Raptors grab series lead on Wizards

The Canadian Press
Lori Ewing

TORONTO–With just under nine minutes to play, and Game 5 threatening to slip away, coach Dwane Casey went with a lineup that had played less than 10 minutes together all season.
DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, and C.J. Miles closed out a thrilling 108-98 win over the Washington Wizards last night, and now the Toronto Raptors are one win away from the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Moments after the win, DeRozan reflected on the victory that gave the Raptors a 3-2 series lead–saying the hodge-podge lineup is characteristic of their strong season that was built with an emphasis of sharing the load.
“I think we always prepare for any lineup that goes out there,” DeRozan said.
“Even though we didn’t play much with that lineup this year, we all understand all our capabilities, when guys line up out there, what we’re all capable of doing offensively and defensively, and it showed tonight.”
DeRozan had 30 of his 32 points through three quarters, then turned facilitator in the fourth.
Lowry finished with 17 points and 10 assists while Wright scored 18 points off the bench.
Valanciunas, who made his first fourth-quarter appearance of the series, had 14 points and 13 rebounds.
“Everybody stepped up, Delon stepped up big,” DeRozan noted.
“With C.J. out there, he spaces the floor tremendously, they’ve got to worry about a knock-down shooter like him,” he added.
“And we just exploited everything individual-wise that we could do, offensively and defensively.”
John Wall led the Wizards with 26 points, but had seven turnovers, while Bradley Beal added 20.
Through the first three quarters, Washington seemed the hungrier team in a back-and-forth battle that saw neither team lead by double digits.
The Wizards were winning most of the loose balls and dominating the boards–they wound up out-rebounding Toronto 50-35.
But after losing two games in Washington, the Raptors returned to Toronto with confidence in their home court that had seen them lose just seven times in the regular season.
The Raptors clutched a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter in front of a nervous Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,987 that included Drake and Canadian swimming star Penny Oleksiak.
Thousands more anxious fans gathered outside in Maple Leaf Square to watch both the Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs play on the big screens.
When Kelly Oubre converted a three-point play, it gave the Wizards a five-point lead with 8:52 to to.
But two minutes later, the speedy Wall had the ball stolen by Valanciunas, a lumbering big man by comparison, and DeRozan finished the play with an emphatic dunk–bringing the fans to their feet with a roar.
“It was great,” Casey said on the closing lineup. “We’re trying to get something.
“You’re searching, you’re trying to pull strings, and we had some guys that didn’t have their best games at that position tonight and we were searching.
“The key was Jonas did a good job of moving his feet, guarding [Markieff] Morris, guarding their small lineup, which was huge,” Casey added.
“And that gave us an opportunity to stay with that lineup.”
“That was a fun game to play in,” Miles said. “Everybody competing, everybody working hard, hitting shots on both ends, making guys on both sides make plays.”
Elsewhere in the NBA, Cleveland edged Indiana 100-97 to lead that series 3-2 while Oklahoma City beat Utah 107-99 to pull within 3-2.
Houston dumped Minnesota 122-104 to win their first-round series 4-1.