The Toronto Raptors enter the All-Star break on a high after overcoming a late-game deficit to seal a third straight win, a come-from behind 95-93 nail-biter over the Washington Wizards.
Behind a stellar 27-point night by Lou Williams, the Raptors completed a sweep of the season series with the Wizards, improving to 36-17 and enhancing their hold on second place in the Eastern Conference over the now 33-21 Wizards.
Williams was Toronto's top scorer on 8-of-15 shooting, including four three-pointers. DeMar DeRozan contributed 23, including the go-ahead basket with 12 seconds remaining. Kyle Lowry had 13, and Grievis Vasquez added 11.
"I was very mindful of having zero points that last game so my mindset coming in was be aggressive," said Williams, who had been 0-of-5 from the floor on Sunday. "I think now the proof is in the pudding that we are pretty solid basketball team… After the break we have to step it up one more notch when everyone comes back fully rested."
The Raptors had a conservative 27-25 lead after the first quarter on 9-19 shooting from the field, as the Wizards – without sharp-shooting Bradley Beal in the lineup – started slow, missing all five of their first-quarter three-point attempts. Toronto immediately stretched that lead just inside the second quarter by going on a 9-2 run with a trio of quick three-pointers – one by Vasquez and a pair by Williams. But they just as quickly let it slip away, going more than six minutes without making a field goal.
By half-time, the Raptors had made just 16 of their 43 field goal attempts and held just a two-point lead.
The Wizards outscored the Raptors 29-26 in the third and held a slim 76-75 lead to set up a dramatic fourth quarter. It was a one-point game with five minutes to play, when Williams hit a monster three-pointer to hand Toronto back the lead, then did it again two minutes later to re-secure it after the Wizards answered. DeRozan hit the winner, and then the Raptors stopped John Wall twice from tying it, the other All-Star guard starting for the East with Lowry.
"I'll put that one in the archives and look back at it a long time from now," said DeRozan of his shot, which he hit over Wall.
Paul Pierce -- who stung the Raptors as a Brooklyn Net in the playoffs last year with clutch game winners and a series-winning defensive stop in Game 7 – got loose for some critical looks, including eight fast points within two minutes in the third quarter, and finished with 17. Low post man Nene had 14 and four steals.
The lightning quick and wildly athletic other Wall had some dazzling moments Wednesday night – flashing zippy passes, speedy driving layups and explosive dunks to the tune of 21 points, four rebounds, and eight assists. Several times he blew by Raptors still in the half-court. He and Lowry dove to the floor and tangled for a loose ball late in the game, a hustle play that galvanized the Raptors late.
"Calculated risk, baby, calculated risk. I'm pretty smart when it comes to that type of stuff," said Lowry, rubbing oil on his floor-burned hand. "It hurts, but it doesn't matter, because we won the game. At the end of the day, we won the game and I'm excited that we won the game and we're going into the break on a high note."
The Raptors were coming off wins Friday over the Los Angeles Clippers and Sunday over the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. The Wizards, who are getting it done with defence recently, had held their last two opponents to an average of 78.5 points.
The Raptors now get some down time during the All-Star Break. Their next contest isn't until Feb. 20 in Atlanta against the East-leading Hawks, which kicks off a challenging stretch of four games in five nights.
The NBA is experimenting this year with an extended break around All-Star Weekend, so all teams have a minimum of eight days off between games, allowing even the players who participate in All-Star activities some rest. The trade-off for the break was condensing the 82-game schedule, causing teams to have more back-to-back games on their schedules.
"[The break] gives all of our guys a chance to breathe, regroup and refocus, get their bodies right, but there is a but with it – we've got a tough schedule coming back in," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "We've never had seven days off I don't think in the All-Star break situation, so it will be interesting to see how we come back."