John Wall drew choruses of “M-V-P!” from the crowd by producing 19 points and 15 assists, 37-year-old Paul Pierce hit two key late 3-pointers, and the Washington Wizards closed in on a first-round playoff sweep by beating the Toronto Raptors, 106-99, on Friday night.
Six Wizards scored in double figures, including Marcin Gortat, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds. Pierce’s 18 points were highlighted by a 3-pointer that capped a 10-2 run with two minutes left, and another with 16.3 seconds remaining after Toronto got within three points.
After the second, Pierce turned to the stands with arms aloft, nodded and yelled, “That’s why I’m here!”
The Wizards lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series 3-0 and can end it on Sunday, when they host Game 4. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA postseason series.
Paced by DeMar DeRozan, who scored a team playoff-record 20 points in the first quarter and 32 points overall, Toronto led by as many as 10 points early. But the Raptors were too inconsistent, just as they have been all series.
Washington, meanwhile, now has reason to believe it can win at home. Over the past two postseasons, the Wizards are 7-1 on the road — Randy Wittman is the first NBA coach to begin his playoff career that way — but they entered Friday with a 1-4 mark in Washington during that span.
The game was tied at 88-88 with four and a half minutes left, when Washington pulled away thanks to 3-pointers, including two by Otto Porter. The Wizards made a franchise playoff-record 12 shots from 3-point range.
The Raptors won all three regular-season meetings between the teams, but Toronto has not been the same squad in this series.
DeRozan typified Toronto’s issues. After starting 8-for-10 from the field, including a 3-pointer that put the Raptors ahead 28-18, he missed all four shots he took in the second quarter and the first five he took in the third.
His backcourt mate, all-star Kyle Lowry, struggled most of the game, ending up with 15 points and seven assists.
About 75 minutes before tip-off, Lowry sat in front of his locker and sipped from a paper cup containing hot tea. He’s dealing with a cold, a bruised left shin and a lingering back problem, and after making two early 3-pointers, he missed his next 11 shots, including one when Wall swooped in from behind to block it.
Gortat was averaging 12 points and eight rebounds in the series. But Wall got him going early, with three quick baskets. After one easy layup set up by Wall, Gortat patted his point guard in the back of the head to say thanks. And a reverse layup by Gortat off another assist by Wall made Washington’s lead 54-48 at halftime.
Wearing strips of black tape on his right shoulder, which got banged up in Game 1, Wall didn’t shoot particularly well — only 5-for-15 — but directed his team effectively.
And when he did score, he was animated about it. With five and a half minutes remaining in the first half, Wall zoomed past Lowry for a fast-break layup to give Washington a 43-42 lead, its first time in front since it was 9-7 a few minutes into the game.
Wall pounded his chest with his fist, and yelled, “This is my … city!” — all while looking in the general direction of Canadian rapper Drake, the Raptors’ “Global Brand Ambassador,” who was seated courtside.
Drew Gooden, Washington’s 33-year-old reserve forward, made his first three 3-point tries and wound up with 12 points and seven rebounds.
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