The Wizards came out of halftime and dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Raptors 31 to 21. Andray Blatche played one of the best quarters of his young career, scoring 14 points. JaVale McGee added six points as the Wiz reversed a seven-point deficit after the second to go up by three at the end of the third. In the fourth quarter, Washington fell flat, letting slip a golden opportunity to steal one on the road. Late in the game the Raptors went on a 14-0 run as the Wizards missed seven shots in a row. The late-game run allowed Toronto to take a 105-100 lead with less than two minutes to go. They would go on to win by five points.
The Wizards had turned the corner and all the momentum seemed to be lost before the Raptors figured things out. The Wizards had made a couple of fatal errors. First of all, they started going away from Andray Blatche, who was the hot hand in the second half. He scored 14 points in the third quarter but had preciously few scoring opportunities in the fourth despite his proficiency. The second error was that the Wizards made their comeback too soon. In the fourth, the Raptors figured things out and started to play some tougher defense. Suddenly, rotations were better, Bargnani was registering some key blocks down the stretch, and the Raptors managed to keep rebounding the ball despite having a small lineup. In an extremely surprising move, Jay Triano placed Bargnani up front with Turkoglu and Antoine Wright as forwards. He then also placed Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack on the floor to create one of the weakest rebounding lineups possible. However, Bargnani held his own on several key stops and Turkoglu grabbed an important rebound in the final minute to close out the game so Triano's gamble worked for one night.
Okay, so last night's game wasn't exactly the defensive match-up of the season, and it was sort of surprising the end score didn't amount to some crazy number like 250 rather than the timid 109-104 final. But despite Washington's fourth quarter turnovers the Wizards offense dished 20 assists as a team for the third game in a row since the trade which sent Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson to the Dallas Mavericks. While Washington hasn't achieved a three win streak since two seasons ago, a 20+ assists streak isn't a bad consolation prize while rebuilding. However, as much as I'd like to pump up Washington's offensive efforts, their defense, while strong against Denver last Friday, suffered against Toronto. Raptors reserve guard Jarrett Jack led Toronto with 23 points, Hedo Turkoglu scored 16 points despite a trip to the locker room during gametime, and Andrea Bargnani scored 18 points against Washington's young, skinny frontcourt.
When these teams met on Dec. 4, they were headed in opposite directions. The Raptors arrived in Washington on a five-game losing streak, including a 42-point loss in Atlanta. The Wizards appeared to be a team that had finally turned the corner after winning four of five games. But after that meeting -- in which Turkoglu buried a difficult baseline jumper and Gilbert Arenas missed a potential game-tying layup in a 109-107 overtime loss -- the Raptors finally found their way and the Wizards sank into the abyss. "From that time, they won the game and they kind of catapulted their season and we've been through, as you are very much aware, a lot of situations," Washington Coach Flip Saunders said.
The Wizards just could not find a way to fight through the fourth quarter on a night when they did so many things well. The ball again moved as the Wizards recorded 20 assists marking the third straight game they reached the 20-assist mark as a team. The Wizards also again showed resilience on defense. The Raptors have now scored at least 100-points in twenty straight games, but in the third quarter the Wizards become more disruptive on defense and forced the Raptors into six turnovers.
Eventually the newness, excitement and adrenaline rush will subside and the difficulty of their current circumstances will sink in. But until then, these guys have been fun to watch. And, Blatche has really embraced his opportunity since Antawn Jamison was traded to Cleveland. In the three games since the trade, Blatche has averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds. "I think it's that and I think he knows that there are expectations of him and expectations of consistency," Coach Flip Saunders said. "At this point, what he's doing, he's living up to that. He's got to continue to do it on the nightly basis."