Washington — For a team that had been 0-23 when trailing at halftime in road playoff games, the Toronto Raptors sure went about ending that drought and advancing in the playoffs in an usual way: The second unit, led by Fred VanVleet, created the comeback.
Using a tremendous effort at both ends of the court from reserves, and 24 points from Kyle Lowry, the Raptors came back to beat the Washington Wizards, 102-92, in Game 6 on Friday night and end their Eastern Conference first-round series.
“Those guys have some ugly possessions, but most of the time, they figure it out,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said about his bench players, who overwhelmed Washington’s in points, 21-6, and rebounds, 15-3, in the second half. “We trust them. We trusted them all year.”
Toronto fell behind by 12 points in the first quarter and by 53-50 at the end of the second.
The Raptors’ first lead did not come until the third quarter, and they were back down by five points entering the final period.
Never in franchise history had the Raptors won after trailing at halftime in a postseason away game, the team said, citing the Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s a different year. It’s a different team,” VanVleet said. “We’ve just got to keep our composure going forward and leave the past in the past.”
With star guards Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who had a personal series-low 16 points, resting to begin the fourth, VanVleet steered the turnaround, and the Raptors outscored Washington 29-14 in the last quarter. Bothered by a bad right shoulder, VanVleet had played a total of three minutes in the series until Friday, but he was just what Toronto needed in this game, with five points, four assists and four rebounds.
“On the road, in a hostile environment, I just wanted to be another support guy out there, that can ease the starters a bit,” VanVleet said. “You know, me running the team and playing defense and stuff, I can do those things in my sleep.”
It allowed DeRozan to play only 33½ minutes total, and Lowry 31½, compared with more than 40 each for Washington’s All-Star guards, John Wall and Bradley Beal, who looked tired by the end.
“It was great to have our full bench back. Freddie back out there with the guys,” DeRozan said. “Just a testament to what they did all year.”
Pascal Siakam had 11 points and eight rebounds and used his length to hound Wall, while VanVleet was a pest to Beal.
Jakob Poeltl and C.J. Miles each scored seven. It was VanVleet’s 3-pointer with center Marcin Gortat in his face that tied the game at 78, and Miles’ 3 with about 8½ minutes remaining that gave Toronto its first lead of more than a single point, at 84-80.
“I’m still looking for that manual that says you can’t play that second unit. They’re too young. They’re too this. They’re too that,” Casey said. “They closed it out for us tonight.”
The home team had won each of the first five games, but the Raptors were finally able to break that road hex. The East’s No. 1 seed will face LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers or the Indiana Pacers next. The Pacers forced a Game 7 on Sunday by avoiding elimination with a 121-87 victory over the Cavs on Friday night.
Asked whether he has a preference for the upcoming opponent, DeRozan answered with one word: “No.”
This marks the Raptors’ third consecutive trip to the second round of the playoffs; they last failed to get that far in 2015, when they were swept in the opening round by the Wizards.
But this time, Washington bowed out earlier than it was hoping when the season began with grandiose talk of a run to the conference finals. Instead, the Wizards were without Wall for 41 games and wound up with the No. 8 seeding.
Wall had 23 points and eight assists in Game 6; Beal scored 32. But none of that mattered to the fans who started heading to the exits early as the Wizards’ run of eight home playoff wins in a row came to a close.
“We got some looks,” said Wall, whose entire team had only 12 assists. “We just missed them.”
MORE EASTERN CONFERENCE
(At) Indiana 121, Cleveland 87: Victor Oladipo scored 28 points and posted the first postseason triple-double of his career, leading the Pacers and evening the series at three.
Game 7 will be played Sunday in Cleveland.
The three-time defending Eastern Conference champs again were led by LeBron James with 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter. Nobody else scored more than 13 points as the Cavaliers lost their first closeout game in 14 tries dating to 2009. James had won 11 consecutive closeout games and is 12-0 all-time in the first-round series.
Kevin Love hurt his left wrist on a hard fall midway through the second quarter and wound up scoring just seven points while shooting 3 of 10 from the field.
(At) Utah 96, Oklahoma City 91: Donovan Mitchell scored 38 points and Utah held off Oklahoma City in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
Russell Westbrook had 46 points for the Thunder and Steven Adams added 19 points and 16 rebounds.
The rookie and the MVP went back and forth in the second half, with Mitchell and the Jazz moving on to face the top-seeded Houston Rockets in a series that starts Sunday.
Derrick Favors scored 13 points and Rudy Gobert had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Jazz, who lost starting point guard Ricky Rubio to a left hamstring injury in the first quarter.