This Is As Bad As You Could Have Possibly Imagined
The Raptors didn’t just lose a series. They lost, everything. After such a promising start, they were finally gaining some respect from and exposure to American audiences. Building on twelve solid months of building on the momentum of last year’s unexpected success, they rallied an army of new fans and re-positioned themselves in the national marketplace around a slick ad campaign and the celebration of their 20th anniversary.
And then… the coaching staff and the players both fucking quit.
It is appropriate to call this CATASTROPHIC. This was nuclear. There are initial (and highly exaggerated) rumours that they are going to gut the entire roster, save for everyone who isn’t contractually obligated to be there next season, unless they can dump them too. A James Johnson versus Dwane Casey confrontation a couple of months ago about stagnancy and the Raptors offense has been said to divide the locker room. How one small rift lead to something so divisive is still a mystery, probably to most of the people in the Raptors organization itself. They were signs, of course, but the governance and community of Raptorland has different priorities and concerns – a lot of delusion and arrogance came crashing down hard this week. If you check #WeTheNorth you will find it is a very cold and inhospitable place.
When Everything You Want to Happen, Happens
Throughout all of this, the team that dismantled the Raptors are not inconsequential.
Beginning the Playoffs with a similar sense of desperation and stagnancy, the Washington Wizards evolved into the team they needed to become to succeed further into the playoffs. That is, they successfully dialed up the intensity on the defensive while figuring out a way to actually score the basketball. Enter, John Wall. Their All-Star has once again found his early season form, increasing his overall productivity and efficiency. The Wizards have a deliberate sense of what they do well, and the tone Wall set in his play and his exuberant celebrations gave Washington an increased level of intensity and focus that didn’t once allow the Raptors a glimmer of opportunity to climb back in the series. Once the Wizards outplayed the Raptors into choking themselves, the Wizards didn’t let go until the Raptors were demoralized, beaten and eulogized. And they had fun doing it.
Wall, the Wizards’ 24-year-old All-Star guard, just destroyed a franchise in the process of restoring his reputation as one of the NBA’s most fearsome two-way athletes. The Raptors may have been so self-absorbed with themselves and their problems that no one in the franchise was willing to address the fact that John Wall was dismantling the Raptors defence with ease. The ease of which he was able to get into the lane enabled the Wizards to score easily and seal wins early in the second half. Washington could do anything they wanted for four long games, arduous for anyone who isn’t rooting for Washington.
But to be fair to John Wall: it’s not as if there was anything the Raptors could have done. (No, not even James Johnson.)
It’s not these numbers but how he got these numbers – a vicious sense of entitlement and unselfishness – that re-ignited an entire Washington squad. His stats for the series, beyond the 12.5 assists per game, his individual aren’t actually that impressive: 18.0 points per game, 3.5 rebounds and 38% shooting in 41.7 minutes. It’s in how the Wiz have come together through him, and indirectly through the leadership of Pierce.
Wall and Marcin Gortat were beastly running the Raptors into the ground with the pick n’ rolls, turning 62 total passes to the Polish Hammer into 19 assists, Gortat shooting 80% in the process with easy rolls to the rim and little resistance from the Toronto frontline. Bradley Beal didn’t shoot well but averaged 20.9 points 41.8 minutes per game, attacking the rim consistently throughout the first two wins on the road in Toronto, initiating the sense of impending doom to come. Otto Porter finally showed signs of life in his sophomore season, churning DeRozan and Terrance Ross on the defensive while putting in efficient offensive numbers, including timely buckets. Paul Pierce, whose heated remarks before the series were perfect tinder to ignite Wall’s success, hit 58% of his threes while Wittman unleashed a new small-ball lineup unused throughout the season, stretching the Raptors defence to the point of breaking, keeping the series out of reach for Toronto.
How sustainable is this? The Hawks or the Nets just may be the best chance for these Wizards to test their powers before taking a series of more devastating foes. If John Wall can do these same things against a team that isn’t in freefall — which he absolutely can — and Paul Pierce continues the psychological warfare — and he will — then the Wizards can cause their brand of havoc well into May.