Coach Dwane Casey talked to his Toronto Raptors about the tough six-game trip they had just completed, about the fatigue they would surely face playing at home and the mental toughness they better have to gut through it.
It didn't do much good.
The Raptors, whose record was 3-3 in their western trip over the past two weeks, were in the Air Canada Centre on Sunday night with a chance to take down a Washington Wizards squad missing its best player. Instead, they started the game with little energy, quickly lost Kyle Lowry to an ejection, and lost 107-96.
"We knew this was going to be a tough road trip and coming back would be tough … we talked about it, but words are getting thin," Casey said after the game. "We have to play with a sense of urgency to start the game, not after someone punches us in the mouth."
DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 26 points and Norman Powell added 19, but Washington's Bradley Beal was the finest player on the floor, rolling for 38 points, five rebounds and four assists.
It was a prime matchup between Eastern Conference powers. The offensively gifted Wizards, however, came to Toronto fumbling through four losses in their past five games. They were also missing all-star point guard John Wall.
The NBA's No. 2 in assists a game was sidelined with a sprained left shoulder, suffered on Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Toronto did very little at first to take advantage of Wall's absence. The Raptors made just two of their first nine field-goal attempts and fell into a fast 11-2 hole. They were committing foolish turnovers, being badly outrebounded, and even their free-throw shots were clanging off the rim.
The Wizards seemed to be slicing through the Raptors easily – especially Otto Porter Jr. and Bradley Beal, who combined for 16 points before the first quarter was half over.
The stats at the end of the first painted a bleak picture of a tired Toronto squad foggy after a long trip. Toronto was shooting just 26 per cent from the field – making just one of its seven attempts from beyond the arc – and had nearly as many turnovers (four) as field goals (five). The Raps were getting throttled 32-17. It was a little reminiscent of the 2015 first-round playoff series in which Washington easily swept Toronto.
Halfway through the second quarter, Toronto also lost its all-star point guard when Lowry argued a call, was slapped with back-to-back technical fouls and ejected.
"People have said worse to officials than what Kyle said," Casey said. "I was surprised [he was ejected]."
Lowry had contributed just two points and an assist at that point, so staging a comeback without him was going to be a tall order.
DeRozan, who was coming off a 37-point performance Friday in Utah but had gone 1-for-6 in Sunday's first quarter, answered with a 10-point second quarter. Powell had a 13-point quarter. Still, the Raps trailed 62-46 at half-time and seemed to have little answer for Beal, who had by then tallied 22.
The Raptors opened the second half with a 10-5 run, including back-to-back threes from Serge Ibaka. Toronto, which had once trailed by as much as 19, narrowed Washington's lead to seven.
The bench once again provided a spark. Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira and especially Fred VanVleet brought scoring and energy that helped bring Toronto back to within four.
The Wizards would not allow the game to get away. With contributions from Beal, Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr. they rebuilt their cushion.
The Wizards snapped a two-game losing streak. The Raptors fell to 5-4, while the Wizards improved to 5-4. The two teams meet again in Toronto on Nov. 19
Next up for the Raptors in this three-game home stand is a match against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday.