So the Washington Wizards will not be swept by the Toronto Raptors. Friday night the Wizards got hot from the floor, survived several instances of their players being crabby, runaway buttheads, and grabbed Game 3 on their home court. Marcin Gortat shaved his mohawk; John Wall cooled it with the turnovers; Markieff Morris was held under 20 minutes of burn. For one night, it worked.
Here are some shot charts from Friday’s game. This first one plots every Wizards shot taken in the game:
Like someone took some Christmas confetti and distributed it pretty evenly over an NBA half-court. Here, have another look:
Those charts show a team that shot much better than league average from everywhere inside the arc, and on an awful lot of attempts from the mid-range and the non-restricted area of the paint. The Wizards produced a 122.2 offensive rating Friday night, knocking down 46 percent from mid-range, and 57 percent from the non-restricted paint. That’s, uhh, not sustainable! On the season, the Wizards attempted the fourth-most shots from mid-range, and hit at 41.9 percent; they attempted the 11th-most shots from the non-restricted paint, and hit 42.2 percent. Those are not the ideal shots for an offense, especially if, like the Wizards, you are not especially good at making them. Stretching back to the early Randy Wittman era, the Wizards have tried to make a nightly meal out of those slim pickings, and the resulting offense has been, among other things, inconsistent.
The Wizards didn’t bring some grand new game plan into Game 3—they didn’t get better shots, they just knocked down a higher number of the generally inadvisable shots they took. The best NBA offenses get layups, dunks, and corner threes, and work to cut back on attempts from the exact two areas where Washington flourished. The Wizards, on the other hand, took more shots from those two areas (38) in Game 3 than they did in Game 1 (37) or Game 2 (31). They didn’t crack Toronto’s defense or work more diligently to produce better looks. They got hot. Here’s what that looks like:
I don’t want to take away too much from what the Wizards did Friday night. The Raptors are genuinely excellent, past playoff performances notwithstanding, and beating them on any floor is an accomplishment, even if it took an unusually sloppy performance from the visitors and an unusually hot one from the underdogs. Washington’s defensive energy was better, and they were generally better at staying around shooters on the perimeter and not getting completely scrambled by simple screens and sequences of passes. But if you are inclined towards skepticism of the Wizards—and you should be!—you will certainly be forgiven if last night’s result doesn’t alter that position one bit.
In order for this series to go longer than another couple games, at least one of three things will need to happen: the Raptors will need to fall apart; the Wizards will need to continue hitting an unusually high number of tough, inefficient shots; or the Wizards will need to find their way to a better, more disciplined, more efficient way of playing basketball. These are the Raptors and the Wizards we’re talking about—of the three possibilities, that last one seems by far the least likely.