TORONTO — The night marked a milestone for coach Dwane Casey and saw the Toronto Raptors play with their full starting lineup in more than a month.
The victory also boosted the Raptors to 20 wins before the New Year for just the second time in franchise history.
Still, the narrow 94-91 victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday had Casey angry over what he called one of the team’s worst offensive performances this season.
"It is very rare that you shoot 34 per cent and put yourself in the position to win the game… and 18 turnovers," Casey said. "That’s probably as bad offensively as we have played all year."
DeMar DeRozan poured in 34 points, while Bismack Biyombo had a game-high 12 rebounds plus 12 points. Terrence Ross finished with 14 points and Kyle Lowry had 11 for Toronto (20-13), which also won 20 games before New Year’s Day last season.
Jonas Valanciunus, who missed 17 games with a broken hand, made his first start since Nov. 20, and with DeMarre Carroll’s return from a knee injury, Toronto’s starting lineup was finally back intact.
"It felt good," DeRozan said. "We are still trying to get (Valanciunas) back into game speed and (Carroll) with his limited minutes. Every game is going to be a process and I think we will continue to get better. It feels great to be healthy again."
Otto Porter Jr. had 20 points to top Washington (14-16), while John Wall added 19.
It was the Wizards’ first trip to Toronto since they embarrassed the Raptors with their four-game sweep in the first round of last season’s playoffs, and the Raptors weren’t about to play gracious host.
The Raptors, who edged the Wizards 84-82 on a buzzer-beater by Cory Joseph on Nov. 28 in Washington, led virtually from the opening whistle and took a 77-65 advantage into the fourth quarter in front of a capacity crowd of 19,800 at the Air Canada Centre.
The Wizards chipped away at the Raptors’ lead in the fourth, and when Wall found Marcin Gortat for an easy dunk with 1:28 to play, it cut Toronto’s advantage to just three points. Then Jared Dudley drilled a three from directly in front of the Raptors’ bench to make it a one-point game with 39.5 seconds left.
A pair of free throws from Lowry would clinch the victory, as Wall and Dudley both missed on three-point attempts in the dying seconds.
DeRozan went 9-for-24 from the field and a perfect 15-for-15 from the free-throw line, but he was the only Raptor who could shoot straight on a night Toronto relied on its defence to eke out the victory.
"That’s how it’s supposed to be for us," Ross said. "The shots aren’t always going to be there, and the shots aren’t always going to fall but having defence to lean back on and help us get through a game, that’s what we have to be consistent with."
The night marked another milestone for Casey, who tied Sam Mitchell for most games coached in franchise history — 345.
"Who keeps up with that crap?" said Casey — clearly not much for milestones.
When prodded, he said "I’m thankful to the players, ownership, front office for giving us an opportunity to be here… It hasn’t been easy growing the program and developing it, and getting to where it is, we’re not done yet, we’re still growing. We’re not where we’re going to be, or need to be yet."
The Raptors jumped out to a seven-point lead in the first quarter, but couldn’t put any distance on the Wizards, and led just 28-27 going into the second.
Toronto pulled away in the second quarter and when Biyombo connected on two free throws with four seconds left it sent the Raptors into the locker-room at halftime with a 52-41 lead — their largest to that point.
The Wizards pulled to within two points midway through the third, but backed by DeRozan’s 12 points in the frame, Toronto stretched its advantage to 13 points.
The Raptors host the Charlotte Hornets on New Year’s Day.