- The Washington Times
Sunday, April 15, 2018

In the Wizards’ 114-106 loss Saturday in Game 1 to the Toronto Raptors, the All-Star backcourts battled to a virtual draw.

Neither group was particularly spectacular.John Wall had a game-high 23 points, but struggled shooting the ball — finishing just 6-of-20.

Bradley Beal managed only 19 points in a game-high 41 minutes. For the Raptors, Kyle Lowry had 11 points, while DeMar DeRozan put up 17.

On the surface, it seems like Washington would gladly take the subpar production from Toronto’s stars.

So just how the heck did the Wizards lose?

Simple: Toronto hit more 3s and their bench took over.Washington had no answer for the two elements that have defined the Raptors’ success this season — their depth and their long-range shooting.

“The 3-point ball is powerful, and you’ve got to stop it or do it yourself,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Tonight, we weren’t able to stop it, nor do it ourselves. We just have to do a better job.”

This wasn’t a surprise to the Wizards.

Entering the series, they preached being aware of the Raptors’ shooters and their reserves. Toronto ranked third in 3-point attempts per game and fifth in bench points.

The Raptors’ 59-win season came after an offseason in which they retooled their depth and installed a more 3-point heavy offense.

Still, there was a belief that in the playoffs — when defensive play intensifies — the Raptors would be prone to reverting to bad habits. 

Lowry and DeRozan rose to stardom based off isolation-heavy basketball. Both are talented players with the ability to score that doesn’t always translate to playoff success.

But in Game 1, the Raptors stuck with their new style, despite the game being close.

When Lowry and DeRozan couldn’t make shots, they moved the ball and the Raptors repeatedly found open shooters.

The Raptors went 16-of-30 from beyond the arc. The Wizards, meanwhile, shot just 38.1 percent (8-of-21) from deep.

Toronto’s production, too, came from role players.

Delon Wright had 18 points off the bench, while forward C.J. Miles drained four 3-pointers. They were both on the floor for a pivotal 17-5 run in the fourth quarter that swung the game.

“That’s what they gonna do for them every game,” Wall said of Toronto’s bench. “We’ve got to make adjustments.”

Toronto coach Dwane Casey used 11 players total, sticking with his normal rotation. Many wondered, including Brooks, if Casey would adjust minutes for the playoffs — given rotations get shorter — or stay with the formula that led to a 59-win season.

Brooks, on the other hand, tightened his rotation — and didn’t have the depth to match.

Wizards forward Mike Scott played well, shooting 70 percent for 14 points in 27 minutes. But outside of him, Tomas Satoransky played just 12 minutes, while Kelly Oubre saw 16. Each was a nonfactor, scoring no more than three points. Brooks played 10 guys, but two of them played less than five minutes.

The Raptors will get even deeper when guard Fred VanVleet returns from a shoulder injury. He missed Game 1 after getting hurt in Toronto’s season finale.

Fundamentally, the Wizards face a choice: how much do they focus on Lowry and DeRozan versus Toronto’s depth? Toronto could easily win a game if either star goes off.

That’s why Toronto finished as a No. 1 seed — and it’s the challenge the Wizards need to solve, if they want to advance any further.

“It definitely is a pick-your-poison, but we’ve got to do it better,” Brooks said. “We’ve got to be able to close out on point, close out on the catch, know who has the ball and which way to close out on him. Some guys can just flat-out shoot … we’ve got to know that and understand that.”

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