That the Wizards won a first-round playoff series for the second year in a row shouldn't be a major shock to anyone. Given the expectations they had this season, this was the bare minimum after Sunday's Game 4 rout of the Toronto Raptors 125-94.
But they didn't just beat a team that swept the season series 3-0. They dominated when it counted most, came out of it relatively healthy with some extra time to prepare what's likely to be the No. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks:
- The small lineups. Going away from Kris Humphries in favor of Drew Gooden and Rasual Butler for Otto Porter worked. And keeping Porter and Gooden on the floor with Paul Pierce, John Wall and Bradley Beal, or with another big in the middle to run pick-and-rolls opened up this offense into a more free-flowing operation. A franchise-record 15 made threes in Game 4 is the result. And the Wizards' defense was much better equipped to compete with Toronto's three-guard lineups in return. Now they are in better position to compete with the Atlanta Hawks, who might not have as much time to prepare since they're still involved in a series with the Brooklyn Nets. The longer this one goes, the better for the Wizards. If the series ends in six games or less, they'll start the second-round series on Sunday.
- Marcin Gortat's dominance. The Raptors don't have much size and lack rim protectors, which made Gorat's absence from fourth quarters in the regular season puzzling at times. With a more fluid lineup, he shot 29 of 39, or 74.3%, from the field in the series. He shot 14 of 15 in first quarters alone. That's 93.3%. He also averaged 10 rebounds per game and only played more than 29 minutes in a game once.
- The big shot-making of Paul Pierce. Every time the Raptors thought they had a chance, Pierce slammed the door shut. In Game 1, it was his game-high 20 points and go-ahead three-pointer in overtime. In Game 3 it was Pierce scoring 11 of his 18 points in the final 2:38 to pull out that victory. Sunday, with the Wizards ahead by 16 to start the third quarter but traditionally a slow team coming out of the locker room, Pierce's pair of threes inspired an even bigger rout. His ability to create his shot off the dribble and using pump fakes is why Pierce is here for $5 million on a shorter-term deal and why the Wizards allowed Trevor Ariza, who wanted $10 million per over more years, to walk. Offensively, he's not nearly as versatile as Pierce even at age 37. And just as important, Pierce has made Otto Porter a better player alone by showing the second-year forward how he has to prepare and carry himself to be his eventual replacement.
- Rebounding and foul shooting. The Wizards won in these areas in every game. They were plus-39 on the board and plus-29 in free throw attempts. Take a look at how the primary ball-handlers did: Wall alone went from shooting 0 foul shots in Game 1 to 28 in the last three. He made 24 of them for 85.7%; Beal got to the line a total of 25 times to make 20, 80%.
- The game preparation of coach Randy Wittman. He won't get much credit for anything but the fact is Wittman is 8-1 in first-round series. Whether he can duplicate this success beyond the first round is another matter, but he's clearly more adept at adjustments in seven-game series. During the regular season when teams are playing multiple games during the week with little or no rest and not a lot of time to focus. Having an older team, even going back to training camp, there was a bigger plan to save Pierce, Gooden and Butler. He criticized his team's effort repeatedly (and Gooden admitted that yes, they were in "cruise control") and they put forth the best 48 minutes of the season in Game 4. If Wittman can get this sort of play out of his team for the second round, they have a chance to advance to the conference finals.