spell following his ankle injury. Ibaka’s rim protection was also a key factor in Toronto establishing a commanding lead early in the first quarter, but that became nullified later in the game once Washington’s guards caught fire from deep.

Nine — Atrocious: It shouldn’t be this way, but poor officiating continues to be a distraction. Washington and Toronto combined to shoot 76 free throws which killed any semblance of flow. From the first quarter onward, it was just a series of make-up calls going both ways that irritated both teams.

Ten — Wasted: Beal can’t be traded this year since he just signed a new extension, but he deserves to be in a winning environment. Beal is an elite shooting guard with no weaknesses in his offensive game, and a competitive streak to boot. His talents are completely wasted in Washington.

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