2015 Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs, Game 1
Raptors 86 (OT)
April 18, 2015 – Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON
Paul Pierce led the way, but Otto was the closer.
When Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfield laid out their outline for the Wizards’ rebuilding “Plan” a few years ago, one of the primary elements for success was creating a culture that would attract high profile veterans in free agency. As the Wizards began to improve and dispose some of the bad apples – err, a lot of the bad apples – they gradually begin to draw interest in said veterans, although not so high-profile initially. Eventually the Wizards, having made the playoffs and led by two of the league’s uprising stars, were able to build a reputation good enough to acquire the likes of a highly-sought future Hall of Famer; one that attained the championship experience and the caliber to help spearhead the Wizards to the next level.
On Saturday in Toronto, the Wizards faced the Raptors for Game 1 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and on Saturday, said highly-sought future Hall of Famer, better known as The Truth, took very little time putting in that work on the floor and taking the first step to getting the Wizards to that next level.
The party started earlier in the week, when much was made of Pierce’s dejecting comments towards the Raptors and their lack of having ‘it’. DeMar DeRozan became anxious to face Pierce, Amir Johnson made a cliche Viagra joke, the front page of the Toronto Sun Sports section had Pierce photoshopped in the body of Gandalf, and Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri yelled out to a mob of Raptors fans that he “doesn’t give a shit about Pierce”.
None of the Raptors’ feelings mattered. Not one bit. Pierce broke out a vintage performance right out the dusted crates, pouring in 20 points on 7-10 shooting. His 10 in the 2nd quarter propelled the Wizards to a halftime lead, and more importantly, it solidified the theory of Pierce being far more serviceable playing the 4 position in a small lineup. His five points in the overtime period was the clutch playoff performance we fantasized about before the season began. His overall impact in the game has given the Wizards – primarily their young stars – the world of momentum going into Game 2, and has forced the Raptors to do a little bit of soul-searching thanks to Pierce’s inextinguishable mind games.
Said Greivis Vasquez: “[Pierce] got everybody’s attention..”
Well, at least something got everyone’s attention, because it wasn’t your shimmy dance, Greivis.
What did get everyone’s attention was, again, Pierce’s impact at the power forward position. It was the same thing had him thriving in his matchup against the Raptors last season when he was a Brooklyn Net, and he proved his success at the 4 once again in Game 1 on Saturday. Pierce’s insertion into the small-ball lineup came midway in the 2nd quarter, and the Wizards banked off of it immediately with a 16-4 run, 10 of them by way of Pierce. It was the perfect measure to cancel out Patrick Patterson’s eruption just prior to Pierce checking in. And Patrick Patterson surely knows a thing or two about destructive small ball lineups. Washington’s big run reversed an early 2nd quarter seven point Raptors lead, and gave the Wizards a 46-42 lead at the break.
Pierce’s 2nd quarter greatness:
Moving on from Pierce’s greatness, it was the lack thereof from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan that sunk the Raptors in the 3rd quarter. The backcourt duo combined for like 1-for-32456 from the field (1-for-10 in non-exaggerating terms) in the 3rd, while the Raptors shot just 28% as a team. Lowry was a mess on both ends of the floor, unable to establish himself defensively, getting over-antsy and into foul trouble, and was then was oh so disrespectfully waved goodbye by Bradley Beal.
The Wizards practically had the lane all coned up against the Raptors. See Drew Gooden’s monster denial of Jonas Valucianas, and also Kyle Lowry’s stumbling attempt to penetrate through Washington’s interior D.
Seraphin. Jumper. AU BON PAIN son.
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) April 18, 2015
We simply cannot overlook Kevin Seraphin’s quality minutes in this game. In a somewhat surprising move, Randy Wittman opted to play Seraphin over Kris Humphries, likely due to Seraphin’s bounciness and mobility as a counter to Toronto’s equally versatile lineup. Turned out to be the right move. Seraphin was locked in mentally, which is usually the platform for a productive game from him. KS finished with 10 points off the bench, including this ‘Almost Kareem’ drive and hook:
Also this slick bounce pass to a Drew Gooden cutting down the lane:
Wall and Beal’s resilience.
The assessment of the #HouseOfGuards is kind of a weird one. The two combined for 11-41 shooting, yet still made enough critical plays throughout the game to kind of steer your mind from it, at least at the end of it all. Wall was 0-9 on shots from 15 feet and out. Beal was 2-13 from that range and 1-7 from 3. But both made sure to refrain from letting their shooting woes derail their focus and this was especially key for Wall in the final period of regulation and overtime. Wall shot 2-7 in that span of time but had four assists and, most important of all, he had zero turnovers. This pass of his to Nene depicts much of his resilience:
As for Bradley Beal, again, the 6-23 shooting line is an absolute atrocity for a guy considered the best shooter on his team, but, for me, it’s his continued aggressiveness and willingness to take better shots that makes me feel okay about a bad shooting night. Beal is a bona fide scorer. His shots will fall. What’s important is the initiative and the determination he’s shown to:
Attack the rim more often..
..and to take more 3’s.
The Wizards were able to overcome a rowdy playoff atmosphere, a terrible shooting night from their backcourt, and a crucial momentum swing for the Raptors after squandering a big lead.
They were able to put Paul Pierce in a position where he could put his money where is mouth is and drill through the hearts of Raptors fans, jump shot after jump shot.
They were able to get the most of out of John Wall and Bradley Beal when it most mattered.
They got substantial contributions from Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin. And they’re finally making a man out of Otto Porter.
The Wizards have once again taken dictatorship of a first-round playoff series by stealing home court from their opponent. With all the talk surrounding the Raptors’ regular season sweep of the Wizards, our boys came out proving none of it mattered. On to Game 2. Take us away, Drake.
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) April 18, 2015