- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2018

Rapper Drake’s absence from Games 3 and 4 didn’t go unnoticed by Wizards guard John Wall.

In the first two games of the series, the recording artist (and noted Raptors fan) taunted Wall from courtside — telling him the Wizards were getting “bodied by 20.” Drake, who grew up in Toronto, even called him a “bucktee,” which is Canadian slang for being homeless, according to Google.

But Drake, according to Wall, told the Wizards star he was coming to Capital One Arena, ready to watch the Raptors finish off the sweep with his favorite team up 2-0.

“He didn’t show up,” Wall said. “He told me we were getting swept. He told me he had the broom for us.”

The opposite happened.

The Wizards have won the last two games, and it’s not because Drake wasn’t courtside.

Washington has not only gotten significant performances from their All-Star duo in Wall and Bradley Beal, they’ve made the Raptors uncomfortable. Toronto is being run off the three-point line. Shots are being contested. And the Wizards’ tenacious switching is producing turnovers at the same frequency Drake churns out hits.

The Wizards are back in this series. They’ve done it by playing defense.

“We’ve got to find ways to take (threes) out of the game and make it a reasonable opportunity for us,” Wall said. “And that’s keeping those guys off the three-point line, making them beat us with a lot of twos and one-on-one basketball.”

The Raptors attempted a season-low 18 threes in the Wizards’ 106-98 win Sunday. Toronto went the whole 82-game season without shooting fewer than 21.

Even more encouraging for the Wizards, Toronto made just seven. The Raptors entered Sunday’s contest shooting 44 percent from deep.

The Wizards, though, made a key adjustment starting in the second half of Game 2 by switching defenders on every action. The constant movement has taken away the Raptors’ ability to easily find an open shooter. Before, the Wizards would often trap point guard Kyle Lowry, and that would lead to a breakdown in coverage.

“We had some opportunities but I think we turned them down,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after Game 4. “I’d rather have a good look at a three than a turnover. And I think that’s kind of where we are. I don’t know why we’re hesitating.”

Casey said the Raptors have to do a better job of handling the physicality.

Toronto also appears to be getting away from the style that led them to 59 wins. Wall observed the Raptors are trying to push the pace after the Wizards miss shots, and that’s led them to tire out later in games.

In Games 3 and 4, the Raptors had 19 and 18 turnovers — leading to 28 and 19 Wizards’ points, respectively. Toronto was sixth in turnovers per game this season, but they are coughing them up at a higher rate in the playoffs.

At home, the Wizards got great production from Wall and Beal. The Raptors haven’t had the same from their All-Star backcourt. DeMar DeRozan has scored more than 30 points twice, but Kyle Lowry has yet to have a breakout game.

The Wizards have also done a better job of taking away role players such as Serge Ibaka and C.J. Miles, both of whom can shoot from deep.

“You want to be able to meet all their shooters on the catch,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s the best way to stop them from getting good looks.”

Washington will now have to prove they can have this success away from home, where they have won eight straight playoff games at Capital One Arena, dating back to last year.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Toronto. The Raptors will have their raucous home crowd — and maybe even no. 1 fan Drake.

Meanwhile, Wall said he has shut off the rapper’s music entirely. He hasn’t heard “Nice for What,” Drake’s new — and very catchy — song that’s atop the charts.

“My arguments with him aren’t really about the game of basketball,” Wall said, saying he was “having fun” with the trash-talking rapper.

“At the same time, we have a focus to go in there and win Game 5. All I wanted him to know is that they weren’t going to sweep us. That’s all I cared about.”


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