For the second year in a row, the fifth-seeded Washington Wizards have stolen home court advantage by forcing their opponent to play their brand of basketball on their home floor. The Wizards forced Raptors, who finished the season third in offensive efficiency, into a gritty, sloppy game that favored the Wizards. Toronto shot 38 percent from the field and 6-29 from the beyond the arc, and lost the rebounding battle decisively, 61-48.
The Wizards were led by Paul Pierce, who backed up his words about the Raptors lacking an 'It' factor, with an 18 point outing, driven by a key stretch in the second quarter when he lined up as the Wizards' power forward and silenced the Toronto crowd with big shots and some solid defense.
Though the Wizards won, there's still plenty Washington needs to work on if they want to leave Toronto with a 2-0 advantage. Here's what else we learned today:
The Wizards' late game performance still needs lots of work
As has been the case all season long, the Wizards' performance in the final minutes of the fourth quarter was not encouraging. Surprisingly, the Wizards' reserves helped maintain Wasington's lead halfway through the fourth quarter, but when the Wizards went back to their starters, things broke down. Even though Wittman went to lineups that prioritized spacing, using Pierce and Drew Gooden to space the floor, the Wizards wound up with lots of midrange shots from John Wall or Bradley Beal, who combined to go 11-41 from the field.
After slicing through the Raptors with excellent pace and spacing in the first half, the Wizards made the conscious decision to slow down the last three minutes of the game as if they were holding for the game winning shot on each possession. When the Raptors predictably made it difficult for Wall to attack the basket off the pick, it left him to make desperate shots or passes that allowed the Raptors to come back from a double-digit deficit to force overtime, even without Kyle Lowry, who in fairness, was forced to the bench by this incredible (and incredibly lucky) shot from Bradley Beal:
The Wizards survived in overtime when they loosened back up and got other players involved. Hopefully their performance after the fourth quarter serves as the impetus to stop trying to slow everything down in the closing minutes, but forgives us if we're not optimistic.
Paul Pierce delivers vintage Paul Pierce performance
If you've enjoyed Paul Pierce's career, his performance today had a little bit of everything you've enjoyed about his career:
- Hostile environment? Check.
- Playing through pain? Check.
- Defying expectations? Check.
- Big shots? Checkmate.
Otto Porter. Dagger.
Did Paul Pierce's tough love for Otto Porter earlier this week work? Sure seems like it:
Porter's offensive impact was minimal, but he did a great job defending DeMar DeRozan, which made playing Pierce at the 4 all the most beneficial.
Wittman makes some lineup changes. Some good, some bad.
As expected, Randy Wittman made some changes to his rotations to start the playoffs, but not all the ones we were anticipating. He went to a stretch four early, but it was Drew Gooden in tandem with Nene, rather than the Pierce-Gortat pairing many were expecting to see. But in fairness to Wittman, his hand may have been forced by Gortat picking up two early fouls, so that decision was understandable.
The more confusing decision was opting to go with a lineup that featured four reserves (Sessions, Porter, Gooden and Seraphin) for the early minutes of the second quarter. As you'd expect Patrick Patterson destroyed that lineup until Wittman went to the Wizards' White Whale lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Paul Pierce and Marcin Gortat. As you'd expect, the lineup delivered the spacing the Wizards needed, and unleashed Pierce in a role where he can be an effective scorer. The lineup was a +12 in the first half and guided the Wizards to halftime with a four point lead.
Surprisingly, the player who found himself on the outside of the rotation was Kris Humphries. Against the Raptors, limiting Humphries' minutes is somewhat defensible, but they still might need him for a stretch if Tyler Hansbrough gets going somehow.
All in all, the big win here was seeing Wittman go to lineups that can space the floor better, but moving forward he needs to find better ways to stagger the starters so that we're not seeing Kevin Seraphin taking 10 shots.