Published On: Thu, Apr 26th, 2018

Delon Wright's 3-point shooting might have saved the Raptors' season

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After opening their first-round series with two wins at home, the Toronto Raptors went to Washington and lost a pair of road games to the Wizards. In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Game 4 defeat, Raptors guard Delon Wright passed up several open 3-point shots. Afterward, he heard about it from everyone.

“People on my Twitter, my Instagram, my family,” Wright said. “I felt bad.”

As a whole, Toronto’s lack of consistent 3-point shooting is an issue that’s been highlighted in this series. After making 29 threes across the first two wins, Toronto made just 19 during the two losses in Washington. In Game 4, the Raptors made just seven 3-pointers, and took just 18 after averaging 31 attempts through the first three games.

That was largely because Washington has made C.J. Miles – a career 41.4 percent 3-point shooter – a defensive priority, taking away any available space for open looks on the perimeter. And with Serge Ibaka taking just 12 shots since Game 2 and Fred VanVleet still out with a shoulder injury, the onus has fallen on Wright to be an outside threat.

Meanwhile, the Raptors’ offense has started to rely more on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan against Washington. This was the team’s past identity – riding the two All-Star guards and living with the results – but that’s not what these Raptors want to be.

Toronto spent the regular season revamping its offensive approach, and most importantly, developing a trust level between Lowry, DeRozan, and their teammates, as the duo – especially DeRozan – took on more playmaking duties within the offense. But, to keep that trust, the team’s secondary players have to be willing to step up and take shots when their All-Star teammates find them.

“It makes it so much easier when guys are not turning down shots and taking the shots that are there when (DeMar) is kicking it out,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Whether we’re at home, in Washington, wherever it is, we gotta play to our personality.”

For his part, Wright’s hesitation to shoot in Game 4 stemmed from the same mindset the team has been developing all season, with its emphasis on ball movement and finding the open man. “I was trying to be unselfish,” he said. “And make an extra pass when there wasn’t an extra pass there.”

During the regular season, Wright shot 36.6 percent from beyond the arc. He was just eighth on the team in 3-point attempts, but received encouragement from teammates, especially Miles – a player who never hesitates to fire away – to keep shooting.

“We’ve been talking to (Delon) about his confidence shooting the ball all year,” Miles said. “We all believe in him. We see him shoot it every day … There’s no reason why he should be passing up any open shots.”

“When (Delon) plays aggressively and assertively and shoots the ball,” Lowry added, “he kind of gives us different spacing.”

Game 5 was following a similar script to Game 4. Lowry and DeRozan were carrying the load on offense, but the Raptors needed more, and early in the fourth quarter, the Wizards led by five. The game, the series, and the season were hanging in the balance.

An 8-0 Raptors run helped them regain some footing, as Wright chipped in with a basket, an assist, and a steal. Then, with less than four minutes remaining and the Raptors up by one, Wright received a pass from DeRozan and stepped into a 31-foot 3-point shot without hesitation, opening up a lead Toronto wouldn’t relinquish.

“He made one from Barrie (a city 50 miles north of Toronto),” Casey said. “That was a big shot for him. We took the shots that we normally take. There’s nothing abnormal about it. What was uncharacteristic about the two games in Washington was the fact the guys were turning down shots.”

“No hesitation,” Wright said. “I saw the shot clock was at five. I felt like that was the best shot we would have got. I just wanted to take it and shoot it with confidence.”

In past years, the Raptors might not have been able to win a playoff game in which DeRozan scored just two points in the fourth quarter, as he did on Wednesday. But Toronto is figuring out a different identity, building on the trust from the regular season and counting on players like Wright to keep growing and contributing, especially while VanVleet is sidelined.

Miles knows how important it is for Wright to keep shooting when he’s open, and to keep making those shots.

“For tons of reasons,” Miles said. “For himself, for his future reference in his mind, and at the same time for the other four guys that are out there. It makes everybody else and the plays that they’re making to get to that shot, it makes them not in vain. You want to be able to create space and create the best shot within that 24 seconds, and sometimes passing up an open shot, you’re not going to be able to get another one.”

After the first game of the regular season, at the start of the team’s offensive reset, Wright joked that his goal was to make one 3-pointer every game. During the season, he fell short of that goal, making a total of 56, but he’s knocked down seven treys in the first five games of this series.

And in the fourth quarter of Game 5, Wright hit his biggest 3-pointer of the season. Because of that, the Raptors are one win away from advancing.

Alex Wong is an NBA freelance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The New Yorker, Vice Sports, and Complex, among other publications.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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