TORONTO — Four games into the Playoffs That Were Supposed to Be Different, the Toronto Raptors are a 12-man Rorschach Test. How one feels about them at this point is fairly dependent on one’s general outlook on life.
With that in mind, here is some analysis from both the optimistic and pessimistic viewpoints. Feel free to only read the parts that suit you, and ignore the rest.
Glass half-full: The Raptors have been here before, and they have bounced back before. In their previous two post-seasons, Toronto came to Game 5 tied 2-2 four times. They won three of those games, with the only loss coming last year at home to Cleveland, when they were missing Kyle Lowry because of injury. Two of those wins, against Indiana and Miami two years ago, came after frustrating Game 4 losses in which the team seemed to take a major step backward. Just like, say, now.
Glass half-empty: They were not supposed to be reliving old struggles by this point. The supporting cast was revamped in the summer around the same Lowry-DeMar DeRozan-Dwane Casey core, and it worked to the tune of a franchise-record 59 wins and a 2-0 series lead against Washington. But all that evolution went for naught when they blew an 11-point halftime lead in Game 4, and their ball-movement offence stopped moving the ball. The Raptors, and DeRozan in particular, fell back on old habits at the worst possible time.
Glass half-full: They don’t have losing streaks. The Raptors did not lose three games in a row all season long, going 5-0 after consecutive losses. They are also returning home for Game 5 at the Air Canada Centre, where they had a franchise-record 34 wins (and just seven losses) in the regular season.
Glass half-empty: The Raptors have already bucked some trends, and not in a good way. They were 17-5 after a loss heading into Sunday night, and over the last two playoff seasons the team was a perfect 8-0 after a loss against teams that did not include LeBron James. They lost on Sunday night anyway.
Glass half-full: Many of Toronto’s wounds were self-inflicted over Games 3 and 4. The Raptors had 19 turnovers on Friday night, and Casey talked about it so much in the intervening day and a half that there are probably a couple of Washington waiters and bellhops who could now tell you an awful lot about the importance of taking care of the basketball. Then Toronto went out in Game 4 and trimmed that number to … 18. That turnover rate would have been worst in the NBA this season, whereas Toronto was actually sixth-best during the regular season. If they can just stop giving the ball away, they should be fine.
Glass half-empty: It is fair to wonder why, exactly, the Raptors turned the ball over at such a clip in Washington. They went to D.C. as a relaxed and confident bunch, but a lot of those turnovers came off soft passes or a hesitant move. Casey himself said he couldn’t understand why his role players were passing up open shots. Were they just rattled by the atmosphere? If so, that is a worrisome sign.
Glass half-full: Toronto has had major contributions from a number of players, with DeRozan, Lowry, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka all having nights were they scored at least 18 points. This is a feature of Toronto’s new-look offence, where the points are supposed to come from whoever is open. Washington’s offence, meanwhile, has been heavily reliant on their two star guards, John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Glass half-empty: Wall and Beal are really good. Both have had issues with consistency in the playoffs, which may sound familiar to Toronto fans, but either one is capable of getting hot and scoring in bursts. Wall is not just averaging almost 27 points per game, better than anyone in the series, he’s also dishing 13 assists per game, almost double what Lowry is averaging for Toronto. If playoff wins are sometimes about a player who simply takes a game over, Washington’s guards have done it better in the last two outings. The Raptors play a system now that deliberately tries to avoid putting too much of the scoring burden on DeRozan and Lowry, but that also means Toronto is unlikely to win a stars-versus-stars shootout.
Glass half-full: The Wizards have struggled on the road in the playoffs, with a 1-6 record away from Capital One Arena over the past two seasons. Last year they went down 0-2 to Boston on the road, came back to even the series at home, and lost in seven games.
Glass half-empty: The Wizards have now won eight straight playoff games at home, a streak that stretches back to 2016. But that’s a problem for Friday, not Wednesday.
• Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @scott_stinson