WASHINGTON -- The final score was 96-88. The game was much worse.
Thanks in large part to a lethargic performance from John Wall, the Wizards began their second half in ugly fashion, falling to a Raptors team that really didn't do much offensively. Wall ended up hitting only one of his 12 field goals, committing seven turnovers and scoring just nine points in one of the worst games of his career, if not the very worst.
Rather than continue rising up the point guard chain, Wall played like he'd learned nothing in his first two-plus seasons in the NBA. The Raptors did a great job packing the paint and taking away the skip pass to the corner three-point shooter, but Wall has to adjust better than he did. His jumper continues to shows no development from his rookie season, and his high dribble made it impossible to manipulate space for his benefit. Toronto's defensive gameplan was excellent, but Wall simply has to be better.
The Wizards fell behind in the first half thanks to two lethargic stretches: the end of the first quarter and the end of the second quarter. In both cases, poor offensive spacing really hurt. Toronto's help defenders all cheated off their men to pack the paint, and the Wizards compounded the problem by running too many screeners into the middle and not spacing enough players on the perimeter. The Raptors played off Wall and cut out his driving lanes, which explains part of why he struggled so much in the first half.
The beginning of the second half didn't go any better for Wall, though. On his first play, the Raptors had two guys play between him and the passing lane to Nene, and when he tentatively rose up for a jumper, they blocked his shot. On other plays, they closed down the two areas he wanted to go: in the paint and to the weakside corner. On one fast break, Wall got to the rim, but Amir Johnson jumped straight up and cut off his layup attempt, forcing Wall into a bad pass that nearly got stolen. Toronto scouted him very well, but Wall was hanging his head a lot and not showing much fight.
Still, the Raptors never really pulled away. Poor offense, thanks mostly to clanked Gay jumpers, kept Washington within striking distance throughout the third quarter, even as they couldn't create offense. Washington continued to dig in defensively as they always do and forced the Raptors to take a lot of long twos. But their offense remained stuck in neutral, and they ended up trailing, 73-65, after three quarters.
The Wizards' second unit ate into the lead early in the fourth quarter, spurred once again by nice defense. Nene and Trevor Booker made some strong drives to the hoop from the free-throw line, attacking Toronto's interior defenders and making difficult shots. A Nene free throw cut the Raptors' lead to four with just over eight minutes to go, providing hope for a comeback.
Wall eventually returned with 8:01 to go, but things did not get any better. On the first defensive possession, he let John Lucas get middle when the coverage called for him to force Lucas baseline, surrendering a layup. Then, he nearly threw it away on the break, clanked a jumper, then had his shot blocked by Johnson on a subsequent possession. Toronto ultimately pushed the lead to nine points.
Washington kept it close, but they couldn't finish the comeback or even finish plays at all. Wall, Beal and Ariza all got right to the rim against the Raptors' defense, but couldn't complete any of the layups they had. Wall seemed to get frustrated, driving as hard as he could without balancing himself to finish against Toronto's trees. The nightmare game ultimately got put out of reach for good when Wall's bullet pass to a cutting Nene deflected off his fingers for a turnover that led to a Gay three to put Toronto up 11.
No question about it: Wall's play in this game was incredibly concerning. The Raptors exposed all of his weaknesses and he was powerless to adjust. One would hope that this is a wakeup call for him to improve his shooting, ball-handling and decision-making.
- Rudy Gay, such a strange player. He takes some really bad shots, but he can get hot for a stretch and carry you offensively, like he did in the second quarter. It's also kind of odd how all the rest of the Raptors seem to improve their games playing with him. It's not like the Wizards sent a lot of extra attention his way, so I'm honestly a bit confused.
- Nene often struggles against length, and he really struggled early against Jonas Valanciunas. Jonas is going to be a really good player in this league for a long time.
- I liked what I saw from Trevor Ariza in the second quarter. He seemed to attack closeouts quickly off the bounce, and his cutting helped open up offensive opportunities.
- One of my least favorite possessions: the Wizards come out of a timeout, the Raptors go zone and everyone on the Wizards looks like mice trying to navigate a maze. If you watch the Raptors a lot, you should know that Dwane Casey likes to do that to keep the defense off-balanced. The Wizards looked completely unprepared and forced a bad shot by Bradley Beal. That can't happen.
- It was pretty amazing to hear chants for Wittman to put Jordan Crawford in. More and more, it seems like the Wizards just don't want anything to do with him.