The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON–In the final eight minutes of last night’s ugly loss, the Toronto Raptors’ eight-point lead turned into an eight-point deficit.
And in those frustrating minutes, as the game slipped away, the Raptors saw their playoff series lead over Washington vanish–and the storyline on such a positive season for the franchise turn sour.
DeMar DeRozan had 35 points, but shot just 2-for-8 in the fourth quarter, and the Washington Wizards scorched Toronto down the stretch en route to a 106-98 win to tie their opening-round Eastern Conference series at two games apiece.
Moments later, DeRozan shouldered much of the blame for the loss.
“I had a lot of great shots in the paint that I took back, and there were some late-game shots that I wish I could take back,” DeRozan said.
“That’s just my mindset, being aggressive, wanting to win, willing to do whatever it took to push it to a win,” he noted.
“But with that came some bad shots that I will definitely understand next time.”
Next time is on Wednesday in Toronto, where the Raptors have lost just seven times this season.
The series then returns to Washington for Game 6 on Friday night.
Kyle Lowry had 19 points and seven assists, Jonas Valanciunas had 11 points, Jakob Poeltl finished with 10, and Serge Ibaka grabbed 10 rebounds.
But the Raptors’ turnovers–18 giveaways for 19 points–proved costly once again.
“Can’t happen. Can’t happen,” DeRozan stressed. “I think we got stagnant.”
Washington’s all-stars Bradley Beal and John Wall, meanwhile, were firing on all cylinders, Beal scoring 31 points and Wall chipping in with 27.
Still, the game looked like Toronto’s for the taking, particularly when Beal fouled out with five minutes to play.
Wizards’ coach Scott Brooks was livid while the raucous Capital One Arena crowd roared “Ref you suck!”
But the Raptors failed to take advantage.
“This [loss] was tougher because I thought we had it under control,” said Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey.
“We had some turnovers, we had some unfortunate untimely turnovers.
“Nobody said this was going to be easy,” Casey stressed. “I said that after Game 3.
“We’ve just got to bounce back.
“Neither team has won on the other team’s court yet,” he noted. “When you do that, then it’s a series.”
The Raptors had raced out to an early 12-point lead, and held the lead until midway through the third quarter.
A Mike Scott basket at the third-quarter buzzer sent the game into the fourth tied at 80-80.
Toronto opened the fourth with an 8-0 run capped by a steal and basket by Delon Wright.
But the Wizards hit back. And when Marcin Gortat threw down a huge dunk, raising his fists and letting out a thunderous roar, it tied the game once again with 5:40 to go.
Wall pounced on a Raptors’ turnover with 1:57 to play and his basket gave the Wizards a three-point lead.
Then with the noisy crowd on its feet, Wall calmly drained a jumper that gave the Wizards a six-point lead with a minute to play.
Kelly Oubre iced the victory with a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left while a stock photo of a sad-looking Drake flashed on the jumbotron.
“Next man up,” Oubre said of Beal leaving the game. “Straight like that.
“We have a lot of great talent on this team,” he noted. “At any given moment, anybody can go off and have a career game, a break-out game.”
The Raptors had expected the Wizards to put up a fierce fight on their home court, where they pulled even with Boston after trailing 2-0 in last year’s playoffs.
The Celtics went on to win that series.
The Raptors dominated Washington in Games 1 (114-106) and 2 (130-119), but were humiliated in their 122-103 loss in Game 3 that saw them give up 28 points on 19 turnovers.
They don’t do themselves any favours in playoffs. Last year, their first-round series against Milwaukee was tied 2-2 before they took the last two games to win it.
“It’s nothing new for us,” DeRozan said. “You never want to be in this situation but it’s nothing new for us.
“We understand the magnitude and importance of everything in the moment.
“As a competitor, we thrive in moments like this,” he added.
“We understand our opportunity to go back home, where we’ve been great all year.”
Elsewhere in the NBA, Milwaukee edged Boston 104-102 and Cleveland shaded Indiana 104-100 to tie their respective first-round series at 2-2.
San Antonio, meanwhile, staved off elimination by beating Golden State 103-90.