For the Wizards to have any shot to get deep into the postseason, they realize they can't just be good defensively. They have to be great, and they've done that in the first two games with the Toronto Raptors who are at Verizon Center tonight (CSN, CSNwashington.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, 7 p.m. ET).
"We're playing way better defense. Even when we were 31-15, we were playing good defense but we're playing better defense now," said John Wall, who has been key in holding Kyle Lowry to 5-for-20 shooting in Games 1 and 2. "We're not making excuses for no coverages. We know what it takes to win. Sometimes in the regular season you might not sacrifice as much right then and there. You do in the playoffs. It means so much more."
In key situations against elite teams, the Wizards' defense mostly has failed. Even against the Indiana Pacers, remember George Hill's uncontested, game-winning layup on a blown coverage? The public debate between Paul Pierce and Marcin Gortat over individual defense or help defense being the bigger issue? Or coach Randy Wittman saying he didn't trust his team to switch?
When the Raptors beat the Wizards three times in the regular season, Toronto's guards Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez took advantage of the disjointed coverages. They lived in the lane.
Now those players are being taken away while Jonas Valanciunas is having some success. Patrick Patterson made all six of his shots off the bench in Game 2, but they lost 117-106 on Saturday.
"We're totally OK if you're getting Valanciunas and Tyler Hansbrough, (Patrick) Patterson and Amir Johnson and those guys scoring a lot of points," Wall said. "We can keep the ball out of the other guys' hands. When Amir and those other guys are getting their points, they're a tough team to beat. We try to take their main players out of the play as much as possible. Make the other guys beat us."
Toronto's three-point shooting was 38.1 percent from the field in their three regular-season wins. It has dipped to 28.1 percent in the postseason. The turnovers have gone from 12.5 to 17.0. Washington is plus-30 rebounding.
"Our defense is the reason why we're up more than anything. You can't get me to change my mind," said Bradley Beal, who had a game-high 28 points in Game 2. "Our defense is what really sets the tone for everything and on top of that we're rebounding. We're eliminating their second-chance points. We're eliminating their bigs getting easy putbacks and we're eliminating their guards getting another opportunity for threes and other dribble penetration."