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Wizards move the ball, move on to the conference semis

Washington builds confidence during series sweep of Toronto

POSTED: Apr 27, 2015 8:19 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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— When two teams in a playoff series are evenly matched, the winner will likely be the team that plays more like, well, a team.

That's the easy explanation for the first round series between the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards, which ended in a four-game sweep after the Wizards pummeled the Raptors, 125-94, in Game 4 on Sunday.

These teams were separated by just three games in the regular season standings. Both had great starts, combining to go 46-15 through Dec. 29. And both were rather mediocre after that. This was supposed to be the only competitive first round series in the Eastern Conference.

Instead, these teams went in completely opposite directions. The Wizards maintained their status as a top-five defensive team, while scoring at a rate that was more efficient than any four-game stretch they've played since early December. The Raptors, meanwhile, maintained their status as a bottom-10 defensive team, while failing apart offensively.

For most of the series, the teams defended each other in the same manner. Both teams pressured the opposing guards, looking to get the ball out of their hands.

The Wizards responded as a good team should. They moved the ball quickly until it found the open man. They're not the Spurs, but they were the much more reasonable facsimile in this series.

The Raptors just didn't have it in their collective DNA to play like that. The ball stuck and contested shots were often the result.

GameTime: Raptors-Wizards Series Analysis

The GameTime guys break down how Washington won Game 4 to complete the series sweep over Toronto.

Over the four games, the Wizards passed the ball 219 more times than the Raptors. And in the context of how the teams tried to defend each other, that number says it all.

In terms of shot-making, this wasn't the way the Wizards played in the regular season. It helped that the Raptors probably couldn't get stops against a JV team at this point in their season. But the Wizards have come together at the right time.

"It was a process for us," Wizards center Marcin Gortat said afterward, giving credit to reserve Drew Gooden as an offensive spark who moved the ball, set screens and spread the floor. "We just started playing together, having fun, distributing the ball. It doesn't matter who's going to score, as long as we're winning. I think we understood this at the end of the season. Now we're having fun playing like that in the playoffs."

The Raptors will look back at DeMar DeRozan's late-November groin injury as the turning point of their season. They had been playing well on both ends of the floor until that point, but as head coach Dwane Casey tells it, they then got too focused on how they'd keep their offense afloat without their leading scorer. At that point, their defense went in the tank, and it never returned.

"It was hard for me, as a coach, to get the horse back in the barn defensively," Casey said. "We got caught up in playing that style of play, which was semi-successful, except when you get to this level. I do know that you have to play defense at this level. To compete for a championship, you have to be a defensive-minded team. And we lost that."

Raptors on Series Loss

Dwane Casey talks to the media after Sunday's disappointing Game 4 loss to Washington.

General manager Masai Ujiri will have to figure out if the defense can be restored with the existing roster and staff. And while he's at it, he'll need to determine if the Raptors' top-five ranking on offense was just a regular-season thing that fell apart when they were forced to play together and move the ball.

That's what the Wizards have done. Paul Pierce won't be going through customs until it's time to take his family on a summer vacation. His team is moving on to the conference semifinals as a much different squad than they were just two weeks ago.

"This is the recipe," Gortat said. "We got to continue to play like that."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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