It says something about how the Raptors have been winning as of late when DeMar DeRozan can drop 40 points and we collectively shrug our shoulders. Yes, even as he tied the franchise record for 30-plus point games in a season. There’s no doubt it was an amazing night of work, one in which the Raptors eventually outclassed the Indiana Pacers to a final score of 111-100, but it was also just DeMar being DeMar. We believe he’s going to make things happen. And when other key Raptors start cooking? Look out.
That’s the fun story from tonight’s semi-dreary game against the Pacers. For much of the first half, the score seesawed back and forth, with Paul George (who finished with 28 points and 9 rebounds) urging his team on. Before the start of the third, Indiana had a modest two point lead and had weathered 16 points from DeRozan, and a smooth eight points from Delon Wright. Then as he did in Wednesday’s game against Charlotte, Jonas Valanciunas went off.
The boxscore tells the remarkable tale. Valanciunas dropped 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field, and 6-of-7 from the line. He added an eye-opening 13 rebounds (4 offensive) — which set a franchise record for boards in a quarter — and even chipped in a steal. At moments, it felt like Jonas was everywhere on the court, which is rarely said of Valanciunas. JV’s run got so wild he took the opportunity to stretch his pump-fake out to the three point line, getting poor Rakeem Christmas to come flying at him. Valanciunas proceeded to chug down the lane and draw the blocking foul on George. Afterwards coach Dwane Casey said of the almost three, “[Jonas] faked me out too.” Valanciunas finished with 16 points, 17 rebounds and a few folk tales to his name.
The rest of the game saw the usual contributions from the supporting Raptors. DeMarre Carroll still tried to do too much with the ball at times, and got exposed on defense for stretches, but he hit 4-of-8 threes — no small thing — to finish with 12 points. When the Pacers briefly took the lead in the third, Carroll’s shots helped. Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka secured his third double-double as a Raptor with 15 points and 12 rebounds (on 6-of-10 shooting and 3-of-4 from 3). And kudos to Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker playing in the margins, and still holding the line.
“My teammates are helping me out,” said DeRozan. “They are taking the pressure off of me, they make big shots and that’s big for opening lanes for me to be aggressive.” It’s a generous notion, but what DeRozan is doing, unlike JV’s sudden outbursts, or the thankless work of the Raptors bench, is pure, unfiltered domination.
Remember, this is the matchup versus George, a player designed to stop him, that’s supposed to give DeRozan trouble. Entire teams are now gaming to bottle him up, double him, trap him, and still: 40 points. DeRozan shot 11-of-26 in this one, but hit 3-of-4 threes and went to the line 20 (!) times (he hit 15 of them); his footwork at times was sublime, and DeRozan added 9 rebounds and 4 assists for good measure. With Kyle Lowry still a few games away, we really should cherish this DeRozan run — it’s singular. He’s got his momentum ready for the playoffs.
The post-season is still more than two weeks away and the Raptors have no idea who they’ll play in the first round. Unlike the Pacers, who held on to the sixth seed for most of the season only to slide to eighth, and possibly beyond, the Raptors are surging. This, even without their usual engine in Lowry. Could a special run be in the offing for Toronto as their momentum continues to build?
“For sure. You know, you got momentum, you’re feeling good about yourself,” said Carroll afterwards. “Basketball, a lot is confidence and mental. And I feel like if you have a good mental state, confidence is high, you’re going to keep playing better. And I feel like that’s what we’re doing. We’re playing at a high level right now. We had a little slip-up last game, but at the end of the day, I think we won eight of our last nine.”
Think again of Valanciunas toeing the three-point line thinking about letting fly. Or Tucker chesting George and daring him to make a move. Or regard Wright playing way above his level of experience, fooling people on a nightly basis. Or just remember DeRozan’s cool 40, once again rising to the occasion. Yeah, it’s safe to say something is happening — and we won’t just be shrugging our shoulders about it.