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Wizards save best basketball of season for playoffs


Wizards save best basketball of season for playoffs

As Paul Pierce walks off the court to a standing ovation, it's only at 3:28 of the third quarter of Sunday's Game 4 vs. the Toronto Raptors. The 15th sellout crowd at Verizon Center knows they won't see him again as the Wizards would transform that 23-point lead into a 125-94 victory to complete their best stretch of basketball of the season.

Leave it to Raptors coach Dwane Casey to put in perspective what happened in this first-round series: "Hats off to Washington. I think they had one of their best games I have ever seen them play. They hit every shot. I thought we were just emotionally drained and gave in. I was surprised but I kind of saw it coming. With how hard we played in the first game and overtime, emotionally I though we were just drained. Once they hit us with the haymakers, we didn't have enough emotional fortitude to sustain it."

Indeed. The Wizards set a franchise playoff record by making 15 of 26 three-pointers, or 57.7%. They shot 55.4% overall at 41 of 74. John Wall had 14 points on just five shots. Pierce had 14 on seven shots. Marcin Gortat scored 21 points on nine shots. Ramon Sessions came off the bench for 15 points on seven shots. The Wizards, who stole Game 1 in overtime in Toronto, improved with each game. The Raptors got worse. Pierce was the constant. 

With the Wizards ahead 66-50 at halftime, the Raptors had one last chance to turn around a game. They were encouraged because though they trailed by 20 in the first half, they'd managed to cut it to eight. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, their All-Star backcourt, each shot at least 50% from the field. 

Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Pierce buried a pair of three-pointers. Then with the shot clock running down after Gortat gathered an airball shot by Nene, Beal had to treat it like a hot potato. He short-armed it 32 feet away with no expectation that it would go in, but after taking a revolution around the rim it did. The lead was 77-55 and the game effectively was over.


"I think the turning point for this series was winning Game 2," Pierce said of that 117-106 victory when Wall and Beal combined for 54 points at Air Canada Centre. "When you go into a hostile environment and get two games, one is hard enough, but to get two games it really boosted our confidence to be able to come out after that and finish it off. 

"Playoffs are a different game. The intensity goes up, more is on the line. That's when you see the stars become superstars and that's what you saw in this series tonight from John and Bradley Beal."

While it wasn't backcourt vs. backcourt, that debate had been kicked around all seasons. There should no longer be one when it comes to these teams. Lowry stayed in foul trouble. DeRozan is a volume shooter. They combined to shoot 14-for-28 for 35 points but also had nine turnovers.

Beal had a game-high 23 points, five assists and foul steals. He also made 11 trips to the foul line. Wall shot 3-for-5 but manufactured seven points from the stripe because of his aggressive tone attacking the paint. He added 10 assists which puts him at a 12.5 average for the series. They had six fewer turnovers in Game 4. 

The closeout game is supposed to be the hardest one of all, especially against Toronto which won the season series 3-1 last year and 3-0 this year. But this wasn't. 

"I needed to see that we were the desperate team tonight, that we were going to come out like our backs were against the wall and lay it out on the line and these guys did right from the start," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "That was a workman-like four wins for us. ... It started right with John. For a guy who control the game like he did tonight with five shots and orchestrated us, his pace at the start of the game was incredible."

The Wizards will be off Monday and use it for treatment and get back to practicing Tuesday. They'll play either the No. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks or the No. 8 Brooklyn Nets. 

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Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

After calling an inconsistent game throughout the night, the referees made a decision with five minutes to go in Game 4 that nearly altered the entire series between the Wizards and Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan was chasing a rebound on the baseline and ran into Bradley Beal. Beal, who had a team-high 31 points, was levied a sixth and final foul with the score tied. 

Beal had unloaded for 20 points in 12 minutes in the second half, but now the Wizards would have to close it out without their All-Star shooting guard. Somehow, they were able to seal the win and tie the series.

Beal heard the whistle as he laid on the ground. He immediately hopped up and unleashed a tantrum that nobody could blame him for.

He jumped up and down, screaming at the referees, who had just called by all accounts a questionable foul and in a key moment of a playoff game.

Both Beal and head coach Scott Brooks were incensed and with good reason.

“I was beyond emotional, beyond mad, frustrated," Beal said. "I honestly thought they were going to kick me out of the game I was so mad, but I was happy they didn’t do that."

Beal is probably lucky the referees didn't take offense to his reaction because it continued when he was on the bench. He walked past his teammates and leaned over with his hands on his knees, still furious. Then he returned to the sideline to yell at the refs. Center Ian Mahinmi helped convince him to step back and cool off.

Beal has made a major difference in this series. He averaged 14.0 points in the first two games, both losses. He has averaged 29.5 points in Games 3 and 4, two Wizards wins.

Getting him out of the game was a major break for the Raptors, but they couldn't take advantage. The Wizards closed the final five minutes on a 14-6 tear. John Wall stepped up to lead the charge with eight of those points.

The Wizards still had one star on the court and he played like one.

“Just go in attack mode," Wall said. "When Brad went out, I knew I had to do whatever it took... I just wanted to do whatever, so that we could advance to Game 5, tied 2-2.”

Once Beal composed himself, his confidence grew in his teammates. He and Wall feel comfortable playing without each other because they have done so often throughout their careers.

This year, Wall missed 41 games due to a left knee injury. Two years ago, Beal missed 27 games. Early on in his career, he had trouble staying healthy. Now he is an iron man who played in all 82 games during the 2017-18 regular season.

Beal has grown accustomed to being on the floor a lot, but he realized he can still affect the game from the sidelines.

"I just gathered my emotions, gathered my thoughts and told my team we were going to win, regardless. I knew if we still had John [Wall] in the game I loved our chances," Beal said. "Face the adversity that I had to overcome, just gather myself and be a leader, being vocal and keeping everyone encouraged in the game.”

Wall and others did the heavy lifting in the end. The Wizards used Kelly Oubre, Jr. as the shooting guard with Beal out and he made key plays down the stretch, including a steal on Kyle Lowry in the closing seconds.

The Wizards were thrown a significant curveball and they overcame it to put themselves in good position now having won two straight.

“You have to have resolve to win in this league," Brooks said. "You win playoff games and you win playoff series with having that. We have that, and we have to continue to have that because we have to win two more games and one of them has to be on the road."

When it comes to the officiating, the Wizards deserve credit for their resilience and restraint early in Game 4. The Raptors had 16 free throws in the first quarter compared to the Wizards' four. Washington perservered and ended up with more free throws (31) than the Raptors (30) did for the game.

In Game 1, the Wizards appeared to be affected by a lack of foul calls. That came was called loosely by the referees, while this one was officiated tightly. Though Beal went off, the Wizards for the most part stayed the course and were rewarded for it.

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The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

WASHINGTON -- As the home team in a dire situation you have to take advantage, and that is exactly what the Washington Wizards did in their 106-98 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Highlight reel play after highlight reel play, the Wizards ignited the crowd with some of their best plays from the entire season to make it 2-2 in the series. Here are just a few of them:

1. John Wall collects posters in the first half

The first one was perhaps the best. Everything was going wrong for the Wizards, poor turnovers, bad shots, a three from Toronto. Then John Wall had enough. Not only did he fly past his defender Kyle Lowry, but he went up and slammed one home past the 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas. Up until that point, the Wizards were shooting 1-for-7.

Rinse and repeat, except this time Jakob Poeltl was Wall’s victim.

2. Wall to Beal alley-oop in transition

With the Wizards’ offense faltering, the Raptors remained on the verge of blowing the game open throughout the second quarter. But with a steal from Otto Porter Jr., Wall hung up the ball for Bradley Beal to slam home. The alley-oop kept the Wizards within single digits in the second with an uninspiring offensive effort.

3. Otto Porter breaks out of the half

A subdued offensive start to the game was due in part to the production from Porter. In the first half he went 0-for-4 with one point in nearly 17 minutes of action.

Throw that away in the second half. He broke out of halftime with back-to-back threes and 10 of the Wizards’ 26 in a monster 26-14 run to take the lead back in the third.

He finished the quarter with 10 points, an assist, and two blocks.

4. The Polish Hammer throwing it home

Are you convinced yet that Marcin Gortat’s new haircut is doing him some good? Gortat squeezed through two Raptors’ defenders, threw it down, gave a Goliath-type roar to the crowd before officially bringing the hammer down. 

5. Beal being called for his sixth foul of the game

Agree with the call or not, there is no denying that Beal’s removal from the game lit a fire underneath the Wizards. From that point Washington went on a 14-6 scoring run to end the game, closing out for the win.