With stalwart defender Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out for the game, DeMar DeRozan continued his hot start to the season scoring 14 of his team-high 34 points in the opening frame. While Pascal Siakam struggled from the tip, the strong play of DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas to start the game was enough to overcome a torrid start by Kemba Walker as the Raptors took a one-point lead heading into the second quarter.
Coach Casey turned a lineup of Lowry-Joseph-Ross-Patterson-Noguiera to go on an 8-0 run. During this stretch, two things were notable. The first was just how comfortable Ross looked on the floor. He was fast but controlled in the open floor, and showed patience on the offensive end. At the 6:43 mark, Ross converted a change of pace, euro-step in traffic that in the past would likely have resulted in a beeline drive to the basket and a charge call. Although its early in the season, the internal growth on this team has been impressive.
The Raptors’ strong open court play coupled with what seemed like Spencer Hawes shooting way too much and missing even more shots, and the Raptors built a comfortable lead. The only thing keeping this game from being a blowout was Kemba Walker doing his best Steph Curry impression. Kemba made his first 7 shots, including a stretch of 11 straight points, single handedly bringing the Hornets within striking distance, as the Raptors headed into halftime with a 14 point lead. Kemba would finish the night with a ridiculous 40 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists.
The third quarter belonged to the Hornets, who outscored Toronto 21-9 in the first 6:30, cutting the lead to two. Between trapping DeMar on the catch, Lowry sitting with 4 fouls, and Kemba continuing to go supernova, the Raptors finished the quarter trailing the Hornets 92-79. The one saving grace from Toronto’s perspective, was DeMar’s continued brilliance as he continue to toy with rookie Treveon Graham. To be clear, Graham played fine positional defense, but was simply overmatched against an All-Star talent.
Despite the momentum of an 18-0 run going back to the 3rd quarter, the Raptors finished strong. After a few unfortunate miscommunications resulted in turnovers, Coach Casey replaced Ross with Powell, which ramped up the defensive intensity, and helped the Raptors cut into the lead, just enough for DeRozan to win it for them. DeMar scored 8 of the team’s final 10 points, and became the first player since Michael Jordan to score 30 or more points in 7 of the first 8 games of a season.
While we’ve all marvelled at DeMar’s improvement, one play encapsulated his newfound confidence. Up 3 with a 1:05 remaining DeRozan was given the ball behind the three point line with the shot clock winding down. Whereas last season, this would likely have resulted in a forced three point attempt, DeMar took a few controlled dribble to get into his sweets spot of the midrange, took a side step, and nailed the shot over Marvin Williams. DeMar looks like a player that is comfortable with himself, and his game, even if it is one that bucks the trend of three point shooting. So far, he’s given no one a reason to complain.