How Raptors killed their playoff demons and proved their new look works in Game 1 vs. Wizards

At halftime, the takes came flying in: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can't get their act together in the playoffs. The Playoff Raptors are back. It is a Game 1, so of course Toronto is losing at halftime. Déjà vu! 

Indeed, the Raptors trailed the Washington Wizards after 24 minutes at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday. And yes, Lowry and DeRozan shot poorly in the first half: 1-for-3 for the four-time All-Star point guard, 1-for-5 for the four-time All-Star shooting guard, seven points between them. The score was 59-55, though, and Lowry and DeRozan had four assists apiece. 

It might have felt like déjà vu, but it did not look like it -- Toronto's offense was fine. The problem was on the other end, where it struggled containing pick-and-rolls and uncharacteristically gave up a few wide-open looks at the rim, surrendering 36 points in the second quarter. 

The Raptors cleaned a lot of that up after halftime, and their world-destroying bench did their usual damage in a 114-106 win. This ended their 10-game losing streak in series openers, which dated all the way back to 2002. DeRozan finished with 17 points and six assists; Lowry had 11 and nine. The leading scorer was Serge Ibaka (23 points on 8-for-11 shooting), and the Raptors wouldn't have won without reserves Delon Wright (18 in 25 minutes) and C.J. Miles (12 points in 19 minutes) coming up big. Toronto went on a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter with DeRozan on the bench.

Winning this way is not at all unusual for the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors. It would have been just about unimaginable, however, in years past. As much as Toronto would have liked DeRozan and Lowry to catch fire in Game 1, this kind of victory is the clearest possible representation of how the team has changed. 

DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan, passer. USATSI

If you paid attention to the Raptors in the regular season (or read this story), you know all about their "culture reset" and offensive transformation: Despite finishing sixth in offensive rating last season, they installed a completely new system in training camp, one which required their primary scorers to sacrifice touches, empower their teammates and move without the ball. It worked -- Toronto won a franchise-record 59 games and finished No. 1 in the East for the first time -- but the true test was always coming in the playoffs. 

Historically, postseason opponents have been able to throw the Raptors out of rhythm by sending multiple defenders at Lowry and DeRozan and daring others to beat them. Toronto spent 82 games getting comfortable with a style that counteracts that -- rather than shouldering a huge scoring burden, they have been asked to leverage their scoring abilities to put the defense in uncomfortable positions. After taking a 1-0 series lead for the first time since he was an assistant coach in Dallas, Raptors coach Dwane Casey credited the guards for taking what the Wizards gave them. 

"They did a good job of making plays," Casey told reporters. "I think it's consistent of what we've been trying to do the entire year: move the ball and set up other people and trust other people to make plays when [the opponent is] trying to take those two out. And they did."

DeRozan shot 2-for-5 from 3-point range, but it was more important that he created open looks for his teammates. He assisted on all three of Ibaka's long-range makes and one of O.G. Anunoby's, too. Here he is rejecting a screen, getting into the paint and finding Ibaka for a wide-open 3:

And here he is turning the corner, forcing all five Washington defenders to pay attention to him as he drives and then kicking it to Ibaka in the exact same spot:

It's worth pointing out that both of those plays took place in the first half, when DeRozan was supposedly struggling. Earlier in his career, he was criticized for being a player that couldn't help his team when his shots were not falling. This game, in which he shot 6-for-17, illustrated that he has become an expert in doing just that. 

No sequence on Saturday showed what Toronto is about more than a late-fourth-quarter possession ending in a 3 for Wright. You could even accuse the Raptors of over-passing here:

Casey noted that the Wizards dialed back the double-teams a bit at the beginning of the second half, allowing Lowry and DeRozan to be more aggressive. If Washington is going to upset Toronto in this series, it might have to consider changing its overall approach. As the series opener showed, the old book on the Raptors is outdated. 

CBS Sports Writer

James Herbert is somewhat fond of basketball, feature writing and understatements. A former season-ticket holder for the expansion Toronto Raptors, Herbert does not think the NBA was better back in the... Full Bio

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