Raptors fall behind 3-0 in series after loss to Wizards in Washington
WASHINGTON — A Raptors season that started with more promise than any before it is suddenly on the verge of crumbling in epic fashion.
Washington took a 3-0 stranglehold on this first-round series with a 106-99 win on Friday, setting up a potential Raptors finale here at the Verizon Center on Sunday night.
Familiar issues reared their ugly head for this group that never seems to learn — terrible shot selection at inopportune times and an inability to contest three-point shots quickly enough — while their overall shooting suddenly has cratered. The Raptors, the third-most efficient offensive team in the NBA in the regular season, shot just 37.4%.
“We’re struggling. We’re not hitting shots and that’s costing us the series,” said Greivis Vasquez in a sombre locker room. “We haven’t hit shots and they have.”
Particularly Paul Pierce, the future Hall-of-Famer who won the mental game before the series began, and now has won the on-court battle, as well.
As is their way, the Raps fought to the end, but Pierce sank a ridiculous three with a hand in his face after Kyle Lowry had rung off five straight to pull Toronto to within three.
“He’s been doing it since he got in the league,” said a dejected DeMar DeRozan, who saw a 32-point performance go to waste. “He is who he is. Next time, we’ve just got to run him off and finish at the basket.”
Pierce scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth while Marcin Gortat added 24. A clearly ill Lowry was 5-for-22 for 15 points.
Teams that have fallen behind 3-0 have never rallied, going 0-110.
“Now it’s just win or go home,” said Amir Johnson, arguably the best all-around Raptor on Friday with 14 points, 12 rebounds and only a single missed shot.
When you are up only a bucket after the greatest possible offensive start imaginable, it probably isn’t going to be your night. The Raptors torched the Wizards in the opening quarter, scoring at will behind a franchise playoff record 20 points from DeRozan, but could not stop the home side at the other end.
Once the offensive theatrics died down, the Raptors kept it close, but got drilled repeatedly by Pierce, Otto Porter and John Wall.
The Raptors were well aware of the situation they had put themselves in by dropping two straight at home. They knew few people believed they could win the series, let alone this game.
“Let them count us out. At the end of the day, they still have to win two more games,” Lowry had said.
You can bet thousands more were counting out the Raptors after a dreadful second quarter and a soft start to the third, but the visitors got the Wizards into some foul trouble and found a way to stay close.
It sure seemed like the scoreboard was lying. How was it possible that the Raptors trailed by only two through three, what with Lowry shooting 3-for-15, with DeRozan missing 10 straight at one point.
Jonas Valanciunas had a horrid night, Lou Williams joined him and Vasquez couldn’t find the mark either as for once, Washington’s bench was far more effective.
The Raptors persevered, despite making mostly horrible decisions on offence and despite letting Wall once again waltz into the paint and set up open teammates.
Despite clearly fighting a cold, Lowry started off hot, hitting a couple of threes in the first quarter to complement, DeRozan. It didn’t last, of course, but it was a start.
Washington held Toronto to 13 points in the second quarter and led by six at the half, but Toronto closed to within two after 36 minutes.
But as always, a succession of bad shot attempts, mainly by Lowry, stalled momentum.
Pierce hit a three to put Washington up 84-80 with 6:37 remaining, but Patrick Patterson hit a three and Johnson got a dunk, giving the Raptors a brief lead.
Terrence Ross hit a three to tie the game 88-88, but Porter responded with one of his own.
When Porter hit another three after two DeRozan free throws, the Raptors were still in range, but Lowry’s three-point attempt missed badly and Pierce stuck a fork in the Raptors with yet another three-point bomb to stretch the lead to 98-90 with 1:58 remaining.
“It’s a Game 7 for us every single game out now,” Lowry said, barely audible.
There is still a game to be played, but the result of this series is now academic.
Now, fair or not, the countdown on Dwane Casey surely begins. His fate — barring a historic rally — seems highly questionable. That will be the case for many of the Raptors as well.