Raptors learned their lesson, rebound with Game 5 win over Wizards

TORONTO -- For three days, a chorus of teammates, coaches, relatives, Twitter eggs, commenters on Instagram and the Toronto punditry besieged Raptors guard Delon Wright. They implored him to do something that has come as naturally to him as inhaling oxygen during his 26 years and 364 days.

Shoot the damn ball.

"About 30 people were telling me that. I kind of felt bad," Wright said. "When I saw the film, I was like, 'That's crazy.'"

The contents of the film in question were incriminating to Wright. There he was in the fourth quarter of a playoff game in Washington, perched behind the arc on the weak side, with nothing but vacant real estate surrounding him when the ball came his way. These were the opportunities that prompt most NBA perimeter players to salivate in anticipation of being fed the finest of open looks on a silver platter. Yet Wright shooed the waiter away, twice passing up the shots the Raptors needed him to take in Game 4.

So when DeMar DeRozan swung the ball to Wright, moving to his left along the perimeter, late in the fourth quarter of Game 5 with the Raptors clinging to a one-point lead, Wright kindly helped himself. With the shot clock winding down, Wright caught the ball in stride a good four feet behind the 3-point line.

With a quick flick and silky follow-through, Wright fired with Ray Allen-like confidence. The shot fell through the hoop with such ease that for an instant, the ball seemed to have touched neither net nor iron.

"He made one from Barrie," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, referring to a Canadian city that sits on the shore of Lake Simcoe some 68 miles north of the Air Canada Centre. "I thought that was a big shot for him. Again, we took the shots that we normally take, and there's nothing abnormal about it."

Wright was one of a brigade of Toronto heroes in the Raptors' 108-98 win in Game 5 over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, but he might have been the most emblematic. The Raptors have spent a full season refashioning their offense into a system more predicated on movement and playmaking. But this new enterprise works only if those being trusted, such as Wright and others in the supporting cast, reciprocate that trust by maximizing opportunities.

On the giving end of that trust, of course, is the Toronto backcourt composed of point guard Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, both brilliant on Wednesday in a vital game -- Lowry with his steady, two-way presence (17 points on 7-for-13 shooting from the field, 10 assists against only one turnover and three steals) and DeRozan with his most self-possessed performance of the series.

"I think we did a great job of not just letting [DeRozan] bring the ball up," Wright said. "We just kind of let the ball find him. He was able to make plays out of double teams or whatever they were throwing at him. In Game 4, he was bringing it up, and they were able to load on him. This game, we would bring the ball up on one side, and the ball would find him on the other."

Throughout the night, DeRozan did much of his work off the catch, cutting crisply off the ball, attacking in stride rather than pounding the rock into submission and spelunking through the morass of bodies awaiting him in the paint, as he did in Washington. The result was an efficient outing -- 32 points on 12-for-24 shooting from the field, including a 3-for-4 night from beyond the arc and 5-for-6 from the line.

"He's been facilitating for us all year," Lowry said. "He's been getting in the paint, kicking it out. He had five assists. He's been more aggressive offensively, which we need him to do."

Unlike Lowry, who is almost an intuitively economical guard, DeRozan occasionally battles some lesser impulses. His talent often enables him to overcome his sometimes questionable diet of shot attempts, but when he's operating as the catalyst in Toronto's reinvigorated offense, his best instincts prevail. His quantified shot quality -- Second Spectrum's metric that measures the likelihood of an attempt going in if the average NBA player takes the shot -- was 48.0, his highest of the series.

The defensive effort also was the finest of the series for the Raptors, as they allowed Washington only 98 points in 96 possessions. Once again, the Raptors combatted Wizards guard John Wall with a dizzying combination of defenders and coverages. To be sure, Wall found plenty of opportunities, especially in the third quarter, but much of the damage was exacted from midrange -- an area of the floor Toronto has effectively surrendered to Wall.

The Raptors introduced a wrinkle even to that strategy by encouraging their big men to meet Wall closer to the point of attack rather than dropping back and yielding him large swaths of the paint. Key in this effort: big man Jonas Valanciunas, who played his first fourth-quarter minutes of the series, to great effect.

"[Valanciunas] before, in another life, we used to show a lot and get him up there," Casey said of the strategy. "I thought he moved his feet well tonight. There's days and games that he does, that he shows that. We just need to see it more. But he has the ability to do that in certain situations."

Whether it was picking Wall clean with seven minutes left in a one-point game as he deployed this strategy or 40 seconds later finishing a masterful pick-and-roll with Lowry, Valanciunas provided the kind of structure to the Raptors' fourth-quarter attack that wasn't present in Washington. In addition to his six points in the quarter, Valanciunas' seven rebounds helped stabilize a rough night on the boards for Toronto.

The Raptors proved once again that the best version of their 2018 brand of basketball is vastly superior to anything they peddled in previous postseasons. As they head to Washington for a chance to close out the Wizards, the question remains: Can they make it their new normal?