Raptors' 'bench mob' being outplayed by Wizards reserves
Toronto's 2nd unit is dead last in point differential through 3 playoff games
The Toronto Raptors' second unit was so strong in the regular season that the team ran a tongue-in-cheek social media campaign suggesting their entire "bench mob" win the NBA's sixth man of the year award.
But the second unit that could once be counted on to maintain leads, and even close out games if the starters were struggling, has all but disappeared in the post-season.
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One of the best benches in the regular season is dead last in point differential (minus 20.4) through three playoff games against Washington. Making matters worse, the Wizards are first (plus 12.8).
But coach Dwane Casey says he hasn't lost confidence in his second unit. He doesn't plan any major adjustments to playing time.
"We believe in those guys and we are not going to turn on them as far as yanking the plug on them now," Casey said. "We are going to continue to go with them. Whether tweak a player here or there, we still have the prerogative to do that, but we believe in our second unit, they are going to be out there, they just have to play better. They've got to step up, meet the moment, and take advantage of the opportunity."
Raptors missing VanVleet
The Raptors dropped a dreadful 122-103 loss in Washington on Friday. Racing out to an early nine-point lead, the game promised to follow the same storyline as their two dominant wins, but a 12-2 Wizards run against Toronto's second unit stopped the Raptors in their tracks.
In the final two minutes of the quarter, Toronto's bench has been outscored 30-11 in the series, Casey pointed out.
A big part of the Raptors' problems is the absence of Fred VanVleet, a scrappy and sharp-shooting point guard who largely runs the second unit.
"Fred's the type of guy, he's always making plays for us when things get a little stagnant," said Jakob Poeltl. "On defence, he's everywhere. He plugs the gaps. He helps out teammates all over the court. It's a little bit of everything that he does for us.
"[But] we know it's not an excuse. We know we have 12, 13, 14 guys on this team that can come in and contribute."
VanVleet has played less than three minutes in this series after suffering a shoulder injury in the season-finale. Casey said he's still "day to day."
Raptors look to bounce back
The Raptors practised at Georgetown University on Saturday, sitting down for a long video session before taking the court. Defensive meltdowns and poor ball handling were surely on the agenda — the Raptors gave up 28 points on 19 turnovers in Game 3.
"Pulled no punches in the video session," Casey said. "Mood was good, guys owned up to their mistakes in situations. Nobody should be happy, we all should be teed off and ticked off that we got spanked the way we did [Friday] night. So from that standpoint we'll see how we respond."
The Raptors have shown they can bounce back from ugly losses. They were beaten by the Bucks in similarly ugly fashion — 104-77 — in Game 3 of the opening round last year in Milwaukee. They responded with an 87-76 win and went on to win the series.
"This team this year has always responded to a bad game, a bad loss and bounced back," Casey said. "I have to go on how we have reacted this year. Two or three years ago? We probably would have crumbled in the first two games.
"[It's] maturity. Experience. Consistency. We've been through the fire before."
Both teams confident
Casey said the team's confidence hasn't sagged.
"We are where we are for a reason. There's a larger sample size other than one game. We are the same team that everybody was jumping up and down about two days ago, now we're the worst team in the league," the coach said.
"We've gotta do things better, harder, more physical and with more focus. We had 10 plays last night where one guy or two guys totally screwed up things we've been running all year. That tells me that there's a focus issue in certain situations that we've gotta clear up, and that's very unusual for us."
The Wizards' confidence soared in Game 3, behind the enigmatic Bradley Beal and John Wall, who scored 28 points apiece. When they weren't scoring, Wall was playing to the crowd. Beal was eating popcorn at the scorer's table.
This is how Bradley Beal felt about the Raptors tonight 🍿 <a href="https://t.co/W2sYuNVVmt">pic.twitter.com/W2sYuNVVmt</a>—@aardodson
"I'm sure they saw it," Casey said of his players. "But if that motivates you, if that's the only thing that motivates you, then we're in trouble. Them getting to the basket, sashaying to the hole, getting the jump shots and having time to read the label on the ball, those are the things that should motivate you."