There weren’t many NBA wags who gave the 8th-seeded Wizards (43-39) much of a chance to win their first round series against top-seeded Toronto (59-23); and now that the series is knotted up 2-2 the Wiz are still the underdog in Game 5 Wednesday in Toronto, if only because the Raptors hold home court advantage.
John Wall, healthy and rejuvenated for the playoffs and the best player in the series so far, may have other ideas. Wall got into a groove in the two Washington D.C. games, piling up 55 pts and 28 assists in the Wizards’ victories. The Raptors’ Demar DeRozan tried to keep up, but reverted to old habits in Game 4, throwing up 29 shots and making just ten, while an officiating crew chiefed by Derrick Stafford bailed him out early and often (Derozan shot 14 of 18 from the line).
It was ugly basketball for the most part, very much what the Raptors used to do in the playoffs — rely heavily on DeRozan and PG Kyle Lowry while center Jonas Valanciunas worked underneath to pull them along as far as he could. That was all the way to the Eastern Conference finals in 2016, though they lost as much as they won on the 20-game run (the Raptors won 10, lost 10, needing Game 7 wins to push past the Pacers and the Heat in the first two rounds).
Though DeRozan leads the series in scoring with 28 pts/g, his per game BIER is a pedestrian 6.25. Wall leads the series with a 12.82 BIER/gm, while Valanciunas in limited minutes (just 21.3 minutes/gm) is leading the Raptors with a high impact 10.72 BIER/gm. If this series could be billed a “Battle of the All-Star guards”, Wall and Bradley Beal are winning the battle, though not the war — not yet anyway.
Wall and Beal are averaging 49.5 pts/g and a combined BIER/gm of 20.23 — a ton of efficient production for a pair of guards. It’s also the inverse of what Wall and Beal vs. Lowry and DeRozan looked like in the regular season (13.73 BIER/gm vs. 17.55).
On the other Washington wing, Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre have been relatively quiet, which means the Wizards still have options to exploit in the final three games. On paper, if Wall is healthy and at the top of his game (which he is), the advantage at guard and on the wings should go to the Wizards.
The Raptors may rationalize that Wall can’t play much better than he did in the first four games, and yet the series is tied. DeRozan, on the other hand, certainly can play better than he has, and the series is tied.
The Raptors advantages are in the front court, where Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka and Jakob Poeltl are matched up against Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Ian Mahinmi. The Wizards are tough, Gortat’s constant complaining aside, but the Raptors bigs are simply better players; and Valanciunas’ ability to step out for the occasional 3-pointer (40.5% from 3 this season) has presented a new problem for defenses this season. The combined BIER numbers through 4 games for the bigs in the series:
- Valanciunas, Ibaka and Poeltl: 24.93 BIER/gm, up from 24.34 in season
- Gortat, Morris and Mahinmi: 21.03 BIER/gm, up from 18.12 in season
Memory can be short when one is bombarded with new images and information every day, but it wasn’t too long ago that the Wizards were on the verge of the Eastern Conference finals. They were, in retrospect, a more competitive opponent for the Cavs than the Celtics (the officiating in Boston in Game 2 of the Wizards vs. Celtics series played a role in the C’s winning the series).
The 2018 Wizards are the same cast, plus a stronger bench thanks to Thomas Satoransky and the ever-improving Oubre.
The Raptors bench was the talk of the NBA earlier this season, and the keys there are 2nd-year center Poeltl and guard Delon Wright, 18 points on 7-10 shooting in Game 1. 3-point specialist C.J. Miles also shot well in Game 1 (12 pts on 4-7 shooting from three), so the Raptors bench rescued Game 1, despite the great series Wall is having.
My early prediction that the Wizards would take the series didn’t look so good. And now?
I’m looking forward to a great Game 7.
- Wizards vs. Raptors official scorers’ report, Game 1, 04/14/18 – http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180414/0041700101_Book.pdf
- GAME 2 – https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20180422/0041700104_Book.pdf
- GAME 4 – https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20180422/0041700104_Book.pdf
- Series stats at basketball-reference – https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2018-nba-eastern-conference-first-round-wizards-vs-raptors.html