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Going in to their playoff opener against the Washington Wizards on Saturday at Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors had to have strong shoulders for all the baggage they were lugging going in.
Even All-Star guard Kyle Lowry admitted, “Our Game 1 is like a Game 7,” he said. “We’ve got to play like it’s a Game 7.”
The Raptors, the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference going into the postseason, responded well, posting a 114-106 win against the Wizards to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The triumph ended a 10-game skid — which spanned 17 years — in series-opening games for Toronto, which had not prevailed in a Game 1 since beating Philadelphia in the opener of a second-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001.
“It’s out of the way now,” All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan said of the skid. “Worry about Game 2.”
Serge Ibaka led the way for Toronto on Saturday, putting up 23 points, 12 boards and two blocked shots.
— NBA (@NBA) April 15, 2018
Delon Wright (18 points, 4 assists, 3 steals) was next in line, while DeRozan (17 points, 6 assists), O.G. Anunoby (12 points), C.J. Miles (12 points) and Lowry (11 points, 3 rebounds, 9 dimes, 2 steals) all reached double figures for the winners.
— NBA (@NBA) April 15, 2018
John Wall led Washington, the eighth seed in the East, with 23 points, 15 assists and four steals. He had not played in any of the four games against the Raptors during the regular season, which the two teams split, 2-2.
Markieff Morris (22 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists), Bradley Beal (19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), Mike Scott (14 points, 3 rebounds) and Marcin Gortat (12 points, 6 boards) all reached double figures for the Wizards.
The Raptors ended that sad streak by hitting 16 of 30 3-point attempts, a team record for a postseason game.
“We let a few of their guys that just can flat-out shoot, shoot a lot of 3s,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.
Miles led the way from long distance, canning four triples for Toronto, while Ibaka and Wright both made three.
CJ Miles with the quick release for the @Raptors!
— NBA (@NBA) April 14, 2018
“I always thought Serge was going to be the X-factor with his shooting when they double-team Kyle and DeMar,” Casey said. “His 3-point shooting is huge.”
Toronto’s bench, regarded as one of the best in the NBA, lived up to its press clippings, outscoring its Washington counterparts, 41-21. The Wizards’ starters outscored the Raptors’ starting unit, 85-72.
Washington built a 59-55 halftime lead, but Toronto caught and passed it after three, 86-85, then outscored the visitors in the fourth quarter, 28-21, to take the opener. The game featured 15 lead changes, but the tide seemed to turn for good after a Flagrant 1 foul by Scott for knocking DeRozan to the floor with the Wizards leading, 91-88. After that play, though, the Raptors closed out the game in a 26-15 run.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 14, 2018
“That sequence was big for us just to get the lead back and kind of start to get a little bit of momentum, a little bit more push,” Lowry said.
The Wizards will be able to shake off the opening-game loss, according to Beal.
“We’ve been here before,” he said. “We didn’t come here with the mindset that we were going to sweep them. We had opportunities, several opportunities, to win tonight and close it out but we didn’t.
“Brush it off and move forword.”
Serge Ibaka answers three different questions in three different languages ?? This also goes to show the diversity of the NBA as a whole. Best league in sports.
— Ball Don't Stop (@balldontstop) April 15, 2018
This series marks the first time Washington and Toronto have tangled in the playoffs since 2005, when the Wizards pulled off a surprising four-game sweep of the Raptors.
“We’re not satisfied,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’re in this for the long run.”
The start of the game was delayed about five minutes because of an apparent issue with moisture on the court along the baseline adjacent to Washington’s bench. Arena staffers continued drying the area periodically throughout the game.
Game 2 is set for Tuesday at Air Canada Centre.