It wasn't perfect, but it sure feels good.
The Toronto Raptors have been a stressful group to root for this post-season. There's been stagnant offense, poor decision making, missed opportunities and horrendously timed injuries. Just the works, for an NBA team (and fan base) that could really use a smooth ride from time to time, for eff's sake.
Tonight wasn't all that smooth at the end, and it certainly wasn't perfect. But it felt a hell of a lot more like the Toronto Raptors team that we watched play all season long.
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are the focus of course, and rightly so. Lowry played 41 minutes, scoring 25 points and adding 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals, book-ending the game for the hometown team. He helped spur a 28-18 first quarter for Toronto and the team never relinquished the lead. When it seemed like the wheels were falling off, he hit two massive shots late in the fourth quarter, a deep three pointer to take the lead from 3 to 6 (taken when he was 2-14 in the half, causing Jack Armstrong to channel Chuck Swirsky and let out an 'onions baby onions') and a monster banker after Dwyane Wade had responded in typical Wade-ian fashion.
Lowry took care of the beginning and the end, but the game really belonged to DeMar DeRozan. Maligned these entire playoffs, thrown to the wolves by fair-weather fans who chalked his injured thumb up to 'just another built-in excuse' and have already started drawing up scenarios for next season wherein he's no longer a Raptor, DeRozan shook everything off and came through when his team needed him most. Despite briefly leaving after his injured thumb took contact in the fourth, DeRozan played big all night, finishing 11-22 from the floor and 11-11 from the free throw line. He put up 34 points and looked good doing it, for the most part. The turnaround fade-aways were noticeably absent. He took the ball into the paint, shot with his momentum going towards the basket, generated contact and got to the line. While he still took a couple contested long two's, and had some noticeable hiccups handling the ball (see: end of 2nd quarter) it was the game the Raptors needed from him.
It wasn't perfect, but it sure felt good.
Five Brief Take-Aways
1. Bismack Biyombo is a beloved monster, but we should remember that he's doing this against a team that is often playing Joe Johnson or Justise Winslow at power forward and GD McBob at centre. Amar'e Stoudemire played just 3 minutes tonight and Udonis Haslem 10. I tweeted this during the game, but the entire (wonderful) sequence in which Bismack blew the roof off the ACC in the second quarter was akin to watching Kramer fight his 9 year old karate classmates on Seinfeld. Don't give him 4/48 just yet.
2. Somebody get Terrence Ross some of that sticky shit Dwight Howard got caught putting on his hands.
3. Hassan Whiteside gets hurt, then Jonas Valanciunas goes down. DeMarre Carroll falls on his wrist and suddenly Luol Deng disappears. What the hell is going on here? Somebody put Lowry in bubble wrap.
4. Cory Joseph was a -12 tonight and has struggled with Lowry out of the game. To wit, the Raptors were -14 in the 4 minutes Lowry sat in the first half. Joseph has been big for Toronto in the playoffs and 9 points with 5 assists and 0 turnovers is a great line from your back-up point guard, but Dwane Casey is going to have to continue his search for a Lowry-less line-up that doesn't bleed points.
5. The Toronto Raptors franchise is now 4-0 all-time in Game 5's at home.
We're on to Game 6! Nothing bad ever happens in Game 6, right?