The white towels were waving wildly all around as John Wall calmly dribbled upcourt. In his hands, Wall controlled the Washington Wizards’ last true offensive possession and with it an even more precious commodity: Game 4.
Circumstances had forced him into an aggressive mind-set over the final five minutes, but on this particular play, with his team leading by six, his all-star teammate standing near the sideline and Capital One Arena rocking, Wall simply waited.
After several seconds ticked off the clock, Wall made a pass that forced the Toronto Raptors to foul teammate Kelly Oubre Jr. in the corner. The play created free throws and more cushion for the Wizards. Only then did the caretaker join in the celebration.
Near the end of the Wizards’ 106-98 win, Wall pointed his index fingers to the court to express possession, both of this city and now equal ownership of this first-round NBA playoff series.
“I feel like both teams protected home court. Now it’s the best of three,” Wall said. “Somebody [is] going to have to win on the opponent court to win. We have a good opportunity to go there with some momentum, going into Game 5, and we want to take full advantage and try to get that win.”
After climbing back from a 14-point deficit in the second half and overcoming the perils of their fouling, these Wizards have pulled even with the top-seeded Raptors. This matchup has officially become interesting.
“It’s 2-2,” Oubre screamed into the microphone while giving a postgame interview.
Bradley Beal scored a team-high 31 points but had to stand and watch the final, frenetic moments. Beal was the victim of a tightly officiated game, fouling out with 4:58 remaining and the score tied at 92. Without his presence to stretch the floor — Beal made three deep shots during the Wizards’ comeback in the third quarter — his teammates looked inward.
Markieff Morris completed an alley-oop pass from Wall. Oubre, who performed as the game’s defensive dramatist, smashed into a wall of bodies to draw free throws. Then, as Wall flipped in a layup to give the Wizards a 99-96 lead with 1:59 left, Beal raised his right fist in the air.
The fury and frustration, emotions Beal could not contain just moments earlier, had subsided into relief. Watching Wall provided the panacea for his basketball anxiety.
“When they initially called me for my sixth, I was beyond emotional, beyond mad, frustrated. Pretty much any synonym you can put on that list,” Beal said. “I just kind of gathered my emotions, gathered my thoughts and told my team that we’re going to win regardless.
“We got John still in the game,” Beal continued. “I love our chances.”
Wall finished with 27 points and 14 assists, and he helped create 10 of the team’s final 14 points while Beal was on the bench.
“Just go in attack mode,” Wall said, describing his late surge. “When Brad went out, I knew I had to do whatever it took, guarding [DeMar] DeRozan, making plays, scoring the ball or passing the ball. I just wanted to do whatever it took to advance to Game 5 tied 2-2.”
The Wizards wanted to match their physicality from Game 3 but confused fouling with defense. The problem started on the perimeter as Washington could not stop Toronto’s ball movement and drives to the paint. The lost containment forced the last-line defenders to make a decision, and the choice often resulted in a foul at the rim.
In the first quarter, the Wizards committed eight personal fouls that created 16 free throws for Toronto.
Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry produced 19 points and seven assists, while backcourt mate DeRozan scored a game-high 35 points on 10-for-29 shooting and 14 of 18 free throws.
“Some of those calls were very soft,” Wizards center Marcin Gortat said. “I’ve never seen so many soft calls in the playoffs, but, again, I’d have to go back to the tape and watch them again. I might be wrong, and maybe I had a bad angle, but it is what it is.”
Although the free throws evened out, with Washington attempting more by the end of the game (31 to the Raptors’ 30), through the third quarter the Raptors had 28 free throws compared with the Wizards’ 19.
In that third quarter, the Wizards’ all-stars played to their strengths. Wall created daredevil drives to the rim and made much larger men cower — just as he did in the first quarter when he ascended over Jonas Valanciunas and later caught Jakob Poeltl with a dunk.
Beal splashed three-pointers and provided the missing element in the Wizards’ interior-focused offense. Adding in Otto Porter Jr., the trio supplied much of the scoring.
Before the fourth quarter, the Wizards must have decided to stop fouling, though they still didn’t commit to defending the paint. Toronto opened the fourth by breaking an 80-80 tie with eight straight points in the paint.
After the Wizards worked to tie the score again at 92, the whistle could barely be heard over the outrage when Beal was signaled for his sixth and final foul. Beal bounded away from the court, nearly running into Wizards Coach Scott Brooks, who was just as livid and leaping to his feet.
Beal feared his reaction might earn him a technical foul, but he calmed down enough to turn outrage into administration from the bench. While Beal cheered in support, Wall closed the game and ensured that the Wizards will return to Toronto for Wednesday’s Game 5 as equals.
“You have to have resolve to win in this league,” Brooks said. “We’ve had some tough moments this year with John missing half the season, but we found it, and it put us in a position to make the playoffs through resolve. You win playoff games, and you win playoff series with having that. We have that, and we have to continue to have that because we have to win two more games, and one of them has to be on the road.”
— Candace Buckner
Game 4 recap and highlights
*Final: Wizards win, 106-98, to even the series at 2-2: It was Bradley Beal’s night for all but the last five minutes, then it was John Wall time. Beal led the Wizards with 31 points, 6-for-7 free throw shooting and five three-pointers. But when Washington needed to sew up the win, Wall took over. The point guard had 27 points and 14 assists.
*Bradley Beal is fun on the sidelines:
*Is this a bad time to remind you of the Wizards’ free throw numbers? As Otto Porter misses his first with Washington up 3 with 93 seconds remaining, let’s remember the Wizards are 16-for-26 from the charity stripe tonight. Porter is an 83 percent free throw shooter. Not tonight.
*Just the two of us: With Washington’s starters on the court with less than seven minutes left to play, John Wall (19 points) and Bradley Beal (31 points) are taking over the game. They fueled a 6-0 run, and Beal hit the shot that tied the game. Beal then picked up his sixth foul moments with 4:58 to play.
*End of the third quarter: Washington and Toronto are tied at 80: Mike Scott ended a much-improved third quarter in which the Wizards scored 40 points with a runner to tie the game.
*Oubre, at it again: Kelly Oubre Jr. says his job is to bring energy — he did just that late in the third quarter just a few minutes after Beal left with his fourth foul. Oubre had a one-handed dunk, then charged down to the other end to draw an offensive foul.
*Beal picks up his fourth: Ruh roh. With 4:45 left in the third.
*Otto out of hiding: Not bad to start the third quarter with back-to-back threes. Porter averaged 9.9 points in the first three game of the series with three three-pointers in total. He’s got seven points already tonight.
*Halftime: Toronto leads 51-40: So Washington can’t pay for an outside shot (they’re 1-for-7 from the three-point line and have earned 26 of their 40 points in the paint) and is shooting 34 percent from the field in the face of the Raptors’ tough defense. At least John Wall (12 points, five assists) and Bradley Beal (11 points) are cooking, but it isn’t enough to stop Toronto from shooting 44.4 percent from the floor, including 50 percent from downtown.
*Bradley Beal gets up: This had to be one of the most acrobatic jumps we’ve seen from Bradley Beal.
*OG Anunoby limps to the locker room: Looks like Marcin Gortat landed on him. The 20-year-old folded over before clutching his right ankle.
*Tough break: As the Raptors defense continues to contain the Wizards with ease, Washington soldiers on with another botched fast break. Toronto has 16 fast break points to the Wizards’ zero.
*Shooting woes: Tried to make a “running through the six with woes” joke in homage to Toronto superfan Drake, didn’t work. But the Wizards are certainly having their problems after starting the second quarter shooting 1-for-4 from the field. They’re 10-for-31 midway through the period.
*End of first quarter: Raptors 30, Wizards 22: DeMar DeRozan leads the Raptors despite shooting 0-for-5 from the field thanks to a whopping 9-of-12 from the free throw line. Bradley Beal has nine points for the Wizards, whose starters all have a negative defensive rating.
*Whistle while they work: Lots of fouls to go around so far. After Jonas Valanciunas was called for a Flagrant 1 foul while defending John Wall, the refs haven’t been shy. Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry have two personal fouls each for the Raptors. Six Wizards players have a foul each.
*Famous faces: Philadelphia has Kevin Hart and Allen Iverson seated courtside, but WE’VE got Tom Crean and John Harbaugh. Point, Washington.
Oh but wait …
*Let’s start with a dunk: Toronto Coach Dwane Casey said before the game that the Raptors had to set the tempo and physicality for Game 4 to be successful. John Wall is trying to beat them to it.
* Scott Brooks is showing his old-school style: Wizards Coach Scott Brooks was asked about the chippy atmosphere in Friday’s Game 3. He responded like a true veteran of the 1990s NBA.
* Kieff may look a little lighter — $25,000 lighter: Washington’s aggression was a big part of why they were able to dominate Friday, there were some consequences — for Markieff Morris. The forward lost $25,000 on Saturday when the league fined him for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official.”
Previous series results
Game 5: Wednesday at Toronto, 7 p.m., NBCSW, NBA TV
Game 6: Friday at Washington, time TBD, NBCSW
Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday, April 29, at Toronto, time and television TBD
>> The Wizards aren’t yet a team that can quietly and methodically play to a standard with consistency. They are an emotional volcano. This first-round series is interesting now because the Wizards have erupted, writes Jerry Brewer.
>> Bradley Beal is back. Friday night, the Wizards guard reclaimed the smooth shooting stroke that elevated him to 13th in the NBA in scoring and resulted in the sixth-year player’s first all-star selection. Another player rising to the occasion in Game 3? Kelly Oubre Jr.
>> On Saturday night, the league announced a $25,000 fine for Markieff Morris for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official.”
>> “If they don’t get to the conference finals, I do believe that a major change has to happen.” That’s former Wizards forward Paul Pierce’s assessment of the team, suggesting John Wall and Bradley Beal possibly “break up.”
>> The Wizards need to turn up the defense if they hope to get back into this series. Problem is, that’s a very big ask. According to Neil Greenberg, the biggest liabilities for Washington in the half court are Kelly Oubre Jr., Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal. All four rank in the bottom 20 percent of NBA players in the postseason for points allowed per possessions and each is hurting the Wizards in different ways.
>> The Wizards didn’t seem disappointed by their Game 2 loss, so Jerry Brewer wonders: maybe they’re too chill for their own good? “It would be understandable if they had reason to brush off the game as an aberration, if they were a team that didn’t have recurring problems with focus and transferring preparation onto the court. But that is part of their enigmatic identity. You needed the reassurance of feeling their emotions and sensing their urgency. You will have to trust them, however. Good luck.”
>> Any way you judge the Wizards — with or without John Wall, at their best or worst, home or road, bickering or harmonious, big game or run-of-the-mill affair — they do one thing with stunning consistency: Flub the fourth quarter. They close games like they are trying to slam the heaviest door ever made. If they don’t summon more late-game strength, their season of what ifs and not quites will end with a few last “We had ’em, but . . . ” regrets, writes Jerry Brewer.
>> John Wall thought he was “fat” when the season opened. During this two-month layoff to rehab from knee surgery, Wall and his personal remolded his diet and body. He’s dropped almost 15 pounds, enabling him to play lighter on his feet. Here’s how that diet looks. Speaking of Wall, Tom Boswell thinks the Wizards star needs to shoot a whole lot less.
>> The Raptors and Wizards are such comparable peers. They’ve both been building toward their current rosters since 2010. They both broke through to the playoffs in 2014. But after the Wizards swept the Raptors in the 2015 playoffs, Toronto made the conference final the next season while Washington still hasn’t advanced beyond the second round. So while the Wizards and Raptors once had similar trajectories, now Toronto has clearly surged ahead, writes Jerry Brewer.