Thursday night's game was a lot of things. It was a triple-overtime marathon, the longest game (three hours, 32 minutes) in Toronto Raptors (32-25) franchise history. It was a battle of attrition, with injuries and foul issues rapidly dwindling the home side's personnel options. It was a night of standout performances, including Kyle Lowry (18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds), DeMar DeRozan (34 points, 12-14 from the line), Greivis Vasquez (26 points), John Wall (31 points, nine assists) and Marcin Gortat (31 points, 12 rebounds).
But for as much as there was plenty to discuss in the wake of a 134-129 Washington Wizards' win, the crux of the game was really no different than the issue inherent in so many of the Raptors' recent wins: they were playing with fire by not stepping on the gas pedal early enough. This time, however, they compounded some early struggles (they trailed at halftime and heading into the fourth quarter) with some difficulties in closing out Washington, taking leads in the final minute of regulation and then in each overtime period before giving up those leads.
In the end, Wall used his speed to spark a 7-0 Wizards' run (he didn't score, but got the assist on each of the team's three made field goals in the run) and Toronto couldn't register a field goal over the game's final 2:34. Although a home loss against a potential playoff opponent is a troubling sign, it represented the Raptors' first loss to Washington among four meetings this season and further signified that this club isn't going to go down easily.
The Point Guards
Lowry wound up one rebound shy of a triple-double in a game in which he sprained his ankle. That's all you need to know about the effort of the Raptors' starting point guard on Thursday, as he played 54 minutes, nearly matching DeRozan's team-high 57:24 of playing time (he would have if not for having fouled out). Vasquez, the primary back-up, wasn't much of a step down, either. Logging heavy minutes on account of the game's length and an ankle injury (they seem to be en vogue) that ended Terrence Ross' night before the half, Vasquez scored 26 points on a variety of clever teardrop runners and open mid-range shots to replace Ross as the team's third scoring option. Lowry and Vasquez also accounted for 18 of the team's 29 assists, a total that only stagnated once Lowry fouled out.
Production from Deep
Thank goodness for the three ball! Not only did it spark an unusually hot start to the game for Toronto (15 of their 27 first quarter points came from three-pointers), but it proved to be their biggest advantage in a game in which Washington led most offensive categories. The Raptors shot 40% (12-30) from three, compared to just 22.7% (5-22) for the Wizards. The three ball also accounted for 29% of Toronto's offensive attack (they had just 33 field goals from inside the arc), compared to 11% for that of the visitors (46 two-point field goals),
Big Man Rotation
I spent most of the late fourth quarter and the first overtime period wondering aloud how Dwane Casey could continue trotting a clearly-hobbled Amir Johnson (he was labouring in getting up and down the court and seemed to crumble under the weight of a bum ankle more than once) out onto the court. Then, Johnson fouled out and Jonas Valanciunas came in and it all made sense, JV was a step and a half slow and completely lost, causing three late turnovers on account of poor positioning and missing a pair of shots in close due to a lack of assertiveness. Tyler Hansbrough wasn't much of an improvement, missing two critical free throws late.
This probably connects to the aforementioned Raptor big man issues, but it also merits its own entry. Gortat's dominant night proved to be the impetus for Washington's advantage in so many areas. They held a commanding edge in points in the paint (80-46), in rebounds (57-50, including 18-11 on the offensive glass) and in second-chance points (21-7). In fact, he was often the recipient of easy baskets as Wall tried to push the pace, thereby helping his team indirectly as they held a 26-16 fast break points advantage.
Weird things happen when four of your regulars (Ross, Lowry, Johnson and Patrick Patterson, who also fouled out) aren't playing late in a game. Like, for instance, a Hansbrough/Steve Novak give-and-go play that ended (surprise, surprise) in a turnover.
Ross' injury comes shortly after Casey identified him as, perhaps, the club's best defender. Hate to see him gone for any long stretch of time (ankle sprains are notoriously tricky, as the team found out with Hansbrough earlier this season), but I have to raise the question: might it be Jimmer time in Toronto? Fredette reportedly wants to head East and the Raps have been known to hold interest in the recently bought out former King. You have to think that Masai Ujiri has at least broached the topic with some of his ex-Sacramento quartet (Vasquez, Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes).
Washington might be among the most preferable Eastern Conference playoff opponents (I'd rather face them than Chicago, Brooklyn and maybe even Charlotte), but they also have a star in Wall who looks poised to use a playoff series as a platform for making "the jump". After OKC's Russell Westbrook, he might be the most explosive guard in the league.
The competition gets tougher, but the grind gets easier, which could be a boon to the hobbled Raps. They get two days off before welcoming the Golden State Warriors on Sunday (4:00pm, SN).
Prediction: Warriors 107, Raps 99 (35-13 this season)