The Raptors aren’t going to put this one in the vault as a template for how this team should play, but there is no overstating how important Toronto’s victory in Game 1 was with the Washington Wizards, their first win in a series opener in 11 tries dating back to 2001.
And there is no question Saturday’s 114-106 win would not have gone down the way it did had the Raptors not made some fundamental changes to the way they play the game.
Long before the ball was tipped off Saturday, the Raptors knew the Wizards were going to try to take both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry out of the equation in terms of scoring.
Raptors win over Washington Wizards in Game 1 of Eastern Conference – First Round
Double teams were expected and the Wizards didn’t disappoint.
Only this wasn’t 2015 any more and these Raptors are a different from the group that got swept three years ago by the Wizards.
Forget that only three Raptors — Lowry, DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas — remain from that team. The entire Raptors season has been devoted to building a structure that makes the strategy of taking away Lowry and DeRozan and forcing everyone else to beat you a losing strategy. And on Saturday that decision was vindicated.
“We were prepared,” Casey said. “We knew they were gonna try to take out DeMar and Kyle. They had, what, 15 or 16 assists between them, so we were prepared for that. Other than that, we were just trying to find energy, speed, and quickness to match theirs.”
DeRozan said the Raptors don’t just expect that strategy now, but they would be disappointed if teams did something else.
“Yeah, definitely, that’s our mindset,” he said. “But the confidence we have in our teammates, we kind of want that. It’s great that our teammates can respond the way they did.”
So instead of DeRozan knocking down runners in the lane or Lowry hitting his pull-up threes for the bulk of the night, this game saw more Serge Ibaka hitting from behind the arc or pump-faking from distance and then knocking down mid-range jumpers on his way to a game-high 23-point night.
Right behind him was Delon Wright, who had one of his most impressive games in a Raptors uniform with 18 points in just under 25 minutes.
Throw in a dozen points from rookie OG Anunoby and it didn’t really matter much whether Lowry and DeRozan scored at all.
Through the first half, the all-stars really didn’t but seemed to get a little more aggressive in the second and wound up with 11 and 17 points respectively, combining for 15 assists as well.
Lowry,it should be pointed out, did so while battling a flu bug that had him coughing through his post-game press conference.
“Yeah, it’s kind of built up, but I’m never going to say anything,” Lowry said. “I just go out there and do my job. My teammates count on me, and we knew this game was important. Nothing matters but going out there to battle with your teammates.”
Casey was pleased with the way both Lowry and DeRozan handled the entire game.
“I thought DeMar and Kyle did a good job of taking what the game gave them,” Casey said. “I thought they were a little bit more aggressive after half because the game gave them that. They (Wizards) kind of eased back a little on the double-teams to start the third quarter.
“I think it’s consistent of what we’ve been trying to do the entire year — move the ball and set up other people and trust other people to make plays when they were trying to take those two out, and they did.”
It wasn’t all rainbows and puppy dogs however for Toronto. There were those 17 turnovers that led to 20 points that will get a lot of attention over the next two days before the two teams do battle again.
And finding a way to slow down John Wall will get video attention and court time, as well. Wall finished up with 23 points and 15 assists in the loss and looked unstoppable at times.
The Wizards may look back at a costly flagrant foul by Mike Scott with about 10 minutes to go as the beginning of the end to their hopes in Game 1.
Scott, who had a solid game with 14 points, threw a shoulder into Lowry on a drive with 10 minutes to go and the Raps were down three. Lowry converted both free throws and then a Delon Wright reverse running layup off a steal put the Raptors back on top.
The Raptors got a stop at their own end as Markieff Morris, who couldn’t miss most of the night, had trouble going over the length of Lucas Nogueira who had just come into the game and came up short.
Lowry then took the ball deep into Washington’s paint before kicking it out to a wide-open C.J. Miles who hit his third three of the night to give Toronto a four-point cushion.
The Wizards never threatened again.
The two teams will have two full days to go over their weaknesses before they do battle again in Game 2 on Tuesday at 7 p.m., at the Air Canada Centre.