Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet jogging back after hitting a clutch three pointer over Washington Wizards forward Kristaps Porzingis Photo Credit: Rob Carr/ Getty Images Sports/Getty
Washington, DC—Thursday night, the Washington Wizards took care of business at home, defeating the Toronto Raptors 119-108. It feels like déjà vu. The same two teams matched up again on Saturday at the same ole Capital One Arena. It had a baseball series feel to it. This was a must win for the Raptors. They didn’t want to get swept by the Wizards in DC and to mention the Wizards are fighting with the Raptors for the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Wizards fought hard to take the short home series but unfortunately, they couldn’t match the Raptors desperateness. The Raptors defeated the Wizards in overtime 116-109.
The Wizards (30-33) started the game on a 7-0 run, all scored by Wizards forward Kristaps Porzinigis. The Wizards featured Porzingis early in the first quarter, using two-man action with him and guard Bradley Beal. Porizingis ended the game with a team high of 22 points. Porzingis explains how Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. put him and Beal in effective offensive positions to score.
“They were some good plays from coach; some of those flash actions and then Brad coming downhill and drawing so much attention bringing everybody into the paint and then making the play from there.”
The Raptors (32-33) eventually adjusted to the scheme. They played more physical and disruptive on defenses. Porzingis scored 12 points in the first quarter but they limited him to only 10 points throughout the whole game. Porzinigis talks about what the Raptors did to adjust to the Wizards’ scheme.
“As the game went on, those became a little more difficult. It’s harder to get the ball to the free throw area and go from there; they are very good with their hands and getting those steals and deflections. So we had to take care of the ball a little bit more.”
In the second quarter, the Raptors took a 35-33 lead, which was their first lead of the game. The Raptors were able to force the Wizards to turn the ball over 24 times. Beal and Wizards’ forward Kyle Kuzma both had five turnovers. The Raptors length and physical play gave Beal and Kuzma fits the entire night. Coach Unseld Jr. examines why the Raptors were able to create so many turnovers.
“Some were playing against a handsy team, over dribbling, play in crowds, not spacing correctly. All the things that I think we were aware of and trying to avoid but I don’t think it was a sense of guys trying to play selfishly that led to those turnovers. That’s a strength of that team and sadly we fell into that trap specifically early.”
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet bounced back from a horrible game Thursday night. Thursday night, VanVleet went 5 for 17 for 14 points, including 2 of 11 from three point range. Saturday against the Wizards, VanVleet went 9 of 16 for 25 points, including 6 of 11 from the three point line. VanVleet helped give the Raptors a seven point lead (86-79) going into the fourth quarter, scoring nine points in third quarter. The Raptors had a lot the momentum but the Wizards continued to fight going into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter started off shaky. Raptors reserve guard Gary Trent Jr. scored 9 of the 11 Raptors’ points to start the quarter, pushing their lead to 97-84 with 9:24 left in the fourth quarter. Trent ended the game with 26 points including going 4 of 7 from the three point line. Even with all the adversity, the Wizards refused to give up. They answered that outburst with a 10-0 run, featuring a big three pointer by Kuzma which cut the Raptors’ lead to 97-94 with 5:23 left on the clock. The game was back and forth. Down the stretch, Beal found success targeting VanVleet defensively. He manipulated the Raptors defense so VanVleet would switch onto him and he would offensively attack. Off this action, Beal scored and created scoring opportunities for his teammates down the stretch, which helped the Wizards close the gap.
“I thought that the offense with us hunting matchups is what helped us erase that deficit. Getting the switch that we wanted, lining the drive. [Beal] made some key plays, got to the paint, kicked out”, said Coach Unseld Jr.
The Wizards were down 105-102 with a little over 30 seconds left in the game. Beal got the switch on VanVleet, and the Raptors helped, leaving Wizards guard Delon Wright open for three pointer. Wright hit the clutch shot, tying the game 105-105 with 29.2 left on the clock. Capital Arena was rocking! Wright shuffle back with swag after hitting the shot. The Raptors called a timeout to reset. Wright was hot from three all night long. He ended the game going 4 of 6 from the three point line with a total of 18 points. After the timeout, Wizards were able to stop the Raptors from scoring and had the opportunity to win the game. The ball was in the hands of their franchise player Beal, who ended the game with 21 points. With about six seconds left, Beal drove hard to the basket for a contested jumper over Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby that hit the back of the rim and bounced out. The game was now headed to overtime.
In overtime, Raptors turned up the intensity and coach Unseld Jr. said the Wizards were “fatigued”. VanVleet, who’s won a NBA Championship, showed his clutch gene down the stretch of the game. He hit two threes to ice the game for the Raptors—one three pointer with 1:47 left in the game to take the lead to 110-107 and another to push the lead to 113-109 with 43.2 left on the clock. Coach Unseld Jr. says this game had a postseason vibe, especially playing back-to-back home games against Raptors.
“These little baseball series, whatever you want to them home and homes, they have that vibe. They have that feel. It kind of gives, lends to that atmosphere.”
Coach Unseld Jr. believes the Wizards will learn from this experience and hopefully it helps them towards their march to the postseason.
The Wizards have no time to rest. Sunday night, the Milwaukee Bucks (45-18) are coming to town. The Bucks have the best record in the NBA. They’ll need to up their intensity and energy to take down superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.