- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

TORONTO — After a Game 1 win in Toronto, Paul Pierce suggested the Washington Wizards wanted to be greedy. When returning north, well rested after two days in between games, they came into Air Canada Center pursuing a two-game series lead. Such a step in a best-of-seven series suggests it is ostensibly over.

Tuesday, Pierce was still the focus of boos and television teasers that touted his evilness. During his introduction, the venom flowed. When John Wall and Bradley Beal were announced, little was said. When Otto Porter came off the bench, that meant Pierce went to the bench. Squinting eyes followed Pierce, the boos trailed him.

Pierce had purposely seized the spotlight and yanked it down on his head. Meanwhile, Beal and Porter puffed their chests and dropped their shots. Beal would receive a technical late in the game for his combativeness. Porter yelled, scored, rebounded and looked again like the dark side version of himself that a comic book artist would create as an alter ego.

Wall? He was optimum Wall, fast and ferocious. His 17 assists were a Wizards playoff record. His 26 points came from all around the floor. Blend him with the feisty versions of his young teammates, and the Wizards return to D.C. with a stern 2-0 series lead.

A double-digit halftime lead grew in a stunning offensive display by the Wizards during their 117-106 win over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Because of it, they took a 2-0 series lead after winning back-to-back road games for the second consecutive season.

Beal scored 28 points, opting for drives to the basket and leaving languishing midrange jumpers to others. Porter, goggle-free and riding personal confidence not seen previously at this level, finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.

John and I didn’t play well in the first game,” Beal said. “He said we have to be more aggressive. Our biggest thing is that we have to be more physical. We have to hit them first. They think they’re a physical team, and they are. But, we’re not going to back down from that.”

The Wizards had 97 points at the end of the third quarter. For a team weighing defense as such a priority, the offensive output was just short of astonishing.

At the end of the first quarter, Beal was 8-for-28 from the field in a game-plus. He went on to own the second quarter with drives to the rim, that were so rare during the season, and timely 3-pointers. He scored 16 points in the quarter on 7-for-9 shooting. Toronto wilted. Beal kept coming. The Wizards led, 60-49, at the half and were two quarters from an emphatic series lead.

Porter was again a manic pest to Toronto. He helped slow down Toronto star DeMar DeRozan when he played small forward in the Wizards‘ small-ball lineup that put Pierce at power forward. DeRozan finished with 20 points, but just scored just 11 of those after the first quarter.

Beal and Toronto’s frustrated All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, bumped their way up the floor in the fourth quarter to earn technical fouls. Porter had banged around with Lowry previously during another night of grit. If Pierce’s villainy had not trickled to the youngsters, his edge at least had.

“I think a lot of the stuff y’all see coming out, it’s always been there. I just think, I kind of manifest it to another level,” Pierce said with a laugh.

Much of their first-half work was undone quickly in the third quarter. The Raptors’ Terrence Ross made two 3-pointers and the Wizards needed a timeout with 8:30 to play in the quarter. Their 11-point halftime lead, developed with exquisite second-quarter work, was ripped to just two points. They exhaled, produced their own run and pushed the lead back to 10 points just more than two minutes later. By the end of the third quarter, they were in front, 97-75.

“The crowd kept going, ‘Ohhhhh,’ but, it was us scoring,” Drew Gooden said. “It wasn’t the Toronto Raptors scoring. We basically took the crowd out of the game at that point and you saw the demeanor of the Raptors coming down and just shooting wild shots.”

The start was brutal for Washington. Toronto bolted to a 12-2 lead and an already loud crowd, rain-soaked and stuck under clouds most of the day, burst with joy. The Wizards used a timeout with 8:17 to play in the opening quarter. Their shooting issues from Game 1 appeared to carry into Game 2.

Slowly, the game changed. Down just five at the end of the first quarter, Washington had steadied. It continued to throttle the Raptors on the boards, which stifled their pace and plugged up their offense.

Wall was right with Beal. He had a double-double, 12 points and 10 assists, by the half. The Wizards shot 63.6 percent in the second quarter after pushing the pace.

“When we’re both aggressive and if our offense is on, we’re a tough team to beat,” Wall said.

It helped that Lowry was again in foul trouble. He was called for his third foul with 9:19 to play in the second quarter. Furious, Lowry stormed off to the bench, where he finished Game 1 after fouling out. Lowry did not return in the first half and was irritated throughout the second until he left with a knee contusion. He and Beal eventually received technical fouls for colliding and talking to each other during what turned into a blowout. Without Lowry on the floor, and with Beal and Wall in full gear, the Wizards scored 60 points in the half.

That start was enough to push them to a 2-0 series lead with two home games coming up. Thus far, they are the only team this postseason season to win a road game.

“A lot of young guys grew up tonight,” Gooden said.

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