If your starters get crushed in a head-to-head match-up against the other team’s bench, with the season on the line, you probably don’t deserve to win the game.
Lowry was the best player on the floor in the win, scoring 24 points on efficient shooting and providing absolutely stellar defense on the other end. Bradley Beal finished with 32 points and a few huge threes, but it simply wasn’t enough.
The Wizards originally got off to a rollicking start in Game 6, turning seven fast-break points and a few smooth jumpers into a 15-4 lead in the game’s opening minutes. The hot start was aided by some key rebounds by Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat, notable because the two-big line-up hadn’t been strong for the Wizards entering Friday’s action.
After some cold shooting over the next few minutes, Toronto snuck back into the game and cut the lead to six... until Mike Scott and the Wizards’ key bench players settled in. The combination of Wall and Lawson was sublime toward the end of the first quarter, getting out in transition and connecting repeatedly with Scott for easy buckets. By the end of one, the Wizards held a comfortable 30-20 lead.
Unfortunately, the second quarter opened with yet another Wizards cold streak, a common theme of the series. The Raptors’ strong defense, led by returning super-sub Fred VanVleet, spurred an immediate 12-4 run in Toronto’s favor. That run would prove to be a significant bit of foreshadowing for the fourth quarter, but Washington still held a three-point halftime lead.
Some choppy officiating led to a sluggish opening to the second half, and the Wizards’ offense slowed down to a crawl. No longer getting out in transition, Washington’s every possession began to feel like that old monotonous grind so familiar to this team. From the moment Wall was no longer getting easy baskets off of steals and misses, veteran fans could feel the season begin to slip away.
Toronto’s stifling half-court defense was dominant in the third, and the Raptors took their first lead of the game on a dazzling DeRozan alley-oop with around 6 minutes left in the period. The two teams traded buckets for the next few minutes before Scott Brooks made his first major coaching decision of the game: John Wall would not play the entire second half, like in Game 5.
Brooks substituted Lawson in for Wall, and the Wizards extended their lead to 78-73 by the end of the third after some tough Beal buckets and a beautiful Satoransky put-back. Brooks’ decision to stagger the House of Guards looked genius, stealing a few extra minutes of crucial rest for both guards.
But then the Raptors kept their reserves in for several minutes to open the fourth quarter, and Washington could not punish Dwane Casey’s decision — in fact, the bench mob outscored the Wizards’ starters over 5:45 of game time in the fourth to gift the well-rested Toronto starters a three-point lead. From there, it was elementary for the Raptors: Washington showed little fight over the remaining six minutes of the loss.
Put plainly, the Wizards looked exhausted throughout the entire fourth quarter. They were outworked at both ends. Careless mistakes abounded as Gortat threw away an easy outlet pass that could’ve shifted the momentum and Morris let an uncontested rebound slip away for an easy put-back that extended the Toronto lead. Wall was ineffective with a stalwart Pascal Siakam hounding him, Beal struggled yet again to get open from off-ball screens, and Kyle Lowry and Delon Wright were masterful in the waning moments.
The Wizards, at their very best, could compete with this Toronto team. They showed more in the playoffs than your average 43-win eight-seed. But two wins, both at home, are nothing to be proud of.
Not when you have John Wall and Bradley Beal, not when the bench surprises with its best postseason performance in years, not when this was once again supposed to be the year when it would be different.
And certainly not when the starters can’t muster up a winning effort against a bunch of bench players when their backs are against the wall. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played 31 and 33 minutes in a close-out Game 6 and their team won by double-digits. Wall and Beal have never had that luxury, and under this management, they never will.
Like the Raptors did last offseason, the Wizards need to change their process to take the next step with this stellar core. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be wise enough to do so.
Wall and Beal are still good
There were bad moments for these two throughout the series, but it’s still hard not to be impressed by the overall effort put forth by the Wizards’ all-star backcourt.
Beal picked up his play over the course of the series and shot over 40 percent from three on some tough attempts. Wall was the best player on the floor for the first few games despite coming off knee surgery and getting little time to recuperate before jumping into the pressure cooker.
These two were, on the whole, a better and more impactful duo than Lowry and DeRozan. If the Wizards can get them some help up and down the roster, then
Washington’s flaws were plainly obvious
Toronto’s starters were good in this series, but Washington still played them fairly evenly. It was the Raptors bench that made the difference in most games, keeping Toronto fresh for both ends of the floor late. Toronto’s half-court defense in particular was extremely impressive.
It’d be impossible to watch these Wizards and not realize how sorely they need to improve the back half of the roster. Between that and a front court that did the Wizards few favors, it’s not like the team’s deficits are a secret. Whether Ted Leonsis will act on those sights is another story.
Can the Wizards hold on to what went well this year?
The Wizards made a few nice bargain bin signings this season in Mike Scott and Ty Lawson, but both of those guys are likely to leave after this season. And despite a fantastic year from Tomas Satoransky, Scott Brooks still didn’t trust the skilled guard in the playoffs, leaving his future in doubt.
Some of the best bench players the Wizards have had in years could be on the way out the door, and the roster is almost entirely capped out as it is. Whoever has the reins of the team this summer will have quite the task at hand.
- The Wizards missed Otto Porter. Hopefully he can sort through his injury woes and come back strong next season.
- Where can the Wizards get a Fred Van Vleet? Or a Pascal Siakam? Or hell, even a lightly used CJ Miles?