Despite being short-handed, the Toronto Raptors kept their winning streak alive on Saturay, defeating the Washington Wizards by a final score of 122-118 to record their fourth-straight victory.
For more on the game, here are some quick thoughts...
1. Kyle Lowry sets the tone
Our Micah Adams wrote about how the Raptors will need Lowry to take his game to another level while Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell and Marc Gasol are out.
He did just that against the Wizards.
Lowry set the tone with an aggressive start that saw him score or assist on 12 of the team's 18 points to open the game. It helped the Raptors build an early lead that they held onto the rest of the way.
Lowry finished the opening quarter with 12 points and three assists.
Lowry scored 14 points and dished out six assists the rest of his way, bringing his totals for the game to 26 points and nine assists. He was Toronto's leading scorer and facilitator.
2. A new season-high for Patrick McCaw
Another bright spot in the first quarter? McCaw.
McCaw started in place of Siakam and matched his season-high of six points in only five minutes of play. He scored two of his first-quarter baskets in transition, the other coming off a well-timed cut set up by Lowry.
Yup, that's a dime pic.twitter.com/Nkxy5YcYVK- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 21, 2019
McCaw scored only five points in the other three quarters, but he hit a clutch 3-pointer when the Raptors were in need of a bucket down the stretch.
Big bucket McCaw pic.twitter.com/wTqHVZPcSH- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 21, 2019
McCaw also did a solid job defensively on Bradley Beal in the first half, helping the Raptors limit the two-time All-Star to 14 points on 3-for-11 shooting from the field.
All in all, a solid showing for McCaw.
3. Serge Ibaka steps up - again
The first quarter belonged to Lowry and McCaw, but Ibaka was Toronto's best player for a large portion of the game.
Starting in place of the injured Gasol at centre, Ibaka scored 23 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked a game-high three shots. He shot 7-for-10 from the field, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line and 7-for-10 from the free throw line.
Ibaka had a couple of highlight-reel plays and seemed to have an answer whenever the Wizards started to chip away at the lead in the third quarter.
Raptors basketball at its FINEST pic.twitter.com/MXTJ0gCutO- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 21, 2019
Ibaka struggled when he first returned from injury, but he appears to be back to normal. Prior to this game, he scored a season-high 25 points against the Detroit Pistons.
4. Fred VanVleet returns
While the Raptors were without Siakam, Powell and Gasol, they got VanVleet back after a five-game absence due to a knee injury.
While he couldn't get his shot to fall - VanVleet scored 18 points on 6-for-18 shooting from the field - he flirted with a triple-double with nine rebounds and eight assists.
The rebounds marked a new career-high.
More importantly, VanVleet didn't appear to be holding back. He didn't shy away from contact and was relentless attacking the basket. Once he gets his rhythm back, a lot of the shots he missed against the Wizards should start to fall again.
5. Bradley Beal shows why he's an All-Star
Beal had a quiet first half, but he dominated the second half.
Whereas Beal scored 14 points on 3-for-11 shooting in the first half, he scored 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting in the final two quarters. He was at his best in the third period, when he scored 15 of Washington's 33 points.
Bradley Beal in Toronto- Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) December 21, 2019
📊: 37p | 7r | 6a#WizRaptors | @RealDealBeal23 pic.twitter.com/iMjV343NiR
The Raptors still held a double digit lead after three quarters, but Beal and the Wizards carried that momentum into the fourth quarter, tying the game at 107 with just under six minutes to play.
Beal and the Wizards just didn't have enough to pull off the win.
The Wizards haven't been great this season - they're now 8-19 - but they've been better than expected, mostly due to Beal. He will almost certainly be an All-Star again, whether he's voted in by the media, fans or coaches.
6. Ish Smith loves playing the Raptors
For whatever reason, the Raptors seem to bring the best out of Smith.
The Raptors are the only team in the league Smith averages double figures scoring against in his NBA career. The highest scoring game of his career (28 points) also came against the Raptors, back in 2016 when he played for the Philadelphia 76ers.
On Friday, Smith tied Beal for team-high honours in the first half with 14 points, which he did in only 13 minutes of action on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting.
The finISH! pic.twitter.com/sWYXijGXr8- Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) December 21, 2019
Smith went on to score 12 more points in the second half on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting. The 26 points marked the second-highest scoring game of his career.
7. Defence isn't exactly Washington's thing
We already knew that coming into this game - the Wizards have the worst defensive rating in the league - but giving up 122 points to a Raptors team that was without Siakam and Powell is ... not ideal.
8. Raptors remain perfect against losing teams
With the win, the Raptors improve to 16-0 against teams below .500 this season. The Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks are the only other teams in the league with a perfect record against losing teams.
On the other hand, the Raptors are only 4-8 against teams at .500 or above.
9. What's next?
The Raptors will be back in action on Monday morning (2 am IST) when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.
Luka Doncic isn't expected to play, but it sounds like he's close to returning.
Luka Doncic remains out tonight, but he's out here pregame in Philadelphia running wind sprints. Not going full speed, but also doesn't appear to be limping, or have anything extra on his sprained ankle.- Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) December 21, 2019
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