Game 3: Raptors (2-0) at Wizards (0-2)
April 20, 2018 at 8:00 PM
Capital One Arena | Washington, DC
TV: ESPN2, NBCSW
Radio: 1500 AM
Odds: WSH -1.5
What to Watch:
A little desperation. Maybe a little urgency. Maybe just a hint that there are more than just a few players who care.
If there was any indication that the Wizards might have mentally checked out of this season, look no further than the first quarter of Game 2 in Toronto last Tuesday evening.
In a circumstance where you’d imagine the Wizards would look like they’re ready to go to war to redeem themselves of a Game 1 loss, they instead came out looking the exact opposite. In 12 first quarter minutes the Wizards allowed 44 Toronto points to fall behind by 17, a travesty that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game.
Yes, I know John Wall killed it with 29 and 9. Yes, Ty Lawson looked like he never left the NBA in his debut with the Wizards. Yes, Mike Scott and the bench were the reason the Wizards pulled to within five in the fourth quarter. But there is a general malaise that is affecting Wizards fans and it begins with the lack of that familiar urgency and firepower – particularly from the starting 5 – that we’re used to previous Wizards teams bringing in the playoffs.
That has to change. It’s time to get desperate.
The Starters vs. The Bench
After the lopsided performance between these two units in Game 2, the starters should actually try and mentally compete against the bench players in Game 3.
Four of the five backups who clocked floor time on Tuesday night scored in double figures, led by Mike Scott’s 20, Oubre and Lawson’s 14, and Mahinmi’s 12.
The starters flaked, though. Marcin Gortat dropped a donut. Bradley Beal missed eight of his 11 shots for just nine points. Markieff Morris had just six points, and Otto Porter was the only other Wizards starter besides Wall to score in double-digits with 12.
But I’m not going to bitch about scoring. The Wizards finished with 119 points. What really killed the Wizards was their starting 5’s horrendous perimeter defense early on. Of the seven 3’s the Raptors knocked down in the first quarter, literally all but one of them were contested – meaning there wasn’t a defender within at least two feet of the shooter every time. Slow closeouts, poor reactions to pick-and-rolls, you call it. And that one 3 that was actually contested? Yeah, don’t feel too proud about it. It ended in a Bradley Beal foul and a 4-point play for DeMar DeRozan *cry-laughing emoji followed by full-crying emoji followed by throws phone at the wall*
The good news is that after Thursday’s practice, Wall acknowledged the recent plight of the starters:
The first step is knowing, I guess. Please change.
For the past couple seasons, the Wizards have always had the courtesy of veteran leadership to hold the locker room together. There was always an older head who, if nothing else, could steer guys right when things started to go wrong. Recent vets include Al Harrington, Jared Dudley, Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza, and Garrett Temple, all whom were figures on the roster that willingly took on a leadership role, particularly to help with the mental development of younger players – including when John Wall was a young cub.
The hope was to eventually put Wall and/or Beal in position to take on that role themselves once the others moved on. Tragically, that hope has not yet become a reality as the Wizards are currently struggling to find a jump start to get back in this series. And while Wall is a fantastically unselfish floor general, and is always looking to involve his teammates before himself, there’s still that one critical leadership trait that’s missing.
The fact is that Wall has got some stripes now. He’s a playoff experienced 5-time All-Star. This team was constructed around HIM. HE is the front office’s biggest influence, which naturally makes him his teammates’ biggest influence. He’s got all the cred he needs to be the guy who step ups and speaks up for his squad. He needs to rally HIS guys together to lead an absolute onslaught in Game 3. Because if there is anyone who can initiate a momentum swing in a playoff sereies, it’s the guy coined the nickname “Franchise.”
This obviously isn’t something that develops overnight. It’s a mentality that needs to build. And tonight’s unequivocal must-win game would be a perfection foundation to do so.
For more on this topic, listen to Paul Pierce, who chimed in on Wednesday:
If Drake calls Kelly Oubre a ‘bum’, then I wonder what sweet nothins he had for this guy.
We all know fluffy cupcake Drake is simultaneously the world’s #1 fanboy and also the world’s most annoying sideline spectator. I mean, imagine if Spike Lee was replaced by Drake sitting courtside at those Knicks games in the mid-90s. Reggie Miller would’ve dropped 80 at the Garden. He might have won a championship.
Drake’s energy works for the Raptors and their fans, though. He leads on their cheers while jawing at opposing players all game long, sometimes to the point where he starts looking like a clown (Google image ‘Drake Paul Pierce’).
But all seems well between Drizzy and the Wizards. Wall dapped him up after the game. Kelly brushed his comments off in a postgame interview. It’s all for the culture.
Predicting the outcome of this game is a bit difficult because it’s really hard to say at this point where the Wizards are mentally. Are they pissed off? Are they antsy to come out and prove they haven’t folded? Are they holding pocket aces? Or are they really mentally checked out and ready to physically check in to a private island resort? If I was a betting man, I would trust that Wall and Beal are talking about nothing but winning beating the Raptors in Game 3 – and maybe about that private island resort *later* this summer.
Based on that trust, I’ll call a Wizards win. Let’s get it.