Cory Joseph’s first buzzer beater as a Toronto Raptor (11-6) came on a play looked as though it was borrowed from the playbook of his former club. There was something decidedly Spurs-ian about the way DeMar DeRozan took the ball off the inbound, commanded a double team while dribbling underneath the basket and kicked it out to an open Joseph waiting in the corner. Joseph’s buzzer-beating swish not only clinched an unlikely 84-82 win over the Washington Wizards by affording the Raps their first lead since a 9-8 advantage early in the first, but it extended a four-game win streak that has now included three straight wins over playoff teams who went to the second round of the playoffs or better last season.
You have to be lucky to be good, and it certainly took a healthy dose of good fortune for Toronto to even be in the position to win on Saturday night. John Wall, a typically consistent free throw shooter with a career 79% average, missed two critical attempts in the dying seconds to afford the Raps their game-winning opportunity. Had Wall, who also shot 6-25 on the night, made the freebies, Toronto could have only hoped to tie the game on their final possession, with the Wizards also able to game plan for the three-pointer the visitors would have needed.
Outside of an exciting finish, the Verizon Center clash was an ugly one on Saturday. The Raps shot 43.1% (31-72) from the floor, but coughed up 22 turnovers. Meanwhile, Washington shot just 32.9% (27-82), ironically relying on free throw prowess that saw them nearly double the attempts of their opponents (27-14) – until being undone by free throws late. With Jonas Valanciunas remaining out for Toronto, Washington endured a myriad of nagging injuries that left just 10 healthy bodies and forced Nene, Drew Gooden, Gary Neal, Martell Webster, Alan Anderson and Dejuan Blair to the sidelines.
Point guard production
Even before Joseph sent the Raptors to their walk-off win, the point guard spot had been an area of significant advantage for Toronto. On the night, Kyle Lowry and his game-winning backup combined for 39 points on 14-26 shooting, going 8-13 from three while adding nine assists and seven rebounds. Sure, they were responsible for nine turnovers, but that production still put them well ahead of the Wizards’ tandem of Wall and Ramon Sessions. The Washington floor generals played more like another group of Washington Generals on Saturday, making just six of their 32 shots for a combined 21 points.
I realize I could have gone back to praising the defensive calling card for the Raps here, but after allowing just 88 points over their past four games, it’s getting a little repetitive! Instead, I’ll focus on something that the club hasn’t typically done well with this season: After Time Out (ATO) plays. Although known for his defensive schemes and strong relationships with players, Dwane Casey has never been known for his offensive scheming and drawing up particularly strong set plays. However, the game-winning bucket appeared to be a Casey gem that was masterfully executed, with the Wizards’ defense keying in on a dangerous DeRozan, only for the shooting guard to spot a wide open Joseph in the corner.
The Raptors’ good fortune on Saturday night extended beyond Wall’s missed free throws. They were also lucky that Washington was unable to make them pay further for sloppy play that led to a season-high 22 turnovers, with the hosts scoring just 11 points off of them. The opportunity was certainly there, particularly in a two-point game, for the Wizards to ride their explosive point guard to some big points off of Raptor giveaways. Instead, they went largely unpunished despite having seven players finish with multiple cough ups and actually still led in fast break points, 15-5.
Joseph’s buzzer beater was nice and all, but it was still probably just his second most impressive highlight on the night. This might be as close as a crossover has come to literally being ankle-breaking.
Don’t look now, but the Wizards actually find themselves in the basement of the Southeast division. While a 6-8 record hardly warrants the sounding of an alarm, it is undoubtedly a disappointing place for the club to find themselves. Injuries have played at least a partial role, but the club just hasn’t been good enough defensively (105.1 points per game allowed) or offensively (99.2 points scored), particularly during their current four-game losing skid which has also included losses to the Celtics, Hornets and Pacers. While Bradley Beal has grown into the team’s leading scorer, Wall is struggling with 39% shooting on the season thus far and Marcin Gortat and Nene seem to be showing their age.
The Raps have officially survived their road heavy stretch. After starting the season with 12 of their first 17 games on the road, they now settle into a stretch of seven of their next eight at the ACC, starting tonight with the Phoenix Suns in town (6:00pm, SN).
Prediction: Raps 105, Suns 91 (record this season: 6-10)