WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Raptors head coach Dwane Casey remained upbeat prior to Game 4 despite trailing 3-0 in the series, a deficit no team in NBA history had come back from. "I'll be shocked if our guys didn't come out and give it their all," he said.
The Raptors went out and allowed the Wizards to shoot 71.4 percent from the field in the first quarter. The lead was 36-22 after twelve minutes. After three quarters, Toronto trailed by 32 points. The Wizards' starters received standing ovations as they were taken out of the game. The final score: 125-94.
Despite the sweep, the Raptors had a chance to win each of the first three games. In Game 1, a fourth quarter comeback forced overtime. They started the second half of Game 2 with a 12-2 run that pulled them within two points. In Game 3, Toronto briefly held their first fourth quarter lead of the series at 73-72. After three discouraging losses that followed pretty much the same script, the Raptors didn't have one final fight left in them.
"We had three tough games going into tonight," Casey said afterwards. "I was surprised [at how the team didn't compete] but I kind of saw it coming. When the adversity hit, we didn't fight through it. Emotionally, we were drained."
And so, the Wizards move onto the second round, while the Raptors will move on from their current roster. Before the playoffs, general manager Masai Ujiri said playoff results would factor into his evaluation of the team. If so, these four games have provided him with a clear assessment: a major overhaul is required.
After a competitive first round series loss to the Brooklyn Nets last season, Ujiri decided to give his team an extended look. Casey was signed to a two-year extension. Kyle Lowry -- who played injured and finished with 19 assists and 18 fouls in the series -- was re-signed to a four-year, $48 million contract. Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson were re-signed, and Ujiri added James Johnson and Lou Williams to bolster his bench.
In the regular season, the team won a franchise record 49 games, and a second consecutive division title, but it felt like a mirage. The Raptors ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency, a significant drop off from last season when they were a top-10 team on both ends of the floor. After the All-Star break, Toronto went 2-14 (including their four losses to the Wizards) against teams with winning records.
Their defense was as advertised in this series, unable to offer up any resistance, whether it was defending against the Wizards' small lineup with Paul Pierce at the four, or letting John Wall get whatever shot he wanted, or allowing Marcin Gortat to finish at the rim.
"I got no answer," Jonas Valanciunas said. "They outplayed us in every aspect [of the game]. They were really prepared, and we just couldn't make shots."
The offense, which ranked third in the league during the regular season, also proved to be unsustainable. The Raptors have an abundance of perimeter shooters, but no secondary method of exploiting opposing defenses. DeMar DeRozan finished with a team-high 20.3 points per game in this series, but shot just 40.0 percent from the field. In Game 3, he scored 20 points in the first quarter, then went 3-for-18 the next three quarters, illustrating the pitfalls of relying on the contested mid-range jumper. Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams shot a combined 38-for-109 in the four games against the Wizards.
There will be a lot of moving parts in Toronto's retooling this summer. Casey, who admits he has no control over his future, may be the first domino to fall. It's unclear whether any coach can coax an above average defense out of the personnel on this team, but Ujiri may look for someone who can change the philosophy and approach on the offensive end.
If that's the case, then the Raptors could potentially explore the value of DeRozan in the trade market. He is a strong individual offensive player, but may be a better fit as a second option. Amir Johnson and Lou Williams will be unrestricted free agents. Johnson has been an integral part of the team and is a fan favorite, but Toronto can't bet long-term on a player on the decline who may not be able to stay healthy over 82 games. The price for Williams may also get too high for the team, although if the roster changes, he can still be an effective change of pace guard off the bench.
The Raptors also have to decide on whether Ross and Valanciunas are part of their long-term plan. Ross regressed in his third season and did not make any impactful plays in this series. At this point, waiting for him to develop into a "three-and-D" player appears to be more of an idea than reality. Toronto has no reason to offer an extension to Ross this summer. If he's not traded, the Raptors will let him play out his fourth season, then decide whether to re-sign him as a restricted free agent.
Valaciunas' future with the team is a trickier question. He is not a strength on the defensive end, and the Raptors have not featured him in their offensive sets. The jury is still out on his ceiling and also how the team wants to integrate him, especially with a different roster. Once they decide on what to do with their internal pieces, the Raptors will likely look for upgrades in free agency. Names like Paul Millsap and Khris Middleton appear to be fits, but many teams will be in position to offer more money and a chance to compete for a championship next season.
For Ujiri, the task is clear. This roster put together two successful regular seasons, but finished 3-8 in the playoffs. The GM can no longer return with the same players and bet on internal improvement. This team has gone as far as they can, and remains far away from being a contender. Without a plan of landing a superstar anytime soon, Ujiri will need to upgrade the overall talent level of the team.
"The next step this team has to make is the toughest," Casey said. "To go from making the playoffs to competing for the championship."
If Toronto takes that next step, it won't be with this personnel, and perhaps not with Casey as their head coach. After a humiliating sweep to the Wizards, the Raptors as we know them are no more.