WASHINGTON (AP) For a team that had been 0-23 when trailing at halftime in road playoff games, the Toronto Raptors sure went about ending that drought and advancing in the playoffs in an usual way: The second unit, led by Fred VanVleet, created the comeback.
Using a tremendous effort at both ends of the court from reserves, and 24 points from Kyle Lowry, the Raptors came back to beat the Washington Wizards 102-92 in Game 6 on Friday night and end their Eastern Conference first-round series.
”Those guys have some ugly possessions, but most of the time, they figure it out,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said about his bench players, who overwhelmed Washington’s in points, 21-6, and rebounds, 15-3, in the second half. ”We trust them. We trusted them all year.”
Toronto fell behind by 12 points in the first quarter and by 53-50 at the end of the second.
The Raptors’ first lead did not come until the third quarter, and they were back down by five points entering the final period.
Never in franchise history had the Raptors won after trailing at halftime in a postseason away game, the team said, citing the Elias Sports Bureau.
”It’s a different year. It’s a different team,” VanVleet said. ”We’ve just got to keep our composure going forward and leave the past in the past.”
With star guards Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who had a personal series-low 16 points, resting to begin the fourth, VanVleet steered the turnaround, and the Raptors outscored Washington 29-14 in the last quarter. Bothered by a bad right shoulder, VanVleet had played a total of three minutes in the series until Friday, but he was just what Toronto needed in this game, with five points, four assists and four rebounds.
”On the road, in a hostile environment, I just wanted to be another support guy out there, that can ease the starters a bit,” VanVleet said. ”You know, me running the team and playing defense and stuff, I can do those things in my sleep.”
It allowed DeRozan to play only 33 1/2 minutes total, and Lowry 31 1/2, compared with more than 40 each for Washington’s All-Star guards, John Wall and Bradley Beal, who looked tired by the end.
”It was great to have our full bench back. Freddie back out there with the guys,” DeRozan said. ”Just a testament to what they did all year.”
Pascal Siakam had 11 points and eight rebounds and used his length to hound Wall, while VanVleet was a pest to Beal.
Jakob Poeltl and C.J. Miles each scored seven. It was VanVleet’s 3-pointer with center Marcin Gortat in his face that tied the game at 78, and Miles’ 3 with about 8 1/2 minutes remaining that gave Toronto its first lead of more than a single point, at 84-80.
”I’m still looking for that manual that says you can’t play that second unit. They’re too young. They’re too this. They’re too that,” Casey said. ”They closed it out for us tonight.”
The home team had won each of the first five games, but the Raptors were finally able to break that road hex. The East’s No. 1 seed will face LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers or the Indiana Pacers next. The Pacers forced a Game 7 on Sunday by avoiding elimination with a 121-87 victory over the Cavs on Friday night.
Asked whether he has a preference for the upcoming opponent, DeRozan answered with one word: ”No.”
This marks the Raptors’ third consecutive trip to the second round of the playoffs; they last failed to get that far in 2015, when they were swept in the opening round by the Wizards.
But this time, Washington bowed out earlier than it was hoping when the season began with grandiose talk of a run to the conference finals. Instead, the Wizards were without Wall for 41 games and wound up with the No. 8 seeding.
Wall had 23 points and eight assists in Game 6; Beal scored 32. But none of that mattered to the fans who started heading to the exits early as the Wizards’ run of eight home playoff wins in a row came to a close.
”We got some looks,” said Wall, whose entire team had only 12 assists. ”We just missed them.”
Raptors: After averaging 18.5 turnovers in Games 3 and 4 at Washington, Toronto had only seven in Game 6.
Wizards: Were without starting SF Otto Porter Jr., who had a medical procedure Friday to prevent permanent muscle damage because of compartment syndrome in his left leg. … Kelly Oubre Jr. started in place of Porter and hit his first 3-point attempt, before missing all six other shots he took.
Toronto will host Games 1 and 2 in the second round, no matter the opponent. The Raptors lost to the Cavaliers each of the past two seasons – swept in the second round a year ago, and beaten in six games in the conference finals in 2016.
More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball