The Washington Wizards overcame a ravenous Toronto crowd to hold on and beat the Raptors in overtime 93-86. Paul Pierce led all scorers with 20 points to silence the fans and some late heroics from the Raptors’ far superior bench wasn’t enough.
The much-hyped starting guard match-ups did not deliver in Game 1. John Wall and Bradley Beal converted when they needed to, combining for 26 points and 14 assists. Each scored important baskets down the stretch to help put away the Raptors.
Toronto’s All-Star guards were terrible, as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan totaled just 22 points on only 8-of-30 shooting. Lowry, in particular, was awful. He had seven points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field, missing all four of his attempts from three. He only played 33 minutes, as he fouled out with a few minutes left in regulation. Lowry was all over the place on both ends of the floor, and the Raptors were outscored by nine with him on the floor. Not a good start for the All-Star starter.
However, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez kept Toronto afloat. Vasquez hit a hugely-clutch three to finally tie the game with under a minute left, and Williams kept Toronto in the game for stretches with his scoring. In fact, the Raptors’ bench outscored their starters 48-38. Still, Williams was just 4-of-16, and DeRozan had a game he’ll want to forget about. He had 11 boards and six assists, but only scored 15 points on a hideous 6-of-20 from the floor. The Raps only got to the free throw line 14 times (3-of-5 for DeRozan), an area they need to excel at to score at a high level.
The Wizards offense was barely any better, but its struggling stars and “IT” factor delivered at key moments. Paul “IT’s The Truth” Pierce turned in a game-high 20 points in 34 minutes on a killer 7-of-10 shooting with four triples. Pierce backed up his big pre-series trash talk, truly relishing the deafening boos from the home crowd. Pierce missed his first two shots and proceeded to drain seven of his final eight. He may struggle to get through the regular season, but Pierce lives for these moments. He’s the best, even if you can’t stand him.
The Raptors got destroyed on the glass as well, losing the rebound battle 61-48 and surrendering 19 offensive boards to only 10 of their own. Nene and Marcin Gortat dominated the Raptors’ bigs for most of the game as the two combined for 21 rebounds in only 47 minutes. Nene had 13 of those in 20 minutes. Toronto had no way of stopping him on the glass and starting Tyler Hansbrough did not work out for Dwane Casey. He failed to secure a rebound in the 13 minutes he played; the Raptors were outscored by six in that short time.
Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson were effective offensively with 28 points, but their 13 rebounds weren’t enough to combat the Wizards’ bigs on the boards. Jonas Valanciunas had a typically quiet game, with only six points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes.
Toronto’s bench was excellent while Washington’s was abysmal as usual. Kevin Seraphin turned in a nice 10 points in 17 minutes, but the Raptors hold a huge advantage when the starters are resting. However, if their starting backcourt can’t get going, the Raptors are in trouble. Lowry and DeRozan take on huge offensive roles. When they’re hot, the Raptors scorch opponents; when they struggle, the offense becomes horribly inefficient. With very few free throw attempts today, the Raptors looked terrible on the end of the floor that they usually excel at.
John Wall and Bradley Beal have to play better as well, but they stepped up down the stretch and closed the game out. Last year’s experience of beating a legitimate playoff team, Chicago, and the addition of rabble-rouser and tactical trash-talker Paul Pierce has given the Wizards a confidence under duress that the Raptors do not yet possess. When Lou Williams briefly caught fire to pull the Raptors within two late in the game, Pierce pulled the starters close to him and grabbed the jerseys of those nearest him. No one but the five of them knows what he was saying, but we can probably assume it contained some champion calmness that most young teams can’t boast.
The Raptors still ultimately tied the game after a series of odd plays and botched possessions. This was not a well-played basketball game, especially for the playoffs. It will probably continue to be a quite ugly series. If Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan don’t pick it up, it’ll get even uglier for Toronto.