The Toronto Raptors must be thankful that February is over.
In 11 games, they amassed a record of 4-7 for their first losing month since Nov. 2013. There was an impressive stretch in the middle with signature wins over some contending teams, but it was book-ended by disappointment and frustration.
Riding a season-worst five-game losing skid, the Raptors kicked off March in Philadelphia against the lowly and banged-up 76ers.
It was not always pretty, but Dwane Casey's squad was able to come away with a hard-fought 114-103 victory, winning all four quarters in the process.
DeMar DeRozan was outstanding as he led the way with a season-high 35 points to go along with nine rebounds and five assists for Toronto (38-22). Lou Williams chipped in 21 of his own to lead a very productive outing from the bench. The Raptors' reserves recorded 54 points in the win.
Philadelphia (13-47) was paced by Ish Smith and Nerlens Noel, who scored 19 and 17 points respectively.
Kyle Lowry missed his second straight game in order to help rest his aching body. Prior to the game, Casey stated that his star point guard may be out of commission for a few more games.
"We haven’t decided that part yet, but just to give his body some rest, mental rest," Casey said. "He went through a long stretch playing with injures and it’s just come to a point where we’ll slow him down, shut him down, recover and get ready for the stretch run.
"He understands the big picture. Going down the stretch we’re going to need him. He’s going to play big minutes down the stretch."
With Lowry sidelined, it was up to DeRozan to take the reins.
Tired of hearing about his recent slump, the 25-year-old put the team on his shoulders in the opening frame, netting 15 points in the first 12 minutes. The USC product misfired on his first three jump-shots, but after attacking the basket for layups and free-throw attempts, he began to find the stroke from the perimeter.
That aggressive mindset carried over to the rest of his teammates as the Raptors attempted 11 shots from the charity stripe in the first quarter and carried a 26-22 lead into the second period of play.
Patterson picked things up where DeRozan left off, pouring in 11 points in the second quarter to help give Toronto a 55-49 advantage at halftime. Both teams demonstrated outstanding ball movement in the first half, combining for 28 assists. That passing display correlated with efficient shooting as the Raptors and 76ers both achieved the coveted 50 percent mark at recess.
The teams exchanged scoring runs in the third quarter, but when DeRozan decided to stop settling for long-distance jumpers and resume his onslaught on the defenceless rim, the Raptors really started to take off. Entering the final frame, the visitors had built up a seven-point cushion.
In the fourth, Toronto's superior talent put the pedal to the metal, establishing a healthy double-digit lead. That would be all she wrote as the 76ers dropped their seventh game in the last eight outings.
With the win, the Raptors swept the season series for the second consecutive year.
It is worth noting that play-by-play commentator Matt Devlin was forced to miss his second straight game due to illness, leaving us with the soothing voice of Rod Black. Perhaps the grind of an 82-game season is having the same effect on Devlin as it is on Lowry. Leo Rautins was beyond confused, throwing back to "Matt" after his halftime and post-game interviews.
What were your thoughts on the much-needed W?