On January 6th the New Jersey Nets handed the Toronto Raptors a deflating blowout loss that ended a somewhat promising start to the Raptors’ season and sent them into a tailspin that saw the team lose 10 of their next 11 games.
On Sunday evening the Raptors got a measure of revenge, beating the Nets 94-73 in New Jersey. The win marked the end of their 5 game road swing, a stretch in which the Raptors won 3 of their 5 games; this was the first time the Raptors have come out of road trip of 5 games or more with a winning record since 2001.
With both Andrea Bargnani and Leandro Barbosa out for this contest Dwayne Casey and his coaching staff knew they were going to have to get creative with their rotations—and they certainly were.
Casey elected to go small, starting Jerryd Bayless alongside Calderon in the backcourt with DeRozan sliding down to the 3 spot, James Johnson manning the 4 and Amir Johnson returning to the starting lineup at the Center position. In terms of matchups, the lineup made sense as it allowed a better defender in Bayless to guard New Jersey’s best offense weapon in Deron Williams while the Raptors could hide Calderon’s weaker defensive abilities by putting him on Anthony Morrow whose game is less reliant on him having the ball in his hands.
Casey’s decision to go small was effective early and often against the Nets. The Raptors jumped out to an early lead, looking much better on the offensive end of the floor thanks to an increase in ball movement as well as movement without the ball. After one quarter the game was tied at 24, a promising sign for a team that has had its share of struggles in opening quarters this season.
In the second quarter the Raptors began to separate themselves from the Nets, getting a big effort from Linas Klieza. Klieza bounced back from a poor game in Denver to score 15 points and grab 3 rebounds in this contest.
It wasn’t until the third quarter that the Raptors began to run away with this one. The Raptors’ third quarter push was due in large part to DeMar DeRozan who exploded to score 11 of his 27 points in that third frame. DeRozan put on a masterful performance for the remainder of the game, showing a mix of jumpers and drives to the bucket. Derozan attempted career high 16 free throws, no doubt a welcomed sign for a guy that seemed like he had lost confidence in his game in recent weeks.
DeRozan’s 27 point performance was capped off by an incredible dunk over Nets center Johan Petro in the 4th quarter. He finished an efficient 8-12 from the floor and 11-16 from the foul line.
The Raps would cruise the rest of the way to a very comfortable 21 point victory.
DeRozan was certainly the man of the hour; however Jerryd Bayless also had himself an extremely productive game.
Bayless finished with 17 points on 7-15 shooting with 6 assists, 6 rebounds and just a single turnover, largely playing off the ball—a role in which he is much more comfortable. Just as important as his offensive contributions were Bayless’ contributions on the defensive end of the floor. Bayless harassed Deron Williams all night long, and was one of the main reasons why Williams shot just 8 of 20 from the floor.
The complete game that Bayless put together has to be one of his best—if not the best—performance of brief career in a Raptors uniform. He is a guy who has shown flashes of this play in his career, but has yet to be able to sustain this level of play for a significant period of time. Perhaps if Bayless is allowed more looks as the secondary guard off the ball we may finally see some consistency out him in his fourth NBA season.
Aside from Kleiza, who saw some time at power forward, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson saw the majority of the minutes in the front court. Amir grabbed 4 rebounds and had 6 points in his 19 minutes and set the tone defensively at the center spot. Davis saw the most minutes of any front court player with 26 and was productive, finishing with 6 points and 9 rebounds.
The ex factor of sorts for the Raptors in this game was there energy level. The Dinos recognized their opponent was one they could beat and they went out and played like they wanted it from start to finish. The activity level on the defensive end was great, closing out on shootings and stuffing the lane on penetration. The Raptors held the Nets to 36% shooting from the floor and halted their usually potent three point attack which mustered only 7 makes on 22 attempts.
The Dinos will hope to get repeat performances out of Bayless and DeRozan on Monday night when they take on the Atlanta Hawks to finish out their January schedule.