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WASHINGTON, D.C.—They were challenged to be tougher, to be faster, to play with force and intensity. And however coach Dwane Casey delivered the message to the Toronto Raptors, they heard it.
Exponentially improved from the sluggish group that was blitzed at home on Wednesday, the Raptors came up with a thorough performance here Friday, registering an important 114-106 victory over the Washington Wizards that gives Toronto the tiebreaker advantage if the teams finish the season with the same record.
“I was real proud of the way the bench responded,” Casey said of a second unit that provided 46 points.
But no one responded to a challenge — as unexpected as it was — as DeMar DeRozan. He was a little out of sorts in the first half and the first couple of minutes in the third quarter when Casey sat him down, a decision that obviously upset DeRozan, who barked at the bench when he came off the floor.
“He (was) struggling a little bit, everybody does,” Casey said. “It wasn’t to try to embarrass him or whatever but I wanted to let him sit back, breathe a little bit and and collect himself, and he responded. (He) had 13 rebounds, 32 points and he gave it to us.”
DeRozan had 15 of his points in the final quarter, including the game-sealing three-pointer with 20 seconds to go.
“(I) just relaxed,” DeRozan said of his reaction to the early rest. “(I told) myself just take my time and don’t be rushed. That’s all I did. I held my composure and just went out there and do what I know, do what I can do.”
A subtle change to the rotation — and a much smaller and effective second unit — provided the Raptors with the kind of speed and forcefulness Casey had been demanding.
Going with a group comprising Delon Wright, Cory Joseph, Norm Powell, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson to start the second quarter, Toronto went on a 17-6 run that got the Raptors a lead as big as 19 points midway through the quarter.
While the Wizards made an inevitable run and got within nine at the half, Toronto’s style of play was the most pleasing aspect.
Wright had been disappointed with his performance on Wednesday night, putting pressure squarely on his relatively inexperienced back.
“It’s a good opportunity for me but I feel personally that I could play much better, just trying to get the second unit into the offence earlier, a little better defence,” he said Friday morning. “I have to do a better job.”
Wright was outstanding in 22 minutes Friday, guarding John Wall, efficiently running the offence and providing nine points and an assist. He played with more of the calm that’s needed, handling full court pressure well.
“Delon did a great job, Wall was all over him, under him, everything else,” Casey said. “He had four blocked shots, which is huge for a guard . . . he just did an excellent job playing against one of the premier guards in our league in John Wall.”
But the small lineup has its inherent problems and the Raptors were hammered 27-6 in second-chance points. Some of it was because they were scrambling on defence more than usual, some of it was strictly because of size.
Powell tied his season high with 21 points as he broke out of an offensive funk while Joseph added 15 and Serge Ibaka 14.
Wall made four three-pointers and finished with 30 to lead Washington while Bradley Beal chipped in 27. Bojan Bogdanovic, the backup who had torched Toronto for 27 points on Wednesday, was held to six points on 1-for-5 shooting from the floor.