Wizards 98, Raptors 95

For the first three years of his NBA career, Nick Young was notorious for letting his first shot of the night dictate his performance. If it didn’t go in, things were going to get rough. If he got to six in a row without a make, there would’ve been no way back.

Not anymore.

After missing practice Friday with a sore left knee and a full half-dozen misses to start the game on Saturday, Young found his hot hand and delivered a familiar clutch performance in the third quarter for the Wizards (11-27), who held on against visiting Toronto to extend their winning streak at Verizon Center to three with a 98-95 victory in front of 14,652.

Instead of letting his early shooting woes weigh him down, Young followed his career-high 43-point burst earlier in the week at home against Sacramento by following the recipe for busting out of slump to the letter: attacking the basket and loose balls. After hitting his final two shots of the second quarter, a fast break jumper and a driving layup, Young hit six straight to open the second half, scoring the Wizards’ first 13 points of the half, finishing with 18 in the third quarter alone, en route to his game-high 29.

“I just stayed with confidence,” said Young. “I found ways to get myself going different, diving on the floor here, making a good play, a good pass here. I got myself going, and once I seen the ball go in the hole, it was really over from there.”

Young also hit five of six free throws in the final 17.9 seconds as Washington showed refreshing composure to hold off the Raptors (13-27), who trimmed the Wizards’ ten-point lead late in the third period down to two repeatedly but could get no closer as Washington found different ways to respond, including Yi Jianlian’s unique turn early in the fourth quarter.

When Andrea Bargnani (25 points) hit a pair of three-pointers to cut Washington’s lead to 77-75, Yi intercepted Sundiata Gaines’s errant pass in the lane, but didn’t see an outlet. Deciding to run the break himself, the 7-footer put the ball on the floor, went the length of the court, and finished strong with a slam dunk. He said it was the first time he'd ever done so in his four-year NBA career.

“I never seen that,” said Wizards guard John Wall. “When he got it, I wondered what he was going to do. I wondered if he was going to Euro-step or take a charge. It seemed like he went coast to coast and showed flashes of JaVale [McGee].”

“It felt great,” said Yi, who had his best game since returning from a recent knee injury, with ten points on a perfect 5 for 5 shooting night from the field.

The Wizards also controlled the boards, led by Andray Blatche (17 points, 13 rebounds) and JaVale McGee (10 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks), and got a solid contribution off the bench from Al Thornton (9 points, 7 rebounds).

Only Wall (8 points, 9 assists, 5 turnovers) seemed out of rhythm, struggling with his shot (missing 10 of 14 shots), in part due to a bandage on his left hand for a floor burn, and guarding Jose Calderon (21 points, 15 assists, 9 rebounds). But the rookie point guard made a key jumper with just under four minutes remaining and dished to Blatche for two at the 2:16 mark to help keep Washington’s advantage at six points.

The Wizards get to play three of their next four games at home, but to a player they know the next step is transferring the confidence they’ve been able to show at Verizon Center to the road, where they remain 0-19.

“We really take care of the ball last five minutes,” said Yi. “It’s a problem that we can’t do the same thing on the road. We always have something like a turnover or a bad shot in the end in the last five minutes. We got to think about that and how the play the same way the whole game.”

Note: Wizards forward Josh Howard will see a specialist on Monday to examiner his surgically repaired left knee and is expected to miss at least another five to six days before even considering a return. Howard has missed the last four games after returning in mid-December from an injury suffered last February.