The Toronto Raptors overcame a halftime deficit in a road playoff game for the first time in 24 tries, using 24 points from Kyle Lowry and a tremendous effort from their finally whole second unit to beat the Washington Wizards 102-92 in Game 6 on Friday night and end their Eastern Conference first-round series.
Toronto trailed by as many as 12 points in the first quarter and was down 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.
But with star guards Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who had a personal series-low 16 points, resting to begin the fourth, reserves led by point guard Fred VanVleet turned around the game. 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.
The home team had won each of the first five games, but the Raptors were finally able to break that road hex and close things out. The East’s No. 1 seed will face LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers or the Indiana Pacers next.
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 bows 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 John Wall for 41 games and wound up with the No. 8 seeding.
Wall had 23 points and eight assists in Game 6. Bradley Beal led Washington with 32 points. But the Wizards’ run of eight home playoff wins in a row came to a close.
Surprising that Toronto would do it, perhaps, given that it had been 0-23 when trailing at halftime in an away game in the postseason, the team said, citing the Elias Sports Bureau.
Even as DeRozan sat out two-thirds of the fourth quarter, the Raptors chipped away at Washington’s lead.
The Raptors never led by more than one point until a little more than 8? minutes remained, when reserve C.J. Miles made a 3 to put the visitors ahead 84-80, shortly after a 3 by VanVleet had erased the last bit of Washington’s last lead with a 3 of his own.
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.
DUCK, DUCK, GOOSE!
Raptors coach Dwane Casey, asked before Game 6 about trying to stay even-keel entering a possible series-ending game: “It’s probably like a duck. You know how a duck is on a pond? You’re probably not from the country. But you look at a duck and it’s all calm on the top. And underneath, he’s paddling like hell. So that’s probably how I feel right now. There’s no easy closeout game.”
Toronto has been eliminated by Cleveland 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