Monday, April 20, 2015

Wizards-Raptors Game 1: Paul Pierce Comfortable Donning the “Black Hat”

Jitters, jigs and old-school jumpers.

The NBA Playoffs for 2015 have been launched – north of the border in front of a chanting and (appropriately enough) snow-white clad throng in a place called Jurassic Park. The home crowd was pumped from the opening bell. Methinks I detected a bit of WWE in the cadence and content (We the North?) of their participation.

Unfortunately, the league’s fourth-best scoring team (Raptors) and sixth-best shooting team (Wizards)both fell victim to that amorphous entity called playoff pressure, neither shooting 40 percent on the day. The game’s first points – on a twisting, leg-splaying Terrence Ross jumper from the left wing – set the tone. Shots, including a good many free throws, were accompanied by so much body language that this game needed a soundtrack (Spike Jones and His City Slickers, perhaps).

The teams managed but two field goals apiece and 12 overall points before a mandatory time-out mercifully interrupted the flow(?). More familiar rims and a boost from the second unit (especially ex-Rocket Patrick Patterson) kept Toronto in front by a possession or two through the game’s first 18 minutes, the crowd heartily cheering on the efforts of the home-town “baby-faces.”

Perfect time for a run-in by the nefarious “heel” faction. That fiendish Paul Pierce, who’d been so brashly doubting the Raptors’ “It” factor ,re-entered the fray and immediately put the good guys in peril. His ten-point flurry sparked a 17-6 closing run and a four-point halftime margin in favor of the foreign intruders.

The wily Wizards, perhaps finally realizing that they’d knocked off the gritty Bulls in an opening-round series last year, kept both the Raptors and their crowd at bay, building a lead that peaked at 74-59 on a Drew Gooden put-back with 8:43 to go. Veteran posts Gooden and Nene Hilario spear-headed a 61-48 shellacking on the glass. Their 11 (of a team 19) offensive rebounds exceeded by one the entire Toronto roster.

At this point, our hardwood tag-team match was set up for the familiar “hot tag” and strong surge from the fan favorites. The Raptor reserves again rose to the occasion, chipping away at the lead and ultimately evening the contest on a last-minute three-pointer by Greivis Vasquez, who responded with a crowd-pleasing shoulder shimmy.

Vasquez’s vamping, alas, would be the last highlight for the home team, who would squander five possessions and launch seven errant shots before finally scoring four-and-a-half minutes into the overtime session. By then, Washington had executed their way to three conversions and a five-point edge.

It was most fitting that Pierce bookended the Wizards’ OT scoring with a three-point dagger and pair of free throws, posting 20 for the day. The trey was set up by a clutch offensive rebound and dish from Bradley Beal, who’d shared with backcourt mate John Wall the most miserable of shooting days (11-41).

Coach Dwane Casey and his Raptors can hang their hat on that strong fourth-quarter run, during with they held a Wizards line-up that included Pierce to eight points in nearly nine minutes, and on their five double-digit scorers.

Game 2, indeed the very series, may hinge on which point guard, Wall or Kyle Lowry (who fouled out late in the fourth quarter), can best regain his mojo on the heels of a poor performance.

For one day, though, Jurassic Park was held hostage by a dinosaur heel who most certainly still has “it.”