It wasn’t always pretty but the Toronto Raptors got the job done.
Toronto punched its ticket to the second round of the NBA playoffs with a Game 6 victory over the Washington Wizards Friday night, closing out a hard-fought series on the back of a huge fourth-quarter effort from the “Bench Mob.”
Wizards agitator Markieff Morris made it clear he thought Washington was the better team in the series, but he and his teammates will now be watching the rest of the playoffs from the couch while the top-seeded Raptors await the winner of the Indiana Pacers-Cleveland Cavaliers matchup.
With Toronto through to the second round for the third consecutive post-season, here’s what the U.S. media is saying about the team.
Washington Post — Wizards eliminated by Raptors after blowing lead in the fourth quarter
The Raptors prevailed, 102-92, for the series-clinching victory in Game 6, and the Wizards’ zigzag season came to a sudden end.
Washington led by double digits early but again crumbled in the fourth quarter against Toronto’s deep roster, marking its first opening-round exit from the NBA playoffs in the John Wall and Bradley Beal era.
“We haven’t been knocked out in the first round [before],” Beal said. “I’m a little bothered by that. We’re a better team than that. We had high expectations coming into the year, and we fell short of it.”
The 2017-18 Wizards were ultimately undone by five Toronto role players while the Raptors stars, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, gleefully celebrated on the sidelines. The Raptors outscored the Wizards in the final quarter 29-14, relying on standout reserves such as Delon Wright, CJ Miles and Pascal Siakam.
For the first time in the series, with VanVleet exuding that calm and coolness in the second unit, the Toronto Raptors truly looked like the team that dominated the Eastern Conference this season…
Time and again this season — and in the clincher Friday night — the five reserves were allowed to build their rapport with one another. Whereas many teams regard the opening minutes of the second and fourth quarter as an inconvenient necessity in a league where starters simply can’t play the full 48, the Raptors thrive watching their bench annihilate the competition. By the time opponents reinsert their starters, the Toronto six-through-10 is just getting warmed up.
To wit, DeRozan on Friday night didn’t make his return in the fourth quarter until the 3:31 mark, in a clinching game with a single-digit margin. In contrast, both John Wall and Bradley Beal played more than 40 minutes in a Game 6 loss for Washington.
During their first 10 seasons together in Utah, Karl Malone and John Stockton reached the conference finals three times but usually bowed out in the first round or conference semis. It wasn’t until their 11th and 12th season together, measurably past their individual primes, that they reached the NBA Finals. The decisive factors: Twin telepathy and a supporting cast that complemented it.
Lowry also understands what the Raptors want to accomplish and getting past the Wizards was only the first step. The Raptors have undergone a few incarnations since Paul Pierce trolled them to that defeat in 2015 — Lowry, DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas are all that remain from that squad — but the latest one has forced the rest of the league to take notice, even if all of the doubts won’t be erased until they can go further. If 59 wins weren’t enough, finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference still leads to distrust, and if a convincing defeat of a talented but fickle Wizards team on the road doesn’t change perceptions, all Toronto can do is keep playing — and winning — until skepticism drifts into silence.
The Washington Times — Wizards’ letdown in Game 6 a microcosm of their season
No problem doing that. Toronto earned the No. 1 seed and dispatched the Wizards in the same fashion, using a deep, skilled, athletic, energetic and well-balanced roster that should make Wizards fans envious.
Two reserves – Delon Wright and Pascal Siakam – played the entire fourth quarter for Raptors coach Dwane Casey, even though Toronto trailed by five points as the quarter began. Another sub, point guard Fred VanVleet, played all but three-and-half minutes of the final quarter.
“I’m still looking for the coaching manual that says you can’t play your second unit,” Casey said. “They’re too young, or too this and too that. As long as they’re productive, they’re going to play. They’ve been good to us all year and they closed it out for us tonight.”
This is the first time in the Wall-Beal era that the Wizards failed to reach the second round. Looking around the East, you must wonder if a trend is at hand.
Toronto can match Washington’s All-Star backcourt and raise the Wizards a trio of budding players – Wright, VanVleet and Siakam – with three or fewer years of experience. Boston has a wealth of young talent in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier – plus Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward. And Philadelphia might be the best of the bunch next year as Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid apply their newfound seasoning.
The Washington Times — Wizards eliminated from playoffs with Game 6 loss to Raptors
A year ago, in almost the exact same scenario, Wall hit a game-winning 3-pointer against the Boston Celtics to help stave off elimination — and, more importantly, force a Game 7. That night, Wall jumped on the scorer’s table, firing up the District crowd. There was no doubt that the Wizards were his team in his city.
But against the Raptors, Wall and the Wizards couldn’t muster the same magic. Not this year.
Instead, the Wizards were eliminated Friday, losing 4-2 in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The team’s season is over, capping off a year of inconsistencies, injuries and underperforming. On the surface, Washington lost to a perfectly respectable Toronto team, which captured the No. 1 seed with 59 wins. Still — even with Wall missing half the season with a knee injury — they could have avoided the Raptors entirely if they had just won one more game.
They dealt their own hand, and Washington watched as a superior Raptors team pulled away in the fourth quarter.