The Raptors are already shaking narratives around their postseason woes after only 48 minutes of basketball on Saturday. The infamous streak of 10 straight Game 1 losses has been bucked, and Raps fans can remain hopeful that it was just the start of great things to come.
With that in mind, what can we take away from Toronto’s 114-108 Game 1 win?
John Wall Is Still a Problem
Despite four prior meetings in the regular season, this was the first time this season that the Raptors have met this Wizards squad with a healthy John Wall. Contrary to all the talking heads buzzing word of him holding them back because of his ball-stopping, his athleticism allows the Wiz to get open shots in different ways. On multiple occasions, Wall blew by his primary defender, forcing the help to come, and then either kicked it for an open shot, or dished it to a big to finish. Plays like the one below led to his 13 points and 10 assists in the first half.
John Wall up top to Markieff! ?
— NBA (@NBA) April 14, 2018
Fortunately, Casey found a way to slow him down, throwing various defenders and schemes at him in the second half, and holding Wall to a lesser 10 points and 5 assists in the final two frames. The perennial All-Star even missed layups that he normally makes, and shooting 30% on 20 attempts, which will likely improve going forward. Hopefully Casey’s plethora of perimeter defenders, and throwing big guys in the middle like Bebe Nogueira who I’ll get into later, will be able to slow Wall’s other-worldly quickness going forward.
Thriving in Steady Freddy’s Absence
There really no longer are any words to describe the contribution of Fred VanVleet. As award ballots have trickled in, many have Freddy at 2nd or 3rd for Sixth Man of the Year. He was set to be a key player in this series starting from the getgo, and when reports of him missing the opener trickled out, fans panicked collectively. The numbers back up the idea that a Fred was a huge loss for this one. In the regular season, VanVleet played three of the four games against the Wizards. Not only were the Raps 2-1 in the games he played, but they were +41 with him on the court and -36 with him on the bench. He consistently led the bombarding of a weaker Wizards bench. The lack of depth on Washington has been well-documented, and that’s where the Raptors need to take over this series.
But even without their captain, the bench remained impeccable, as Delon Wright went 7-10 from the field in one of his best games as a Raptor filling in for Fred as the primary ball-handler off the bench. Getting Fred back for Game 2 should only improve this onslaught.
Wizards Have to Pick Their Poison
And this is exactly what they did in Game 1. Scott Brooks and company decided to put the clamps on DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, forcing the supporting cast to step up. If they had decided to play the passing lanes, and run the Raps off the line instead, DeMar may have had an opportunity for a better game when it came to the stat-sheet. Nobody knows how it would have affected the outcome, but we do know that these Raptors are unlike any other version of themselves we’ve seen before.
To be precise, we knew about the new ball-movement oriented system, but before Saturday, we hadn’t yet learned of the ability of these guys to step up in bigger moments. Aside from Delon’s heroics, OG Anunoby had a huge first quarter on offense, unprecedented for a late first-rounder. CJ Miles was a reliable gunner hitting a pair of clutch fourth quarter threes. Serge Ibaka went for 23 on 8-11 shooting all while keeping Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat off the glass. It’s been talked about all year, but the Raptors simply don’t look like they need DeMar and only DeMar when it comes to having dominant stretches.
Keep the Rotation Deep
Toward the end of the regular season, Dwane Casey was harassed with questions about whether he would shorten his rotation come playoff time, to which he insisted he wouldn’t. He held true to that. On Saturday, the Raptors played 11 men, more than almost any other team that took the court over the weekend. The move kept fresh legs on the court against a shorter Wizards rotation of essentially 8 players, something that will give the Raptors an edge as the playoffs progress.
Lucas Nogueira hadn’t played meaningful minutes in a few games, but when 92 was called, he was ready to hoop. When he came into the game in the fourth quarter as a long-armed shot in the dark to protect the paint, he played 9 of the last 10 minutes of the game, and was a +8. Everyone’s (2nd) favourite Brazilian did his job and provided a defensive spark, proving that for the time being, there is no good reason that the Raptors should shorten their rotation. In fact, given that Bebe hadn’t even logged minutes in three games, they even gave reason to extend it.