It's been an eventful February for the retrospective Raptors fan, with the All-Star Game at the forefront of everyone's minds. Seeing where the game has come from, with respect to the early days of Steve Nash and Vince Carter, to get to the point it is today has been an important story for this franchise. The retrospection has stretched even beyond that, though, as the career of DeMar DeRozan reaches its inevitable point. As he begins to surpass the records set by previous cornerstones - Carter, Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani (sigh) - we get another reason to look back and truly appreciate how rare the opportunities for success have been in Toronto, and by proxy, how much is at stake in seasons like this one.
For that reason, tonight's 98-85 win over the Memphis Grizzlies was great on a variety of levels. First and foremost, it stemmed the bleeding after a pair of embarrassing games against the Timberwolves and Bulls, games in which the defense disappeared for long stretches and inexperienced players were allowed to show off superstardom. The Raptors allowed Memphis to shoot just 36.8% from the floor and 15% from deep, with Zach Randolph providing the team high at just 18 points. Playing at Memphis' preferred pace (which was a little slow for a sleepy Sunday afternoon if we're being honest), the Raptors were mostly able to thrive.
Second, it also provided a milestone for DeRozan, who ties Bosh and Morris Peterson at 232 wins for the most in Raptors history. On a macro level, he dropped a game high 21 points to go with five rebounds and three assists. Kyle Lowry had 18 points and seven assists, while Jonas Valanciunas followed up an aggressive game against the Bulls with a tenacious 10 points (on seven shots) and 12 rebounds.
While those three starters continued their tear, the deterioration of Luis Scola and James Johnson continued, threatening the Raptors at various points. Johnson was a miserable 1-for-6 in this game and for a long stretch, Scola had taken more shots than anyone on the floor, finishing just 3-for-11. After getting popped in the eye with a stray elbow in the first quarter, he was forced to leave for an extended period, which actually helped Toronto. Patrick Patterson had just 11 points tonight, but his +23 speaks both to Scola's poor play and his effectiveness in lineups with DeRozan and Lowry. Ironically, if the Raptors continue to win in games where Patterson proves his worth, the rotation will probably stay the same.
For Memphis, having Carter around for DeRozan's record was a little poetic, but that could be forgotten based on how well the 39-year-old is still able to perform. Carter, along with an aggressive Lance Stephenson, provided the biggest threat to the Raptors tonight, putting in 16 points in nearly 31 minutes, 17 over his season average. Stephenson had 16 as well, looking spry in his Grizzlies debut. While there was some talk about the young journeyman being waived after his acquisition from the Clippers, it at least appeared that Stephenson's skill set can be useful - just another weapon in the strange toolbox that Dave Joerger now has at his disposal.
The Raptors now look ahead to New York tomorrow night, as they look to continue getting back on track and avoid the late season lull that's keeping us all awake at night with dread.
What were your thoughts on this one?