TORONTO — With just over a minute to play, DeMar DeRozan spotted Fred VanVleet prowling the perimeter and fed the backup guard for a three-point shot.
VanVleet’s long bomb proved to be the proverbial dagger Sunday, as the Toronto Raptors beat the Washington Wizards 100-91 on Sunday to avenge their lone loss at the Air Canada Centre this season.
DeRozan scored 33 points on everything from dunks to three-point shots, and the three-time all-star, who has been as much play-maker as scorer this season, doled out six assists.
“He’s grown so much in a lot of areas he doesn’t get credit for,” coach Dwane Casey said of DeRozan. “A lot is made about the new offence and all that, but DeMar is a basketball player. We wanted him to handle the ball more this year, we talked about that this summer, being a quasi-point guard.”
Would DeRozan have made that pass a season or two ago?
“I think so. But would I be hesitant to do it? Or would it be automatic?” DeRozan said, snapping his fingers. “I’m not sure. A lot of times it was a me thing, me maturing and understanding I don’t have to take that big shot if I got two on me. Just my maturity to pass to the open guy and trust him to make the right shot or play.”
C.J. Miles added 12 points, while Kyle Lowry and VanVleet finished with 10 points apiece, as the Raptors (11-5) stretched their win streak to four games and their home record to 6-1. Pascal Siakam grabbed nine rebounds and had four points for Toronto.
Bradley Beal had 27 points to lead the Wizards (9-7), who were missing John Wall (sore left knee).
The hard-fought affair saw the lead change hands 17 times, and neither team lead by more than eight points through the first three quarters.
Leading 79-76 to start the fourth, Washington pulled to within five points before VanVleet’s three with 1:15 to play.
“Any time he gets the ball late, they’re going to double him,” VanVleet said of DeRozan’s pass. “I kind of bait my guy into going . . . They’re gonna help off of me. I know that. (DeRozan) knows that. That’s what he’s been so great at doing this year, drawing two or three or four guys and kicking it out. It shows the trust he has in his guys.”
DeRozan drove hard to the net for a dunk on the Raptors’ next possession that had the capacity crowd of 19,800 roaring, and gave Toronto a comfortable 10-point lead.
The Raptors had dropped a dreadful 107-96 decision to Washington on Nov. 5 at the Air Canada Centre. The Wizards were missing Wall that game as well, but Beal more than picked up the slack in a 38-points performance.
VanVleet chalked up the difference in games to the Raptors’ energy.
“All five guys on a string offensively and defensively, flying around, rebounding,” he said. “Beal got off to a hot start again tonight, but I think we were able to change some things in the second half and make an adjustment. It was kind of like deja vu the way he scored on us last time, so we didn’t want to let that happen again.”
Beal had 22 of his points in the first half.
The Wizards’ biggest lead was five points late in the first quarter, but with 40 seconds left, Miles connected on a three, and Lucas Nogueira finished a pretty tic-tac-toe play with a dunk to send the game into the second quarter tied at 28-28.
DeRozan had 16 points in the second, and his three-pointer with 2:38 left in the frame stretched Toronto’s advantage to eight points. The Raptors headed into the halftime break up 60-55.
Miles brought Toronto’s bench to its feet when he drove to the hoop for a dunk late in the third quarter. He followed that up with a three-pointer to put the Raptors up by four.
The Raptors play their next three games on the road, beginning on Wednesday in New York. They’ll travel to Indiana and Atlanta before returning home to host Charlotte on Nov. 29.