Even knowing the second half of the season would be easier than the first, you’d be silly to think the Toronto Raptors would take every game easily. Coming out of the All-Star break, with only a pair of meaningful games in the month of March (Houston on Friday, Cleveland on the 21st), the Raptors were destined to fight their own apathy more than opponents.
Maybe that’s coming from a braggadocios place, but it’s also rooted in fact. The Raptors are damn good. They have the league’s second-best point differential, have been blowing out lottery teams all year, and earned more than a handful of statement wins.
Tonight, they showed another facet of what makes them such a sensational team — their All-Stars lifted the bench, when lately it’s been the other way around. On the back of 42 points from DeMar DeRozan, along with 15 points and 15 assists from Kyle Lowry, the Raptors came back from 15 down in the first half to beat a hungry Pistons team, 121-119 in overtime.
DeRozan was the big story tonight, especially considering how he came on at the end of the game. Dwane Casey has been emphasizing late-game offensive execution in practices, and tonight was the rare occasion to try it in a live game scenario. Their best dude was up to the task, as DeMar scored the team’s last six points in regulation — including a highlight-of-this-Raptors-generation dunk (plus one) with under ten seconds left.
DEMAR DEROZAN— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) March 8, 2018
AND THE FOUL pic.twitter.com/BC7od3h8TC
While Blake Griffin would answer this play with a comparably lame post basket to send the game to overtime, DeRozan was again important in a horrific extra period. With the action resembling a “Yakety Sax” reel (at one point, Fred VanVleet and Reggie Bullock had to re-do a jump ball three times because of violations), DeRozan made the critical plays. He converted a three-point play with under two-minutes left to put the Raptors ahead. Then, with just 1.1 seconds left, he made a brilliant transition drive and pass to Fred VanVleet — who canned the game-winner.
GAME. SET. MATCH. #BetOnYourSelf pic.twitter.com/KOROQcQGHX— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 8, 2018
DeRozan’s 42 points came on 28 shots, as he added six assists and four rebounds. It was much-needed scoring considering how thin the Raptors got. First off, the OG Anunoby ankle injury put Norman Powell back in the starting lineup, returning Malcolm Miller in a minimal role of five minutes. Then, Serge Ibaka — who looked just awful to start this second night of a back-to-back, shooting 2-for-8 — got ejected for arguing with an official with five minutes left in the first half. Finally, Delon Wright left the game during the break with the toe injury that also nagged him against Atlanta. DeRozan’s scoring elevated Toronto despite all this.
Next to DeMar was Kyle Lowry, who had more to give the game then just this celebration of DeRozan’s dunk.
Surround yourself with people that support you like Kyle Lowry does DeMar DeRozan pic.twitter.com/N4u0rRDRJf— Josiah Johnson (@KingJosiah54) March 8, 2018
Lowry was crucial in both his shifts in the second half. In the third quarter, he keyed the Raptors to an 18-2 run late in the quarter, allowing the Raptors to take a five-point lead after being down 14 at the half. Then, in the fourth, he continued his hot play to keep the game close. The all-bench lineup of Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell, CJ Miles, Malcolm Miller, and Jakob Poeltl wasn’t doing it, and the Raptors needed KLOE tonight.
Early on, it didn’t look too hot for the Raptors’ stars. Powell, of all the players to do so, started the game hot while everyone missed around him. Norm had two threes in the first five minutes, while the rest of the team went 1-for-9. While some death and taxes kept the game close, Detroit’s energetic bench outplayed the Raptors’ second unit to start the second. They started to build their lead, which grew to as many as 15.
In fact, with the combination of Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka starting 3-for-15 and the team shooting 21% from three in the first half, Powell really picked the best time possible to have his best game of the season. He’s hit a higher point total than his 17 on the night, but that came in a blowout win versus Atlanta — in this game, he was needed and he delivered consistently.
In the third, the Raptors started on a 10-2 run and closed on the aforementioned 18-2 run, outscoring the Pistons 40-25 on pure effort. From there, it was DeRozan and Lowry’s game to close, and they were excellent doing so.
Now, Toronto looks forward to hosting the Houston Rockets and their 17-game win streak on Friday — the most difficult game left on their NBA schedule. If we get this DeMar DeRozan... bring it on.
Some other observations from this one:
- Even though Powell had the better game, Dwane Casey stuck with VanVleet as the combo wing in fourth quarter crunch time and through most of overtime. It paid off with the game-winner, but I think Powell earned a little more rope than what he got down the stretch. VanVleet made a lot of questionable plays on both ends that kept Detroit in the game.
- The Blake Griffin experience in Detroit is going to be really interesting long-term. He was very good on offense in this one, scoring 31 points on 21 shots. On defense, though, he frequently ran away from the ball, most notably on DeRozan’s highlight dunk. Now that he’s in a smaller market long-term, it’s not a great sign that Griffin is checking out this much, especially given that the Pistons are trying to get back into the playoff chase.
- Detroit made almost everything tonight, and it shouldn’t have been sustainable — until it was. They shot 65% from three in the first half, and Ish Smith, a 20% shooter, made both his looks. It was annoying.
- There was a lot of grimacing on the Raptors side tonight, and you hope none of it turns into lingering injuries. Beyond Delon’s toe, DeRozan came up with a cut hand after his dunk, VanVleet was holding his wrist in overtime, and Valanciunas came up hobbling after a play in the fourth quarter.
- Credit to Casey and the Raptors for getting this win with an eight-man rotation. That’s been a rarity this season, and now they take a six-game streak into a game versus the best in the Association. Feels good, man.