When DeMar DeRozan was asked for his favourite road arena on Zach Lowe’s podcast today, he didn’t hesitate. It’s Madison Square Garden. Given who the Raptors guard emulates his game after, you can understand the answer. Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and other great guards have all had memorable, signature moments in The Mecca of Basketball. Though the shine has worn off the building after years of basketball dysfunction, DeRozan obviously still finds mystique in that New York stage lighting.
Tonight, rising above one of the ugliest games of the Raptors season, DeRozan might’ve finally got his signature moment. He scored 37 points in Toronto’s 92-91 win over New York, including the game-winner over Derrick Rose with 1.9 seconds left.
This, after two possessions where he bailed out a frozen Raptors offense by baiting Courtney Lee into fouling him on a three, then nailing a long bomb from absurd distance.
This was good stuff, considering how difficult the rest of the game was to watch. Hours after the news that Kyle Lowry would miss up to six weeks with a wrist injury, the Raptors looked totally hapless trying to score. They missed all nine of their first half three-point attempts, had just two assists as a team, and watched their bench miss every single field goal attempt. They mustered up just 40 points to the Knicks’ 53, and only got there because DeRozan shot better than 50 per cent.
From there, the Raptors came back in a carbon copy of their wins over Boston and Portland. Halftime came and went, the defense turned up, and extremely random lineup combinations kept the Raptors treading water when DeRozan rested.
Toronto went on two separate 7-0 runs in the third to take their first lead. The latter run came with the teensy frontcourt of P.J. Tucker, DeMarre Carroll, and Patrick Patterson. Then, the 905 alumni backcourt of Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell kept the hustle going to give DeRozan some rest at the end of the third.
When DeRozan returned, the offense stalled — as it so often does for his brand of isolation. In the last three minutes, though, the Raptors around him made just enough plays to augment his makes. Tucker had two huge offensive rebounds late in the fourth, both of them resulted in points. The new acquisition also played demonstrative defense on Carmelo Anthony down the stretch, who needed 26 shots to get his 24 points.
While Anthony got 16 points each from Rose and Lee for help, DeRozan’s scoring assistance was barely there. Serge Ibaka had 15 points on 14 shots, and Jonas Valanciunas was the only other player in double figures with ten.
It all just adds to the mystique of the perfect DeMar DeRozan game, though. The ironic crowning jewel? He got lost defensively on both of the Knicks’ final possessions, gambling his hero status. On the first, DeRozan halfheartedly went to double a well-guarded Anthony, leaving Lee open for a three. On the second, he followed a high screen to leave Anthony wide open, who badly overshot the potential game-winner.
See? Perfect stuff. It’s apparent the Lowry-less Raptors are only going as far as DeRozan’s scoring can take them, and in three games — so far so good. He’s scored 43, 33, and 37 in those outings, as Toronto has won four straight overall. Whether that kind of output is sustainable — that’s a question for another day. Whether the Raptors can get an easier win is a more viable question, and it probably has an answer we don’t want to hear.
One hopes that they can find some scoring alternatives soon, as the two most important games of the remaining schedule are next. Their home-and-home with the Washington Wizards goes Wednesday and Friday, and it may end up deciding the third seed in the East. As of this moment, the Raptors are a half-game up on the idle Wizards.