There is an NBA playoff axiom stating the closeout game in a series is the toughest to win. Both the Wizards and Raptors are trying to make that saying work for their side.
Washington took a commanding 3-0 series lead with Friday's 106-99 victory at the Verizon Center. The Wizards can complete the first best-of-seven sweep in franchise history with a Game 4 win Sunday night.
Toronto can fend off elimination with a victory, but odds of much more are less than slim. No NBA team has ever rallied from an 0-3 hole in 110 prior chances. Despite that bit of nasty history staring them in the face, the Raptors showed for practice Saturday at George Washington' Smith Center.
"We're still going out there to play," said DeMar DeRozan, who scored 32 points in Game 3. "There is still an opportunity for us to keep it going. We all understand that (history). We played hard last night. We played extremely hard last night. They just hit some big shots. Well contested shots. Go to give them credit for knocking them down. Other than that I thought we played great."
Well, great is a stretch - Toronto shot 37.4 percent from the field in the latest loss -, but the Raptors made the Wizards battle until the final seconds. Paul Pierce's 3-pointer with 16 seconds remaining essentially salted the game away for Washington.
"They're going to be even more desperate than they were yesterday," Wizards guard John Wall said of the Raptors following team practice at the Verizon Center. "They fought to the end and made it as tough as they could. Tomorrow is going to be even tougher. They say the closeout game is always hardest. We have to come out with even more focus than we had. We feel like we can play better than we played yesterday."
Toronto certainly feels that way.
"We just can't get it altogether right now," point guard Kyle Lowry said. "Bad time to not all be on the same wavelength. Not just with each other, but foul trouble, defensive woes, offensive woes."
From the point guard's perspective, any offensive difficulties don't stem from the volume shooting approach Toronto's backcourt deployed in Game 3. Lowry and DeRozan scored a combined 47 points, but shot a combined 16 of 51 from the field.
"I don't mind us taking that many shots cause it was in the flow of the game. At the end of the day, me and DeMar are the scorers," Lowry said. "Lou (Williams) is a scorer. We have to be aggressive."
That trio, including Williams, the NBA's sixth man of the year, torched the Wizards during the regular season and carried the Raptors to a 3-0 regular season sweep. All are shooting under 40 percent from the field this series. Lowry is a woeful 10 of 42 (23.8%) from the field in the series.
Asked postgame why his side went from controlling the matchup to barely hanging on, DeRozan offered a one word explanation: "Playoffs."
Lowry offered a similar, but lengthier response on Saturday.
"Regular season is a completely different animal than in the playoffs," he said. "That's one thing. Two, those guys are playing extremely well. Their guards are playing well. Their bigs are playing defense extremely well. Their game planning has been on point."
That's why the Wizards spent their practice time cleaning up a few things. "We don't want to reinvent the wheel," said Drew Gooden, who had 12 points on three 3-pointers in Game 3. "Keep doing what we're doing to help get these wins."
Toronto knows status quo won't get it done. Players talked about focusing on the next game and only the next game. Lowry copped to a rather human reality: It's not easy looking over the cliff.
"It's hard to ignore, to be honest," Lowry said of the Raptors single elimination scenario. "We just have to go out there and try to get one game. Whatever it takes, just try to get one game. We know closeout games to win the series are always the toughest games for the other team. We got to go out there and make it as hard possible."