There’s always going to be something to worry about with the Raptors, even though more often than not they play quite well. Case in point: Toronto is now 33-15 after beating the Los Angeles Lakers 123-111 on Sunday night. To be honest, it never really felt like the outcome was in question, and yet we felt pangs of concern anyway.
This time out, we wondered about DeMar DeRozan for a time. The Raptors All-Star starter was quiet for much of the first half against the Lakers, shooting 3-of-11 for seven points. Despite four assists in that half, DeMar seemed strangely passive or unsettled. (Maybe he was still haunted by Rudy Gobert’s swinging arms?) Since this was coming two days after an abysmal Kyle Lowry performance against Utah, it felt fair to wonder if the Raptors’ two best players would get on the same page at the same time. We just have to be nervous about something!
Fortunately, Lowry was holding up his end of the bargain this time. For the game, he finished with 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting, 11 rebounds, and three assists; he also led the team in plus/minus with 11 and looked every inch the dynamic player we know him to be. And while it’s easy to clown on some of these overenthusiastic Lakers — they tried hard for stretches, but mostly look like they don’t like each other much — Lowry kept it fun (and good). The Raptors have to be heartened by his performance — necessary as it was while DeRozan found himself.
Of course, DeRozan eventually did get it going. The third quarter saw him drop an impressive 12 points in the frame using a bunch of different moves from his bag of tricks. DeRozan also dished three more assists to finish with seven on the night. It was the kind of run that pushed the Lakers, who had been hanging around for most of the game down five to ten points, way back in the rearview. They simply had no answer.
They also had no answer for a fired up Fred VanVleet. It feels fitting to bring him up last in our discussion of the game, overlooked as he usually is. Tonight FVV went off for another career-high, this time dropping 25 points on a combination of tough lay-ups at the rim (he was wearing ice packs on both fore arms afterwards) and threes (he shot 3-of-4 from deep). If the Lakers’ trio of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma making it to All-Star weekend over the Raptors’ bench was added motivation, FVV refused to confirm. When asked, DeRozan jokingly chalked the performance up to VanVleet’s “little man syndrome.”
That was the tenor of the night for Toronto. The Raptors shot 50 percent from the field for the game, despite the Lakers’ recent surge in defensive play. They got 23 assists on their 46 field goals too, shot a crisp 38 percent from deep, and out-rebounded the Lakers 53-44. No player had to even work that hard: all ten players who appeared got between 20 and 30 minutes, with DeRozan coming just three seconds shy of that high barrier. The starters did not have to play at all in the fourth. It was an all-around strong performance, despite our worrying about how Lowry and DeRozan would respond after Friday’s loss.
“You just figure it out,” said DeRozan on his slow first half. “The younger me would get discouraged, frustrated and let that dictate the game for me. Nowadays it’s part of the game, and just because you start a certain way doesn’t mean you have to end that way. You keep that confidence high, stay aggressive, and don’t let that make you hesitant to do nothing else. That’s my mind set.”
Stepping back from that quote, and this game (and every loss?), it feels like the sentiment could apply to the whole team. And to us.