Washington Punches Back in Game 3
WASHINGTON—The Wizards are alive! It was just one game, but the Wiz have seemed to right their wrongs against the first-seeded Toronto Raptors. The 122-103 win was fueled by Washington’s all-stars, splitting 56 points and reverberating an energy through Gallery Place that’s been absent since last year’s Game 6 against Boston.
Toronto’s all-star backcourt couldn’t go punch-for-punch with Washington’s. DeMar DeRozan finished with 23 points and point guard Kyle Lowry ended the night with 19 points and eight assists.
In their return home, the Wizards reassured the world of their place in Eastern Conference basketball hierarchy. Going up by as much as 22 points, Washington sealed Toronto’s fate early and never took their foot off the gas.
A blowout wasn’t foreshadowed through the initial quarter. Late in the first with the Wizards down eight, Kelly Oubre Jr. checked in and changed the game’s trajectory. In four straight possessions – a missed poster dunk (on which he was fouled, and made both free throws), a block, a made poster dunk and a charge – he seized that momentum like he had a subpoena.
“It’s my job to go out there and bring energy and get stops on the defensive end,” Oubre said post-game. “I just want everybody to feel my energy when I’m on the court.”
That they did. After he sparked a 12-2 run to close the first quarter, Washington dropped 39 points in the second and never looked back.
“They punched us,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said with a sting. “We have to…understand the level of toughness you have to play with to be successful in the playoffs.”
In the playoffs, usually the most physical team becomes the victor. It’s a real tell of who wants it more. Washington brought that physicality and played with the same edge that started the #DeathRowDC movement that gave this team an identity. It only took two and a half minutes to see it. A very ill-advised loose-ball foul by Raptors’ rookie OG Anunoby on Markieff Morris turned into an interesting scuffle.
“Things get chippy…I think it’s a part of the game,” said Bradley Beal, in his explanation of the game’s physicality. “Keef is just a bully.”
Later in the game, the refs found themselves separating players again. This time, Beal got into it with Raptors’ center Jonas Valanciunas, leading to another frenzy with John Wall and Serge Ibaka.
“I just told him get his hands out of people’s face and he went into a little rage,” explained Wall, who also had 14 assists. “It’s the playoffs. We’re down 2-0, we’re just being aggressive.”
In digging that 0-2 hole, center Marcin Gortat was the biggest scapegoat, and the popular opinion was that he’s mentally checked out. He didn’t score in game two, and he didn’t seem to want a rebound. His apparent lack of desire resonated with the Wizards’ faithful, as they recalled his wish to retire in another city.
In game three, he proved his worth. The Polish Hammer scored 16 points and of the five boards he pulled down, four were offensive.
Along with Gortat, you should keep an eye on Otto Porter for the rest of the series. So far, he hasn’t proved deserving of the max deal he signed in the summer. Starting 77 games in the regular season, Porter is averaged 14.7 points and took 11.5 shots per game. In three playoff games, he’s scoring 9.7 PPG on just eight shots a game. Although they won big despite his eight-point performance, the Wiz will need his shooting to win games.
Amid the relief a playoff victory brings, Coach Brooks remains focused. “It’s always about playing better the next game,” said Coach. “We can’t lose our edge.”
Game four is this Sunday in Washington.