Game No. 26: Wizards 111, Raptors 108 (OT)

Between a putrid first half effort from the Raptors and a very Wizards-like performance in the second half, some very quiet fans in Washington were treated to quite the finish in this ball game. I refuse to call it good basketball just because it was a close overtime finish, but I will say, it was exciting.

If you’re a Raptors fan, you had to see this coming. A bad young team playing another bad young team the day after an admirable effort against the Heat and three days after beating the very team they are playing is the perfect recipe for a “trap game” or let down game.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I’ll keep referencing it as long as it continues to happen, or not happen in the case of the Raptors. That’s now 14 straight games without winning a first quarter for the Raps, who have trailed by eight points or more after 10 of those 14 first quarters. Tonight was definitely one of the uglier opening frames during this ugly stretch. The Raptors shot just 29 per cent to the Wizards’ 65 per cent, they had five shots blocked and their best player through 12 minutes was Aaron Gray. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the makings of an NBA disaster.

2- Speaking of Aaron Gray, while I joke (not really) that it’s a pathetic indication when he plays like the team’s best player, he does deserve credit for the workmanlike attitude he displays on the court. He sticks to his role and does his job, and that’s a hard attribute to find in today’s world of professional sports. Gray moves the ball when it’s in his hands, attempts a shot only when it is a clearly efficient attempt and boxes out perfectly when trying to grab a rebound. He contributed four points, four rebounds and an assist in the game’s first seven minutes. I’m fine with Dwane Casey giving Gray starts if he can continue to open games the way he has been recently.

3- Linas Kleiza came through with one of the best individual performances we’ll see from any Raptor this season. 30 points on just 16 shots, five rebounds, an assist, a couple of steals and an unbelievable bank-shot to tie the game. I was one of many Raptors fans who was disappointed with Kleiza’s play last season, and was skeptical that he could pick his game up after microfracture surgery. I am very pleased to admit that I was wrong. In general, he’s been surprisingly good since his return from surgery, but over the last four days, Kleiza has been absolutely lights out, scoring 62 points in just 77 minutes played over his last three games. Even better, he’s done it on nearly 60 per cent shooting.

4- A changing of the guard? For the second straight game, Jerryd Bayless nearly helped carry the Raptors to an improbable win while Jose Calderon watched. In a span of about 35 hours, Calderon committed eight turnovers compared to just seven assists, while Bayless scored 47 points and recorded six assists to just two turnovers. Decisions shouldn’t be made based on a two-game sample, but if Bayless can start stringing some good performances together, he will make it a lot easier to imagine a short-term future without Jose Calderon and make it easier to part with Leandro Barbosa via trade.

5- A few words on the Wizards. I know John Wall makes some careless decisions on the floor and doesn’t shoot the ball well, but he has the quickness and skill to be a star point guard in the NBA. The other thing I like about Wall is that he actually seems to care about winning, which is a lot more than you can say about a guy like Javale McGee, who seems to be more concerned with his own highlight reel than he is with the result of the ball game (saluting and celebrating dunks in games where his team is down 20 is a clear indication of this). What the Wizards need to do is find a way to get John Wall away from the “Dumb and Dumber” cast that is the rest of the Wizards’ roster, then get him a real NBA coach. With a young core of Wall, a top-five pick in 2012 and Jan Vesely, the Wizards could be a team on the rise, where as I doubt the Wiz  can go anywhere with guys like Andray Blatche and Nick Young.

6- If you watched this game, you know that Jamaal Magloire’s fumbled rebound after a missed Wizards free throw was a major contributing factor to the end result. You can now make the argument that between his airballed free throws against the Pacers last month and his butter fingers on Monday night, Jamaal has had a hand in giving the Raptors two extra losses so far this season. Add those losses to the point Scott made about Magloire in his game thread, and I’d have to assume that “Tank Nation” is loving this acquisition right now.

It’s hard to believe, but this was actually the Raptors’ last road game for 22 days. After playing 17 of their first 26 games away from the Air Canada Centre, the Raps will begin a seven-game home-stand on Wednesday that will see them play the Bucks, Celtics, Lakers, Knicks, Spurs, Bobcats and Pistons. In fact, Toronto’s next road game will come after the All Star break. I’ll be interested to see how this team handles three weeks at home.


Raptors Player of the Game: Linas Kleiza – 35 Min, 30 Pts, 11-16 FG, 4-8 3PT, 4-8 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl, 3 TO

Wizards Player of the Game: John Wall – 44 Min, 31 Pts, 10-19 FG, 0-1 3PT, 11-14 FT, 5 Reb, 7 Ast, 2 Stl, 4 TO