TORONTO - Rudy Gay could barely stand as he prepared to speak to the media minutes after a back-and-forth affair with the Wizards.
The Raptors' forward, who has been battling the flu since Thursday evening, skipped shoot around Friday morning but played 31 minutes in his team's resilient 96-88 victory at the Air Canada Centre.
"I actually came here feeling worse than I did this morning, but there was no stopping me. I was going to play," Gay said, sitting down. "I was out of breath and there's other things that happen when you're sick, but I had to push through it for my team."
Gay's first-half performance reflected his pain and was just about the only thing that went wrong for Toronto in the opening 24 minutes. The Raptors shot 51 per cent, held Washington to 38 per cent - allowing 11 points on four-of-21 shooting in the second quarter - and took a commanding lead at home despite Gay going just two-of-10 from the field.
As he missed a jumper, his team up 14 late in the second quarter, the home fans - unaware of his illness - began to boo.
"He had the flu and [high] temperature and gutted it out," coach Dwane Casey said. "I was proud. He struggled a little bit, but down the stretch he came through for us."
With Gay struggling, the Raptors' good fortune finally ran out in the third quarter, an ongoing concern for the team. The Wizards outscored Toronto 32-15 in the period. John Wall had 18 alone. A 13-point halftime lead quickly became a four-point deficit. Gay had just six points on three-of-13 shooting.
"You can see why he got paid all that money," DeMar DeRozan said of Wall, who scored 30 of his game-high 37 in the second half. Toronto had no answer for Wall.
That's when Casey and the Raptors threw the Wizards a curve ball.
For the first time in four games, D.J. Augustin checked in to spell Kyle Lowry at the point. Terrence Ross, coming off a couple strong performances, and Steve Novak shared the floor as the Raptors regained control of the game with the help of Gay and their zone defence.
"We had to mix it up," Casey admitted. "Our man [defence] wasn't working. We had to go to something else and it had to be our zone. It worked for us, it got them out of rhythm and it got us into rhythm. We work religiously on the zone and guys are still learning it. It worked out for us tonight."
After losing his job as the back-up point guard four games into the season, Augustin got a rare opportunity. It was one that he received in an unfortunate circumstance with rookie Dwight Buycks - the acting back-up - away from the team following the passing of his father. Still, it was an opportunity he didn't waste. Augustin's first shot was a three-pointer, the first he's made all season after missing nine straight attempts. His quickness and knack for the draw and kick helped turn the momentum back in Toronto's favour.
"He's a pro," Casey said of Augustin. "He kind of fell out of the rotation. To his credit, the young man has worked at it. He's stayed after practice, worked late, come back at night and worked on his shot. It paid off."
"I'm a firm believer, if you're heart and your mind is in the right place good things will happen for you," said the coach. "And if they're not, you're sitting on the bench pouting and upset because somebody is getting an opportunity, nothing good is going to happen for you. His heart is in the right place, his mind is in the right place."
Augustin's resiliency sparked his team and its leading scorer. Gay was a perfect three-for-three in the fourth quarter and added three of his four blocks - one of them of the highlight variety - in the final frame.
"It just slowed down," Gay said. "I feel like I was trying to fight through the fact that I was a little sluggish, a little slow. In the fourth quarter, I just let it come to me and it was a lot easier."
Exceeding 20 assists in back-to-back games, both victories, the Raptors offence is coming along as they continue to sit atop the Atlantic Division with a 6-7 record.
The Raptors will have the day off Saturday, a day of rest Gay plans to take full advantage of, and return to practice on Sunday ahead of their next game at home to the struggling Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.