Well, scratch the idea that the Washington Wizards can use the officials to beat the Toronto Raptors. So what’s left? Raptors can’t win Game 1? Gone. Bradley Beal can’t get free because the Raptors are clutching and grabbing? Tuesday’s officiating crew didn’t seem to buy that.
Two full days plus a shoot-around to prepare for the Raptors and complaining about the officiating was the best the Wizards could come up with. Well, that and dead-pan humour from head coach Scott Brooks, who suggested after his team dropped its second game in the best of seven series that maybe next year he wouldn’t vote for DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry for the Eastern All-Star Team. Or this nugget: “Our adjustment was to not given them threes. We need to do a better job of committing to it.”
Someone suggested to Brooks that Mike Scott had had a nice game for him off the bench. He agreed – his bench in fact matched the Raptors’ 42 points on a night when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey used 13 players, adding: “Who knows? He (Scott) might be a starting five,” when the team returns to Washington, D.C., for Game 3.
Well, why not?
The Wizards’ start to this game was nothing less than shocking, an idea easy to get as Brooks read out the numbers from the statistics sheet in a dispassionate, ‘what the (bleep) can we do?’ tone. And even when they did cobble together a spurt to get back in the game, cutting the lead to five with eight minutes left, it was with Ty Lawson and Scott joining John Wall in doing much of the lifting. Absent was big man Marcin Gortat, who finished with no points and three rebounds in just 1 minutes. He didn’t get on the court in the fourth after missing a seven-foot hook shot ands 19-foot jumper in the third quarter – after which Wall shot him a withering look. All-Star Bradley Beal was on the court for seven minutes in the fourth and missed all four field goals, finishing a quiet 3-for-11 with nine points and fashioning a nifty minus-34.
Beal had 19 points in Game 1 and compounding his issues Tuesday were three three-point personal fouls and a pair of missed threes and a blocked driving layup in the fourth that helped the Raptors find their legs for their finishing kick. “It is what it is,” said Brooks. “Very rarely do you see those fouls on the same player. We have to do a better job of guarding without fouling.”
Wall took some of the blame for Beal’s performance, saying: “We need to do am job of getting him involved and get shots for him.” He also noted that both he and Beal had two first-quarter fouls. “Other than that, we’d have been in the game,” he said. “Your two best players in foul trouble makes it tough.”
There is something amiss with the Wizards, who became Beal’s team when Wall was out and seemed to be better without him. He was limited to 41 games due to knee and shoulder injuries, and the Wizards went 14-12 with him out most of the stretch and even found themselves setting the pace in assist rate.
Chris Mills of NBC Sports Washington said on my show that the relationship between Gortat and Wall is akin to that of an old married couple – better off with each other but a little tired of sloppy bathroom habits. Coincidentally, it reached a crescendo after the Wizards’ 122-119 win over the Raptors on Feb. 1. Gortat tweeted ‘Unbelievable win tonight? Great “team” victory. Wall deleted his tweeted response, but rankled again when he found out that Beal commented after the game that “everybody eats,” a comment easy to fan the flames at a time when Wall was away from the team. Wall said then: “I know I’m a team player. I average almost 10 assists a game. I’m very prideful in finding my teammates and getting guys easy shots. Even more just shocking hearing it from him (Gortat) and understand he gets the most assists from me and gets the most spoon-fed baskets ever.”
All parties concerned say it was much ado about nothing, that it was a media-created controversy although even a cursory glance at the coverage in the mainstream media suggests all those opaque statements were what really fuelled the fire. Since Wall is on a $207-million extension that goes through 2023 and Beal has another $81 million left on his package, Brooks — who knows about managing combustible personalities from his time in Oklahoma City — has pretty much had his hand dealt to him.
But poking through the entrails of his team is not something he’s prepared to do right now. He has some coaching to do. “The Raptors did a good job of being physical on him (Beal),” said Brooks. “ But he missed some open shots … hasn’t been able to get to the lane and get his free throws. That’s a little bit on him, a little bit on me, a little bit on John (Wall). We are going to have trouble beating this team if he doesn’t play well. And he will.”
That last statement was said with Brooks’ most conclusive tone of the night. He had no choice; he has nothing else to hang onto, unless the Raptors get tired of slaying every historical dragon they face.