After a weekend where there was all this buzz about the rising Washington Wizards, tonight was a pretty hard thud back to reality. Back to the reality where a star point guard is surrounded by a green second-year wingman, an aging frontcourt and limited role players that become useless when facing length and physicality.
There's no question the Toronto Raptors are a better team than the Wizards. Significantly better, in fact. This 103-93 win -- the Raptors' third over the Wizards' this season and the second decisive one on Washington's home floor -- only drove home that point further. They are deeper. They are longer. They are more versatile. They are more physical. They play much more cohesively, both offensively and defensively. And frankly, they are better coached. This is simultaneously a credit to them and a black mark on the Wizards, who constructed a team that should have been as good as Toronto, but isn't.
This game felt like the young kid challenging his father to a game of one-on-one, only to find that his youthful exuberance is no match for the dad's many tricks. The Raptors kept plugging help defenders off non-shooters, clogging John Wall's lanes. They sent deadly traps Bradley Beal's way, completely taking him out of the game. They accepted the Wizards' pick and roll coverages and simply moved the ball, relying on their underrated bigs to make plays. Toss in some crafty play from an angry Kyle Lowry in the third quarter, and there's your recipe for success.
The Wizards kept up for a while because Wall was spectacular, swishing the mid-range jumpers he was given and squeezing in passes to a rolling Marcin Gortat for layups. But Toronto adjusted its pick and roll coverage in the second half, taking Jonas Valanciunas out and playing a quicker lineup that allowed them to show hard. The Wizards were not ready and never adjusted. No quick passes to the big man to create a 4 on 3 situation. No declining of the screen to catch Toronto off-balanced. Just more of the same. The in-game non-adjustments were incredibly frustrating.
Sure, there was one last-ditch rally once Randy Wittman was ejected late in the fourth quarter. Sure, they had it down to six with a minute and a half remaining. But four minutes of good play doesn't erase the previous 44 minutes. There is nothing encouraging that should be drawn from what happened late in the game.
And again, it's especially depressing to see all this happen against a team like Toronto, which is overachieving and very clearly more than the sum of its parts. The Wizards don't really underachieve. They just achieve. They have a mediocre roster and are a mediocre team. As tonight's game showed, team's best assets cannot cover that up.
- Marcin Gortat had a nice game, but Nene was really bad until the very end. Toronto's frontcourt is physical, especially around the basket, and you have to be able to match that. Nene was not interested in matching that tonight. Too many jumpers, too little attacking the basket. That kind of stuff sets a tone.
- This game certainly provided some good ammunition to the crowd that believes backup point guard is a major priority. Garrett Temple's inability to provide any offense whatsoever was a big problem, and his normally-strong defense was victimized by Greivis Vasquez's tricky hesitation moves.
- Given the way Bradley Beal was being trapped, why put the ball in his hands that much on pick and rolls?
- Toronto has the bench the Wizards wish they could have built. Patrick Patterson continues to shoot the lights out and play great positional defense. Vasquez was tremendous. John Salmons gave some nice minutes when Terrence Ross got into foul trouble. Even Tyler Hansbrough made an impact. The Wizards' bench, on the other hand, was useless.