Raptors overcome ominous start, buck Game 1 curse to fend off Wizards


This season officially started at the year-end press conference after the second-round sweep to the Cleveland Cavaliers. For a team that had made a decision to revel in the doubts of their detractors, that showed clips of various US analysts criticizing them on the scoreboard before the game began, that said over and over that they were confident this new-look group wouldn't fall into familiar Game 1 traps, there were the Toronto Raptors after two quarters staring at a four-point hole. No playoff opponent has had to spend as much time scheming to face a bench like this one; no playoff opponent has faced a Raptors bench capable of surprising like this one.

The Toronto Raptors snapped a long-standing and notorious franchise streak on Saturday, finally winning the club's first-ever opening game of the National Basketball Association playoffs - a 114-106 victory over the Washington Wizards.

Next, the Raptors will try to hit reset on their playoff history with the Washington Wizards. "How many years ago has that been?"

While the performances of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have been crucial to the Toronto's ascent, one could argue that their depth and malleability remain their biggest assets.

"It's out of the way now", DeMar DeRozan said of the streak. "I only think about it when y'all bring it up".

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While the Raptors had exhausted of the Game 1 curse talk, Miles said opening a series with a win in general means plenty. Miles, who was brought here as a free agent nearly entirely so he could shoot three pointers in big games, shot like a guy who didn't care at all about the Raptors' 17-year, 10-game, series-opener losing streak.

But when the game tipped off and the Wizards worked to neutralize the Raptors' highest-profile performers, a series of supporting players raised their games.

You could see how Saturday's game could have turned into another devastating opening loss.

As in the Bucks-Celtics series, an injury to an All-Star point guard (in this case, two-time MVP Stephen Curry) might make this a more competitive series than the overall numbers would indicate.

Wall has played back-to-back games once since returning to action on March 31, and he may have a hard time defensively opposite Toronto's Kyle Lowry in the point guard matchup. The problem is when you have a chance to steal a road game in the playoffs, you have to do it, as there's a good chance you're not getting that chance again. "The most stylish man in the National Basketball Association coming up", he said. He welcomed him to the stage: "Serge IbAKA!", he said, with a grin.

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The total has gone under in four of Toronto's past six games.

Both teams finished Saturday with 41 field goals and 16 made free throws.

DeRozan has made himself a much more valuable player on the floor even when he hasn't shot well. The Pacers actually had the better point differential during the regular season and won the head-to-head series 3-1, although those four games were played before the trade deadline.

The Philadelphia 76ers crushed the Miami Heat 130-103 after outscoring them by 31 points during the second half. "I realize I'm capable of competing and being a force in the league", Oubre said. "It's the first step in the journey". IF - and yes, that is an "if" - they play well in the postseason this year, there will be a fair bit of residual value backing this squad; a team that has the potential to be a significantly undervalued commodity moving forward.

There were several scenarios depending on how Game 1 turned out. "As long as those guys are producing the way they are, why should we change our rotation?" An uninspiring win would raise questions about whether the playoffs would validate any of the changes to the Raptors' playing style this year. The team stuck by the ball-sharing that won them games all season. "On home court, we're supposed to win, and that's our mindset". The next step? Turning this first-round series into a foregone conclusion.

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