Crunch time woes leave Raptors looking in the mirror

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) goes to the basket against Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (13), of Poland, during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 22, 2018, in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)

WASHINGTON — Three made field goals in seven minutes and 44 seconds.

That’s how the Toronto Raptors finished their 106-98 loss to the Washington Wizards Sunday. And that’s the biggest thing you need to know about why they lost this game, and their first-round series lead along with it.

Almost bafflingly, Toronto’s offence came to a screeching halt in the game’s most critical stretch, as the Raptors collectively shot 3-of-14 over that nearly eight-minute span, and missed their final four attempts. For the fourth quarter as a whole, the Raptors scored only 18 points, shooting a woeful 35 per cent (8-of-23).

Six of the misses came out of the hands of DeMar DeRozan — he also made two of the three buckets in the final eight minutes — who wasn’t shy to admit after the game he was forcing attempts he shouldn’t have.

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It was an all-around bizarre game for DeRozan, whose usage rate on the night was 46.4 per cent, as the Raptors drove nearly half their offence through him. That hasn’t often been the case this season, as DeRozan finished the year with a 29.2 per cent usage rate, his lowest since 2014-15. That speaks to how differently, and more collectively, the Raptors played this year. And it speaks to the out-of-character and regressive step Toronto’s offence took Sunday in an awfully important game.

DeRozan finished the night 10-of-29 from the field (he took 29 attempts or more only four times this season). He also got to the free-throw line 18 times — a dozen times in the first quarter alone — after shooting only 14 free-throws combined over the first three games of this series.

And, as you might expect considering the shots he forced, DeRozan’s effective field goal (36.2 per cent) and true shooting (47.4 per cent) percentages were not pretty, among the lowest of any player on the night, and well below the rates he puts up over the regular season. Considering how much action was run through him, the Raptors needed DeRozan to finish with a much higher offensive rating than the 97.4 that he did.

“I took some bad shots. That led to them getting out in transition, getting some easy buckets. We put them on the free-throw line. They executed, we couldn’t get a stop, and we couldn’t get a bucket,” DeRozan said. “We’ve just got to watch film, understand what we’ve got to do, and me and [Kyle Lowry] understand how much better we have to be, especially in late game situations.”

A look at the lineup Casey turned to down the stretch, with Lowry, Delon Wright and DeRozan forming a three-headed guard unit, and Serge Ibaka and Jakob Poeltl in the front court, isn’t particularly pretty. That rotation finished with a minus-64.5 net rating in its five crunch-time minutes, getting outscored 12-6 as the Wizards ran away with the game.

Earlier in the fourth, with DeRozan on the bench after playing the entire third quarter, Casey used a rotation with Lowry and Wright in the backcourt, C.J. Miles at small forward, and Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl up front. That unit was much more effective, playing to a plus-65.8 net rating and outscoring the Wizards by four. But that had more to do with the group’s defence than its offence, as it finished with a 94.4 offensive rating.

It’s not often that these Raptors have had a game when their offence is an issue. But no matter who Casey turned to in that fourth quarter, the Raptors couldn’t sustain an efficient attack.

“We just didn’t do a good job of getting where we wanted to go, like getting into our sets the way we wanted or with any speed or getting good shots that we wanted,” Miles said. “There were shots that we know guys are capable of making but we put them in a position to have to do four moves to get to it — things like that. We want to try to execute the plays better and get guys in position, get them in rhythm.”

Of course, there was no one area that broke Toronto’s offensive back down the stretch — it was a confluence of factors, including bad shots, a lack of ball movement, and turnovers, which were again a major issue as Toronto coughed the ball up 18 times Sunday (leading to 19 Washington points) to run their turnover total for the series to 68 (leading to 80 points). That is just a ridiculous number over only four games.

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But one thing that was impossible to not notice among all the misses were the shots the Raptors didn’t take. Several Raptors passed up what appeared to be high-percentage looks down the stretch, particularly Delon Wright who on one possession had two open looks from beyond the arc and didn’t pull the trigger either time.

“We turned down some shots that we normally take. I thought Delon had some good looks that he turned down. He definitely has the green light to take those,” Casey said. “And then you probably don’t get a better look than what he turned down.

“I’d rather have a good look at a three than a turnover. I think that’s kind of where we are. I don’t know why we’re hesitating. We don’t want to pump fake ourselves out of shots.”

One word several Raptors used to describe their fourth-quarter play was “stagnant.” Lowry used it when lamenting how his team didn’t move the ball well enough. DeRozan used it in reference to all the turnovers. And Poeltl, who had his first strong game of the series, used it when explaining what effect the Wizards’ switch-heavy defence had on Toronto’s offence.

“We just didn’t have flow on offence. Like, not at all,” Poeltl said. “We didn’t get the shots we want. We got late into the shot clock almost every time. We don’t really know what happened — but we definitely didn’t get the shots that we wanted.

“I think that made us pull the ball up too early and get into a lot of isolation situations that we didn’t get good shots out of. And sometimes we do get good shots out of these plays. But today we didn’t. Therefore, I guess we’ve got to change something.”

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