What began as an early afternoon dud quickly turned into an enthralling double overtime game that saw superstars Kawhi Leonard and Bradley Beal duel in D.C. Here’s the story from one of the most unexpectedly exciting games of the season:
It seems like a long time ago that these two teams were playoff foes. Just last season the Raptors and Wizards met in the first round of the playoffs, but they’ve been two teams trending in opposite directions since then.
While the Raptors reloaded, acquired Leonard, and are making their case as a Finals contender, Washington is barely trying to hold it together (a sentiment not reserved solely for basketball).
Reports of in-fighting and a losing record have hung over this Wizards season like a storm cloud descending on the John Wall-Beal era.
Just before the calendar turned, Washington had gone 1-7 in its last eight games with Wall before it was announced that the former first-overall pick would be out for the rest of the season. For an already rocky Wizards team, the injury seemed like the perfect opportunity to put this season in the rearview and tank for the 2019 draft, with a generational talent in Zion Williamson as its top prize.
Instead the Wizards have gone 5-3 since — a case of addition by subtraction — including two straight wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks before Toronto came to town on Sunday afternoon.
Key to the team’s recent success has been Beal, who has been stellar since Wall’s injury, averaging nearly 29 points and 2.5 steals per game in that span as he looks to take control of DeMar DeRozan’s vacated title for best shooting guard in the East.
While the Raptors entered the game heavy favourites, the makings of a trap game were there.
Hot start, cool finish
It feels like the 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon game used to be a Raptors staple, but this was actually Toronto’s only early afternoon start time all season. While, likely as a result, neither team came out of the gates playing particularly inspired basketball, the Raptors still managed to toy with the Wizards from the opening tip-off.
In a sequence that featured a Kyle Lowry put-back, a Leonard three, and a steal and assist from Leonard to Pascal Siakam for an uncontested dunk on the break, the Raptors took an early 7-0 lead. It really felt like the game could be over right then and there.
With five minutes to go in the first quarter, the Raptors were up 16 points. The starters were rolling — particularly Leonard and Siakam — and once the bench came on the floor little changed. Delon Wright was attacking the rim and making shots — he can always manufacture opportunities, but whether they drop can be a bit of a wild card. After the first frame the Raptors’ lead was 36-21.
But the Wizards played it close from then on. The Raptors started the second half on a 9-0 run, but Washington didn’t fold. The Wizards attacked the offensive glass and moved the ball well, disrupting the Raptors’ defensive rotations and finding open shooters, ultimately putting up 40 points in the fourth quarter.
Frenzied (extended) final act
The two teams went back to back from the last couple of minutes of the fourth quarter all the way until the buzzer of the second overtime period.
It wasn’t the prettiest ball, but it was a great final act.
For the Wizards, Beal did everything he could to manufacture a win. A triple brought his team within two points with under two minutes to play. The Raptors countered with a deep jumper from Leonard on the next possession.
Beal split a pair of ensuing free-throws, bringing the Wizards within three, but Leonard again quieted the building with a mid-range pull up that swished through with 1:14 on the clock and the Raptors up five.
With the Raptors up by three, Siakam snagged a potentially game-saving rebound with under a minute to play, but a missed jumper from Leonard led to an open three-point look for Porter, who missed, but the ball bounced off the rim and into the hands of — guess — Beal, who nailed the triple to tie the game.
It set the stage for a could-be game-winner from Toronto. The Raptors ran an isolation play for Leonard, who attacked and pulled up from the same right elbow spot he hit a shot from moments earlier, but this one clanged off the front of the rim. The Wizards corralled the rebound for a chance to win with 2.7 seconds on the clock, but missed, sending it to overtime.
In overtime, Leonard put the Raps on his back, scoring seven in the frame (and posting a huge block on Beal).
The Wizards had a chance to win it once more, down two with 9.3 seconds on the clock, but settled for a quick layup by Beal, putting the ball back in Toronto’s court. Lowry missed a three-pointer at the buzzer and off to double OT we went.
There, the Wizards took their first lead of the game as the Raptors couldn’t buy a bucket. They were scoreless through nearly four minutes of the second overtime, until Leonard managed a driving layup that brought the Raptors to within one point, trailing 134-133.
That was at the 1:32 mark of second overtime. You had to go back to 3:34 of the fourth quarter to find the last time any Raptor outside of Leonard scored. A pair of Lowry free-throws 20 seconds later broke that streak.
And still the Wizards kept attacking. Thomas Bryant, Washington’s second-year centre, hit back-to-back buckets in the closing minute and provided problems on the glass down low for the Raptors throughout the game. Toronto really could have used Jonas Valanciunas in this matchup.
But Ibaka had his moments, and, following a missed shot and offensive board and kick-out from Leonard, responded with a clutch three-pointer that put the Raptors up for good, 139-138.
The Raptors’ weren’t at their sharpest down the stretch, but you’ve got to applaud their effort going after the ball — all the way until the final play.
The final tally?
Forty-three points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds for Bradley Beal in a whopping 55 minutes. He was flat-out incredible. Otto Porter chipped in with 27 points off the bench — a very interesting trade candidate — while the recently-acquired Trevor Ariza scored 23 points.
As for Leonard? Forty-one points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks, as he had all of his two-way skills on display in the surprisingly intense win. It’s the 19th consecutive game in which Leonard has scored 20 or more, the longest such streak in the NBA.
Lowry played a season-high 50 minutes and, despite shooting just 2-of-10 from deep, posted a double-double with 12 points and 11 assists.
And although he fouled out with 1:41 left in the game, it brought to an end a great night from Siakam, for whom the Wizards had no answers for. He scored 24 points and pulled down a career-best 19 rebounds — his ninth double-double of the season.
Despite the game looking like a blowout early on, the Raptors’ starters wound up playing extended minutes — at least 41 minutes for all five starters — with Toronto off until Wednesday night’s anticipated matchup with the Celtics in Boston.