To the surprise of perhaps nobody, the Washington Wizards dominated the Toronto Raptors for the fourth straight time to complete a first round series sweep. Although they won each of the first three games pretty soundly, the Wizards lost each first quarter. On Sunday, they were done allowing the Raptors to hang around. Having finally destroyed Toronto’s spirit, the Wizards stormed to a 36-22 lead to end the first and never looked back: they won 125-94.
Kyle Lowry continued his horrible, no good, very bad series with two fouls in the game’s first 5:29. While the second was a complete blown call on a play where Lowry barely grazed John Wall, he then drew a technical by whipping a chest pass to one of the referees. Lowry stayed in the game and picked up his third about 90 seconds later. When they showed him on the bench angrily laughing later in the half, he had the look of someone who I’d be afraid to talk to. He actually turned in a decent line after getting past the fouls, adding 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists. But the Raptors’ chances in this game were lost when they went down huge to start the game.
Lowry’s early fouls were part of a bigger problem that helped to bury Toronto: inexplicably bad defense. Washington had the third worst offense of all playoff teams this season, leading only Milwaukee and Boston. Those two have gone 1-7 in the playoffs. Washington has torched the Raptors offensively, and continued to do so Sunday. The Raptors seemingly gave up trying to cleanly contest shots, sending the Wizards to the foul line in droves. Wall knocked down all seven of his first quarter freebies. At one point, he drew contact and took a shot clearly meant to be a continuation as part of a shooting foul–before the whistle had even been blown. He got the call of course, as Toronto’s lack of resistance has become so predictable Wall knew the whistle wouldn’t be swallowed.
John Wall’s passing has been so good this series that I can’t help but somehow be reminded of Peyton Manning. While young rocket-slinging Manning would be an apt comparison, Wall kept reminding me of the curiously elite late 30s Peyton. Wall, like Manning, sees the whole court (or field) at all times and is capable of landing passes into the perfect spot from any angle. Just watch Wall slowly loft a ball over three defenders into Marcin Gortat’s hands a foot from the rim and try not to think of Peyton somehow hitting his guys up the sidelines.
The Raptors had no answer for Wall throughout the series. To be fair, they seem to lack answers to pretty much everything right now. A second straight playoff disappointment coupled with the stark downturn this season has many assuming big changes are brewing up North. GM Masai Ujiri basically built this version of the Raptors by inheritance/accident, so all sorts of moves are possible.
While the Raptors have been self-destructing for most of the series, Randy Wittman and Washington deserve plenty of credit for taking care of business. Per a TNT report, Wittman strategically limited Paul Pierce’s minutes heavily down the stretch so he could unleash him in the playoffs. That move clearly paid off, as Pierce hit several big shots in each game of the sweep, including four more triples today. Further, Pierce’s rest allowed Otto Porter Jr. to play almost 30 minutes a night in April, slowly working himself into the impact player that took over the series at times. He continued his superb series in Game 4, adding seven points and seven boards along with his now trademark tough defense.
Bradley Beal had a game-high 23 points along with five assists and four steals. Marcin Gortat was fantastic, chipping in 21 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists on eight of nine from the field. His ferocious second quarter dunk to put Washington up 66-50 was just another icy cold dagger to Toronto’s heart. Drew Gooden hit three more from deep, continuing his renaissance as a stretch four. The Wizards’ bench played most of the fourth quarter, as the game never even got close to being close after halftime. Only Beal played more than 29 minutes.
Assuming Atlanta gets by the undead Brooklyn Nets, Washington will have a far bigger test waiting for them in the Conference Semifinals. Just last year, the Wizards dominated the similarly favored Chicago Bulls in a 4-1 series win while the top-seeded Pacers sputtered to a seven game victory over Horford-less Atlanta. The unimpressive Pacers (they imploded over the final two months of 2013-14) then took Washington out pretty cleanly, highlighting the improvements the Wizards still needed. The 60-22 Hawks could certainly expose Washington all the same this year, but Wittman’s newfound flexibility and Atlanta’s poor recent play might leave an opportunity open for them. If Drew Gooden and Otto Porter Jr. keep making all their threes, the Hawks are in trouble!