It wasn’t pretty against Memphis — it never is — but the cream rose to the top in the end, as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry proved too much for a beleaguered Grizzlies squad. The bromance combined for 53 points on 22 shots, as Toronto won 120-105.
It was Lowry who led the way with 29 points, and much like the Philadelphia game on Monday, this was another example of how his indomitable will just drags the Raptors along when the rest of the team is lazy. When everyone else was playing down to the Grizzlies early, it was Lowry jumping in a passing lane, Lowry making a line drive to the bucket, Lowry setting up his teammates. He had eight assists, three rebounds, and two steals too — the stat line just as complete as his performance.
Next to him was DeRozan, who had an ugly start (we’ll get to that) but kept his cool. Two years ago — heck, even last year — Tony Allen’s defence would have DeRozan forcing shots left and right. To his credit, he stayed poised and limited his shots while racking up assists. He struck gold in the second half instead, finishing with 24 points on just nine shots, making 10-of-11 at the line, grabbing nine rebounds, and passing for six assists.
This is all well and good in the end, but an often frustrating game to watch opened about as ugly as you could expect. Memphis came out the more energetic team, despite playing without Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Chandler Parsons, Vince Carter (sad face), and others.
Mark Gasol thoroughly dominated his matchup with Jonas Valanciunas early, as the Lithunanian looked like he had just woken up on both ends — committing two bad turnovers in the first quarter. DeRozan was lethargic too. He had five of his seven turnovers in the first quarter, as Tony Allen’s one-on-one defense was nicely offset by Memphis’ scrambling help, forcing DeRozan into some awkward dribbling. On the other end, Troy Williams and Troy Daniels stepped up, making a few shots to give the Grizzlies a nine-point lead early in the second quarter.
After this, Dwane Casey started to experiment. Lucas Nogueira played 18 minutes at the centre position, spending his time looking equal parts lost and energetic. When he or Valanciunas didn’t work out, Casey spent a little time with Pascal Siakam and Patrick Patterson in the frontcourt. When it became apparent that Patterson was the sole big putting anything together — he finished making four threes for 14 points — that’s when Casey went small.
With the game still close in the fourth quarter, the Raptors went with a small lineup of Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Carroll, and Patterson. This did wonders to showcase how Joseph, Carroll, and Patterson have all improved over the last two weeks. Cory Joseph was especially fun to watch on both ends. Having found his shot, Joseph wasn’t shy about finding open looks for himself, taking advantage of all the space provided by the offensive firepower next to him. He finished with 16 points, driving and getting to the line to make 7-of-8 free throws.
It bears repeating: these are the types of games the Raptors wouldn’t win a couple years ago. It wasn’t pretty, there wasn’t a lot going on, and I found myself turning it over to watch Toronto FC on commercial break. Disclaimer: I know nothing about soccer.
The Raptors offense, though, carried them to the finish. It didn’t look possible that they’d get to 120 points, but ooh boy they got there, and now here they are with their fourth straight win. Now 11-6, they’ll host the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday for what should be an exciting game.