Cory Joseph had just one chance to play savior for the Toronto Raptors (20-13) on November 28th when they last played the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center, but he made the most of it by netting the game-winning three with three seconds remaining. Presented with an opportunity to repay the favor on Wednesday night in Toronto, the Wizards were unable to do the same, missing all four of their three-point attempts in the final minute as the Raptors narrowly escaped with a 94-91 home victory.
Washington spent a good portion of the fourth quarter chipping away at a deficit that had been as 14 points and remained as high as nine with nearly three minutes to play. After a Jared Dudley three helped them pull to within one point, the Raps were able to withstand and stop attempts from deep by Dudley, John Wall and Otto Porter before a DeMarre Carroll block on another Wall trey attempt finally put the game to rest after a frantic finish. The end of the game – which saw Toronto survive despite missing its last seven shots from the floor – was a fitting finish to a contest in which the home side shot just 34.1% (28-82) and turned the ball over 18 times.
In spite of their sloppy play and poor shooting, the Raptors ended 2015 in the win column thanks to a red hot DeMar DeRozan and his game-high 34 points and some stingy defense, particularly during a second quarter which saw them hold Washington to just 14 points on 6-26 (23.1%) shooting. Toronto was bolstered by having their starting lineup intact, with Jonas Valanciunas (eight points on 4-7 shooting, nine rebounds) making his return to the primary five. They have now won 20 games so far this season, just the second time in franchise history that they have hit the 20-win plateau before the champagne bottles have popped on a new year.
From the stripe
If you’re going to allow your opponent to make seven more field goals and better your shooting percentage by more than six percent, you better find other ways to put points on the board. Toronto did so by aggressively collecting free throw line opportunities. The Raps’ 32-39 showing from the charity stripe more than doubled the production of the Wizards, who made 13 of their meager 17 tries. DeRozan and company proved too much for Washington to handle, particularly in the case of two-guard Garrett Temple, who fouled out after 31 minutes to finish with more fouls (six) than points (four).
The alliterative ones
Okay, so this doesn’t include everyone – sorry, Patrick Patterson (0 points on 0-3 shooting, three turnovers), James Johnson (DNP-CD), Bradley Beal and Alan Anderson (both out long-term with injuries for Washington). However, in the case of DeRozan and Bismack Biyombo, some are worthy of, well, plentiful praise. DeRozan did a large chunk of his offensive damage from the free throw line, connecting on all 15 of his attempts while also chipping in on the glass (six rebounds) and as part of the passing game (five assists). Biyombo, who is arguably the most productive acquition of the off-season thus far for Masai Ujiri and the Raps, anchored the bench unit with a 12-point, 12-rebound and 3-3 shooting performance that was every bit as mirrored as the first letter of his first and last names.
Turnovers were a problem during last year’s postseason disaster against Washington, so you’d think that the Raptors would be extra dilligent about protecting the ball when facing the Wizards this season. You’d think so, anyway. With the 18 cough-ups on Wednesday, Toronto has now given the ball away 40 times in two games this season against the Wiz. Kyle Lowry served as the lead perpetrator on what was an off-night for him, finishing with six turnovers while making just two of his 12 shots for 11 points. Washington just seems to know how to get to him.
Apparently Dwane Casey isn’t much for recognition of milestones. When told he had tied Sam Mitchell for first in the franchise record book for games coached, he replied with a bewildered, “Who keeps up with this crap?”.
Further west of the ACC on Wednesday, Norm Powell was doing his best to provide the 905 with an offensive spark, scoring 28 points on 9-20 shooting. Unfortunately, former Marquette standout Vander Blue was doing a little more for the Los Angeles D-Fenders, pouring in 37 to lead his team to a narrow 111-110 victory. Although the Raptors D-Leaguers led for much of the night, they were undone by a late 22-12 run by LA before Powell hit a last second three to finish things with the deficit at one.
A rough spate of injuries has had a lot to do with Washington’s disappointing 14-16 start, but so too has some stagnation on the part of Wall. His scoring (19.6) and assist (9.8) numbers look perfectly solid, but those numbers obscure an unsteadiness that has crept into his game this year. In spite of those stats, the Wizards’ star point guard is also shooting just 43.1%, his lowest field goal mark since his sophmore season in the NBA, and is giving away turnovers at a career-high rate of 4.3 per game. When Beal has managed to remain healthy, he has clearly usurped Wall as the club’s go-to scorer.
New Year’s Day sees the Raps return to the ACC to host the 17-14 Charlotte Hornets (7:30pm, TSN).
Prediction: Raps 98, Hornets 92 (record this season: 16-16)