The Wizards head into tonight’s Game 3 at the Verizon Center with a 2-0 series lead on the Toronto Raptors. The Wizards are no longer “peaked in High School Rob Lowe” against the Raptors. Yes, this is the same Raptors team that swept the Wizards in the regular season, but this certainly does not look like the same team from DC – and that is a good thing.
The Wizards, despite their most regular season wins in 36 years, failed to live up to the preseason hype of East Contender and were unable to secure home court advantage in the playoffs. Yet in the first two games of the playoffs they have seemed to flip a switch and look like the team with the huge chip on their shoulder from last year’s Bulls series.
Not even the most optimistic of Wizards fans expected to see the dominance we saw in Game 2 in Toronto. John Wall and Bradley Beal were unstoppable, but as great as they were nothing seemed more satisfying than seeing Otto Porter play big productive minutes for the 2nd straight playoff game.
There has been plenty of discussion about the advantage the Wizards have in Randy Wittman’s small lineup that uses Paul Pierce as the stretch four, and there’s no question that so far, it has made a huge difference. However, the part that seems to be underappreciated is Porter’s role on the floor. The former 3rd overall pick has played terrific defense on the perimeter. He’s rebounded and scored 15 points in Game 2 and hit the dagger bucket in OT in Game 1.
Porter has looked comfortable and has played with a swagger that had not been seen often enough over his first two seasons. During an ESPN.com interview just over a week ago, future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce put the Wizards’ young players Wall, Beal, and Porter on notice, and all three have responded.
I spoke to several people in the Wizards organization after the interview was released, and all had the same reaction. The message was no different than the one Pierce delivers daily to them. For his part, Pierce has been terrific and picked his spots to get hot in the series. The Wizards have killed Toronto on the boards, Nene has been a force and Drew Gooden just outhustles everyone when he comes off the bench. Marcin Gortat has been able to score in the post as well as Kevin Seraphin. Ramon Sessions has helped the Wizards push the tempo when Wall sits.
The head of the snake for the Raptors is Kyle Lowry. Although he’s been on the court , he may not be completely healthy and he clearly can’t guard without fouling in this series. DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams have not had the impact many expected. Toronto is not a good defensive team and it showed in the first two games.
All that being said, the series could turn around quickly if the Raptors can flip the script in Game 3 at the Verizon Center. As wonderful as the Wizards were at home this year (29-12), they still have a sour taste about last year’s playoff performance at home. They were able to win only one of their five playoff games at the Verizon Center last year. If the Wizards have truly turned the corner, they need a big weekend at home to give the DC faithful a reason to fully believe they can make a deep run this year.
Tonight and Sunday the Wizards need to play with that attitude they had up in the ‘North’ in front of Drake and the Toronto faithful. To steal Beal’s line, the Wizards need to show Toronto they aren’t ‘some punks’ and play with the same reckless abandon that earned them a 2-0 series lead. If they do that, they should find themselves advancing for the second straight year, with a real chance to go further than they did a year ago.