The Toronto Raptors suffered a meltdown late in Game 4 against the Washington Wizards, bringing up bad memories of playoffs past.
The Toronto Raptors were the best team in the Eastern Conference in the regular season, winning a franchise-record 59 games while tweaking their play style in order to incorporate more ball moment and 3-pointers. The Raptors’ previous postseason failures were an impetus for the change, and it worked like a charm (mostly) throughout the regular season and the first two games of their first-round series against the Washington Wizards.
Toronto broke a streak of 10 straight Game 1 losses by hitting 16 3-pointers and handing out 26 assists in this series’ Game 1 win. The No. 1 seed followed that up with 13 triples and 24 assists in a convincing Game 2 victory.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, they ran into a Wizards buzzsaw in Game 3 and then suffered a Game 4 meltdown that was reminiscent of playoff letdowns of old. Toronto scored only eight points in the final 7:44 after taking an eight-point lead, resulting in a 106-98 defeat that has this series tied at 2-2. The Raptors’ playoff demons cropped up at the worst time when they had the chance to take command, and now doubt has to be creeping in as the series shifts back to Toronto.
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As good as the Raptors were this season, they had a negative net rating in crunch time. DeMar DeRozan had okay but not great shooting numbers on a ton of volume in clutch minutes, while Kyle Lowry shot under 39 percent and had more turnovers than assists in those situations. So, there were some warnings signs that not everything had been fixed despite the culture change, and the end of Game 4 brought the issues to the forefront.
DeRozan sat the first five-plus minutes of the fourth quarter in Game 4, and the first possession after he returned proved to be ominous. Lowry dribbled the ball around the top of the key for 20 seconds before chucking a contested 3-pointer that was nowhere close. This came after Lowry committed an offensive foul the possession before DeRozan returned.
From that point on, DeRozan dominated the ball down the stretch, with poor results. After knocking down a tough jumper off one pass from Lowry, DeRozan forced two tough floaters in the lane that missed badly. Both came out of pick-and-roll with young big man Jakob Poeltl, who isn’t much of an offensive threat, and both possessions had minimal ball movement. The first possession featured zero passes, while the second featured a short pass to Serge Ibaka, who quickly handed it right back to DeRozan before the shot attempt.
Toronto caught a break when Bradley Beal was whistled for his sixth foul as DeRozan crashed into him while trying to corral his miss. Poeltl knocked down a short jumper off a Lowry pass to give the Raptors the lead back, but then DeRozan missed another floater on a no-pass possession with a chance to create a bit of separation.
DeRozan went on to make only one of his last four field goal attempts, with all four of the shots holding a high degree of difficulty. The Raptors All-Star shot 2 of 8 in the fourth quarter to finish with 35 points on an ugly 10 of 29 from the field, though to his credit, he accepted responsibility for how things finished:
And to be fair to DeRozan, the loss wasn’t just on him.
Lowry didn’t score during the final stretch of the game, with his only shot attempt after the hideous missed 3-pointer a wild layup in traffic that resulted in a Wizards basket going the other way. His turnover to close out the game was a fitting way to end it.
Ibaka also committed a late turnover and missed an open 3-pointer, while C.J. Miles missed an open triple that would have cut the Raptors’ deficit to one point with just over a minute left. It was a complete and total collapse for Toronto, made even more disappointing by the gift received when Beal fouled out on a questionable call. The Raptors had a prime chance to win, and they blew it.
Further illustrating how some of the bad old habits returned, Toronto only shot 7-of-18 on 3-pointers after getting up 31 long-distance tries per game in the prior three contests. The Raptors’ 19 assists marked a series low, and NBA.com’s Second Spectrum tracking tallied them for 260 passes after averaging over 294 in the first three games.
Toronto still has home-court advantage in this series, but Washington’s star backcourt is now feeling good about itself again. The Raptors have to lock in and get back to what they’ve been doing all season that got them here, otherwise they could be looking at their biggest playoff disappointment yet.