Saturday got off to an ominous start for the Toronto Raptors.
A franchise plagued with tropes of playoff failure, the top-seeded Raptors were supposed to be renewed for the 2018 postseason. No more shrinking stars in April and May. Fewer inefficient mid-range shots and more three-pointers. And, by all means, no more Game 1 losses after losing 10 straight in playoff series openers.
But the game was delayed thanks to a leaky roof at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. The realization set in that a Washington Wizards team that dropped to a No. 8 seed when All-Star point guard John Wall missed 41 games wasn’t really an 8 seed with Wall back.
And Toronto’s star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan fell right in line with their script of underachieving in the playoffs, combining for seven points on 2-for-8 shooting with zero three pointers a first half that the Wizards led 59-55.
Cue panic from the Raptors faithful. And cue urgency from the Raptors, who came out firing from halftime, getting quick 3-pointers from Lowry, DeRozan and Serge Ibaka in the first three minutes of the second half as if to say, “not this time.”
The Wizards kept things close through three quarters behind a strong effort from Wall, but a 10-0 Raptors run in the fourth quarter secured a 114-106 Game 1 win and fended off panic in Toronto that nothing had actually changed with this team.
“We knew what he had to do,” Lowry told ESPN. “We knew we had to play this like was a Game 7. We got the job done, and it was a good win by us.”
Lowry and DeRozan didn’t have huge games, but both bounced back with solid second halves. DeRozan finished with 17 points and six assists, hitting on 2-of-5 from three-point range, while Lowry logged 11 points, nine assists and came up with a big defensive play on Wall during Toronto’s pivotal fourth-quarter run.
Ibaka led the way with 23 points and 12 rebounds while hitting 3-of-4 from long range. And, as has been the case all season, the Raptors bench came up big with 42 points as head coach Dwane Casey ran an 11-man rotation.
Wall paced Washington with 23 points and 15 assists. But 15 of those assists came in the first three quarters as Toronto’s defense made things difficult in game’s final stanza. Bradley Beal scored 19 while Markieff Morris tallied 22 points and 11 rebounds. Morris rolled an ankle late in the fourth, but was able to return to the game.
It’s just one game, and Washington looks ready to give Toronto a run in this first-round matchup. But the Raptors made a statement in Saturday’s second half, showing fight that has eluded them in their previous 10 series openers.
• Dazzling playoff debut for Sixers’ young star
• Bad news for NBA. Warriors look invincible again
• Westbrook responds to announcer’s ‘cotton-picking’ comment
• Yahoo Sports’ 2018 NBA playoff predictions