Raptors ride O.G. Anunoby to outshine Wizards, avoid giving up another big lead

The Raptors successfully kept the Wizards at bay despite multiple comeback efforts.

The Wizards had no answer early or late for the Raptors' star wing. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
The Wizards had no answer early or late for the Raptors' star wing. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

It seemed like Sunday night was going to be another instance in which the Toronto Raptors were going to fall flat after holding a large lead.

Thankfully, they had O.G. Anunoby to be their difference maker, as his 29 points propelled Toronto to a 114-104 win over the Washington Wizards, helping them hold on to the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Nothing had to be said, we knew we had to pick it up,” said Anunoby post-game. “We knew we had to be more urgent.”

The matchup started with a first quarter explosion from Anunoby. The small forward set a career-high for points in a quarter, as he outscored the Wizards’ starting lineup 18-14 in the frame. He’d then follow it with an impressive reverse slam to close off the second.

The Raptors were able to use Anunoby's momentum to their advantage, going up by as much as 21 points in the late stages of the first half. However, like many times before, Toronto would let their opponent get back into it.

“We've got to eliminate those lapses,” said VanVleet, who finished with 28 points and seven assists.

“We've had less and less of them over the course of the last couple weeks, but it was a bad time to come out flat. … We weren't really playing hard or sharp enough.”

Both Anunoby and head coach Nick Nurse credited Kristaps Porzingis, who was able to shake loose from the Raptors’ defence and score 12 of his 26 total points in the frame. That included three shots from deep within the first six minutes in the third, and also finishing off strong at the rim following a sweet dime from Deni Avdija.

Despite the surge from the Wizards, the Raptors got back to business in the fourth and ballooned their lead to double digits, to ultimately never trail throughout the matchup. Anunoby set the pace with nine points in the first six and a half minutes of the quarter, to get the Raptors back up to as much as 18.

“O.G. obviously had it going tonight,” said Nurse.

Joining Anunboy in that fourth quarter stretch was an unusual lineup for the Raptors, providing a spurt of energy. The only other starter was Scottie Barnes, to go alongside three bench players in Jeff Dowtin Jr., Christian Koloko and Chris Boucher, who threw down a put-pack slam.

It joins the game’s highlight tape, which was started by Barnes' 360 slam to open the first quarter, making his return after missing the last two games because of left wrist soreness.

Dowtin also provided a well timed three-ball in the fourth quarter run, with Anunoby and Nurse calling it out post-game.

“He's just another guy who was a connector and organizer. And he's just a leader,” said VanVleet.

“He's one of those traditional floor general type of guys who can get you into sets and get guys in the right spots, and can defend. So we need that, we need more of that.”

The second-year player continues to be on a two-way contract, and having suited up for 46 games, the Raptors can only play him for another four games before they have to sign him to a full-time deal to be able to use him going forward, such as for a playoff run.

It’s one of the last remaining storylines to watch out for with the Raptors. But at this point, it’s all about improving their standing.

Sunday’s outcome marks an important win for the Raptors as their season comes to a close. With a 37-38 record, it keeps them in the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference — good enough for a play-in spot, and just ahead of the Chicago Bulls, who also picked up a win earlier in the day.

The last time the Raptors held a .500 record was when they were 13-13 in early December. Since then, they’ve had three opportunities to get back, but have fallen flat. Their next opportunity will come on Tuesday, when they welcome the Miami Heat.

With only seven games remaining in the season, each one holds extra weight. This one especially, with the Heat three games ahead of Toronto as the seventh seed.

If the Raptors secure the seventh or eighth seed, they’d just need to win one game in the play-in to enter the playoffs and start a seven-game series. As the ninth or 10th seed, they’d need to win two games — but if they were to lose their first game in that scenario, they’d be knocked out in do-or-die fashion.

“It’s crazy,” said VanVleet on how the play-in has changed the dynamic of an NBA season. “I think it just stretches the realm of reality of what a team is, and it can create, you know, unrealistic situations for a lot of teams.

"I think, for us, a team that's been talented and kind of underperformed for the majority of the year, I think we feel really good about getting in and get into our spot and making some noise. But again, you still got to get in, right.”