The Toronto Raptors handled the Washington Wizards 114-106 on Saturday evening, taking a 1-0 lead in their first-round playoff series. The Raptors pulled away in the fourth quarter, getting big performances from (you guess it) their bench, including 18 points from point guard Delon Wright, 21 combined points from C.J. Miles and Pascal Siakam, along with a pair of blocks from centre Jakob Poeltl.
The game also featured a great Serge Ibaka performance, as one of the most playoff-tested veterans on the Raps scored 23 points to go along with 12 rebounds and two blocks.
In the aftermath of the opening game, and as we await Game 2 on Tuesday, the non-local sports media (read: American), who have been hot and cold on the Raps all season despite winning the East and finishing second in the NBA with a 59-23 record, heaped praise on the team.
The aforementioned bench – a differentiator for the Raptors all season long and again on Saturday — was front and centre in their coverage and analysis of the club, while Toronto snapping its 18-year streak of losing Game 1s was a popular topic as well.
Here’s a roundup of what they had to say about the Raptors following Game 1 and heading into Game 2:
Washington Post — The Wizards and Raptors were once peers in development. Now they aren’t even close.
On Sunday Wizards beat reporter Jerry Brewer took a closer look at how the Raps and Wiz develop their young players, pointing to the way Toronto has turned late first-rounders like Siakam, Wright, and OG Anunoby — not to mention undrafted point guard Fred VanVleet, who missed the opener but is expected to return to action on Tuesday — into meaningful role players and reliable young talent. It’s a formula the Wizards haven’t been able to follow and could hurt them as they turn to the likes of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tomas Satoransky (just 1-for-7 combined on Saturday) to support their stars.
It’s difficult to accept. The Toronto Raptors — the team the Washington Wizards outclassed during a playoff sweep three years ago — are now the most enviable other-than-LeBron force in the Eastern Conference. And the Wizards are stuck at the intersection of Pretty Good and Not Bad.
Three years ago, you would have guessed the Wizards would be closer to Camelot, but the Raptors passed them. They did it the old-fashioned way, not through hitting a free agency home run but by nailing undervalued draft picks and making the right low-key roster additions.
…The Raptors keep building and growing. Their success sheds light on what the Wizards have done wrong. The Wizards don’t have a series of late first-round draft picks to rival Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. They aren’t finding undrafted gems of the caliber of Fred VanVleet. They’re spending money, but they’re not signing perfect fits for their bench such as CJ Miles.
Ujiri and the Toronto front office have done extraordinary things.
As the buzzer sounded and the victorious Raptors funneled through the home tunnel and into their locker room, their exquisitely tailored president, Masai Ujiri, clapped his hands as his players breezed by.
“F—ing a–h—s,” snarled Ujiri. “We won Game 1.”
Who was Ujiri’s target here? Perhaps an army of pundits who have been hammering home the Raptors’ futile record in recent Game 1s in the lead-up to the postseason. Maybe critics around the league who, even as the Raptors tallied 59 wins this season and nabbed the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, still whispered doubts.
Most likely, it was relief disguised as invective, and an affirmation that, for the next several weeks — as it has been for several years — it’s Toronto against the world. After 10 consecutive Game 1 losses, the Raptors won the first battle of their campaign, a 114-106 victory over the Washington Wizards.
“It’s over with now,” DeMar DeRozan said after the game.
DeRozan is right, and the albatross draped around the team’s neck has been magnified unduly.
CBS Sports — How Raptors killed their playoff demons and proved their new look works in Game 1 vs. Wizards
“Winning this way is not at all unusual for the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors,” writes James Herbert after pointing out the varied contributions from the Raps deep roster. “It would have been just about unimaginable, however, in years past. As much as Toronto would have liked DeRozan and Lowry to catch fire in Game 1, this kind of victory is the clearest possible representation of how the team has changed.”
“Historically, postseason opponents have been able to throw the Raptors out of rhythm by sending multiple defenders at Lowry and DeRozan and daring others to beat them. Toronto spent 82 games getting comfortable with a style that counteracts that — rather than shouldering a huge scoring burden, they have been asked to leverage their scoring abilities to put the defense in uncomfortable positions. After taking a 1-0 series lead for the first time since he was an assistant coach in Dallas, Raptors coach Dwane Casey credited the guards for taking what the Wizards gave them.”
Heading into the playoffs many wondered how Dwane Casey would utilize his deep second unit and whether or not he would alter his rotations in the post-season. That question was answered, and it looks like the bench will continue to play a vital role in the Raps’ success. As The Ringer’s Paolo Uggetti puts it, “the Raptors’ depth is their trump card”:
It’s a stat that would make Tom Thibodeau flush with disbelief: Nine Raptors players logged at least 10 minutes in a tight, competitive playoff game. (For reference, the Warriors played nine players in a blowout earlier in the day.) And they didn’t just take up filler minutes. Dwane Casey made sure he plugged the right guys at the right time, and the Bench Mob responded to the trust by outscoring the Wizards’ bench, 42-21.
It was a clinic on how to leverage depth over a team that relies heavily on its two stars. Game 1 was a testament to all the time Casey and his staff have spent developing the young bench and letting them impact regular season games. So far, it’s translated seamlessly. Who says you have to shorten your rotation in the playoffs?
There’s a belief, because the Washington Wizards have star power and a playoff pedigree and the Toronto Raptors are an understated success story, that this first-round series amounts to an even matchup. Or at least it’s as even as it gets when a No. 1 seed spars with a No. 8.
On Saturday night, however, the Raptors sent a strong initial message about who they are during a 114-106 victory in Game 1 at Air Canada Centre. In short, they’re better — clearly better — than Washington. These aren’t two teams striding alongside each other on the same journey. The Raptors have pulled ahead, and if you’re expecting them to slow down so the Wizards can catch up, that’s not how this is going to go.
While the gap between the teams isn’t wide, it is still noticeable. Toronto is the deepest team in the NBA, and in a fast-paced matchup of great athleticism and end-to-end action, that great depth exposes the Wizards’ mediocre depth. And then there is the biggest problem the Wizards have in this series: They’re facing an opponent that seems to have developed an unflappable commitment to an identity and an improved style of play built around ball movement and trust. The Raptors know who they are; the Wizards are still all over the place.
Lastly, USA Today ran a story about Drake and the Raptors honouring the Humboldt Broncos and signing their team jersey after the game:
“If I could ask one favor of you guys,” Drake said in a video shared on the Raptors Twitter account. “I don’t know if you guys know this story, but these kids, unfortunately, a lot of families are suffering from this bus crash. So, if we could all just sign this.”
The sports world has rallied around the Humboldt community since the crash, including the NHL, whose commissioner told USA TODAY Sports the league sent out Broncos stickers to all teams to wear on their helmets during the playoffs.
The Raptors released a statement after the crash which read:
“Thinking of the Humboldt Broncos and our friends in the hockey community at this terrible time. From Toronto to the Prairies, our thoughts and prayers are with you.”
As of Saturday evening, a GoFundMe campaign set up in the team’s honor had raised over $11 million.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) April 14, 2018