For the fifth time in their last six meetings, the Toronto Raptors beat the Washington Wizards. The team's battles over the past two years have either featured Toronto cruising to easy wins or Washington and Toronto going to overtime to settle their differences.
For most of the game, it appeared we were set to see another Raptors blowout, but thanks to a late surge, the Wizards erased an 18 point fourth quarter deficit to force overtime. The Raptors, who shot well from distance most of the game, finally started to leave some shots short in the final quarter and John Wall used the long rebounds to start several fast breaks to help make the game close.
Then, in the closing seconds with a chance to force overtime, Paul Pierce did what he was brought to Washington to do:
Unfortunately, that was pretty much the last drop of offense the Wizards were able to squeeze out of their depleted squad. The Wizards only made two field goals in overtime, and one of those came on a dunk the Raptors conceded to Bradley Beal to avoid giving up a three pointer in the final seconds.
While the Wizards weren't able to come out with the win, the late rally to force overtime should leave Wizards fans with some encouragement. For the first time in quite a while, the Wizards showed they were able to take a punch from Toronto and swing back. While it may not have paid off in the end, it was step in the right direction.
Here's what we learned from tonight's thrilling, but disappointing game.
The bench is still struggling
After playing big parts in the Wizards' late surge against Phoenix, Randy Wittman rewarded Otto Porter and Garrett Temple with playing time late in the first quarter with the starters and early in the fourth quarter. Alongside players who can generate some offense, they responded well.
But when the second quarter began, Wittman opted to go with Miller, Temple and Porter on the perimeter and Humphries and Seraphin inside. Defensively, it made some sense to use Temple and Porter to defend Toronto's three-headed monster of Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams and Terrence Ross, and to their credit, they made things frustrating, though Toronto was still able to make some shots under duress.
On the other end, it just didn't come together. If you're rolling with a unit like that, you need pinpoint precision to create enough space to get a good look off, and they just haven't played together enough for that to work. They went scoreless for the first three plus minutes of the second quarter until Wall made an early return to get things going again. Even then, it took a few minutes for the team to adjust. By the time the damage was done, the Raptors had pulled off a 19-3 run that changed the entire dynamic of the game.
While the Wizards deserve credit for making all that ground up in the fourth quarter, you can't help but wonder where the game would have gone were they not in a double-digit deficit for most of the game because of the start to the second quarter.
Wall hobbles around, nearly gets a triple-double
John Wall played tonight despite missing practice on Friday and shootaround on Saturday while dealing with migraines and ankle issues. It was evident Wall wasn't quite himself. The ankle issues were kept him from doing a lot of the hesitation moves and side to side action that have helped him pace the game better as he's matured into an All Star.
He was reduced to playing like he did in his rookie and sophomore season: Attacking relentlessly on the fast break and making sharp drives in halfcourt sets to draw fouls and kick out to open shooters. Wall reminded us tonight that younger version of himself was still pretty exciting and hard for other teams to stop. He finished with 28 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds.
Marcin Gortat didn't play like a superhero
Marcin Gortat Action Figure night did not provide the spark Marcin Gortat needed get out of his recent slump. He had a season-low 2 points and tied a season-low with 2 rebounds. He also tied a season-high with four turnovers. He was subbed out with 5:26 left to go in the third quarter and never returned to the game.
On a positive note, going small and using Kris Humphries' midrange game to stretch the floor may very well have been the key to getting the Wizards back into the game. But still, the Wizards aren't going to go very far if Marcin Gortat's only super power is the ability to go invisible for long periods of time.
Beal excels against Toronto
In the preview for today's game, we mentioned Bradley Beal's struggles against Toronto's lengthy perimeter players. Tonight, he broke that trend in an emphatic way. He was assertive on the perimeter, going 5-10 from beyond the arc and 9-17 from the field. He also chipped in 4 assists to help lighten Wall's load a bit.
He missed a couple of shots late that could have helped the Wizards extend the game even longer, but it's hard to complain with his performance. Without some of the shots he made in the second and third quarter to keep things competitive, the game would have been out of comeback range by the start of the fourth quarter.