The Toronto Raptors' (21-20) identity in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade has been on of collective effort, shared responsibilities and a contributions-by-committee approach.
Wednesday's 93-85 win over the visiting Dallas Mavericks, however, was all about the performance of one guy. DeMar DeRozan put the club on his back with a stellar 40 points on 15-22 shooting, including 9-14 free throws. DeRozan's big night helped spark the Raptors, who completed a season-best 21-point rally, and enabled the club to enter the season's second half above .500.
Just how critical was DeRozan to the Raptors' win? Without his contributions, which accounted for 43% of their point total, the team scored 53 points on 17-54 (31%) shooting.
DeMar Joins the Club
As in, the franchise 40+ scoring club, of which there are only seven members. DeRozan joins the club's two past franchise cornerstones (Chris Bosh and, ironically enough, the visiting Vince Carter), a pair of franchise standouts (Andrea Bargnani and Tracy Murray) and two full-on randoms (Acie Earl and Charlie Villanueva). Of his six 40+ contemporaries, only Carter and Bosh reached the plateau on fewer then DeRozan's 22 shots.
After loafing through the first quarter (more later), the Raptors found their fire on both ends of the floor as the game progressed. On offence, Toronto did well to offset some early shooting woes by getting the ball inside and earning 32 trips to the free throw line (they made 22, comfortably besting Dallas' 10-14 mark). DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas (6-8) and Greivis Vasquez (4-6) were the primary visitors to the charity stripe for Toronto. On defence, they exploited the Mavs' less-than-stable ball handling, registering 11 steals and forcing 21 Dallas turnovers. Vasquez and Hayes (three steals apiece) were among the Raps' defensive standouts, but a special hat tip goes to Monta Ellis for his eye-popping eight turnovers.
If DeRozan was the clear star of Wednesday night's win (and make no mistake - he was), Vasquez was the game's hidden gem. The back-up point guard steadied the ship in the wake of a struggling, flu-ridden Kyle Lowry, who dragged his ailing body through an 0-10 shooting performance. Vasquez, meanwhile, provided the club with a reasonable second scoring option (17 points on 5-13 shooting) while setting up others (seven assists) and playing assertive defence (the aforementioned three steals). That he finished with a game-best +21 was not a statistical anomaly.
Can't Avoid the Swoon
I'll give Lowry's performance a pass here, given the physical condition he was in. I won't, however, look past another severe swoon that saw the Raps trail by as many as 21 points in the first quarter before finishing the first 12 minutes in a still-pretty-ugly 34-15 hole. I get that basketball is a game of runs and streaky play, but how can you reconcile a team that can be so sharp at times with the lost group that either digs themselves 21- or 30-point holes or can't hold double digit leads? I even joked during yesterday's first quarter that at least they got their slump out of the way early.
Looks like the scheduling fates are making amends for the rough early-going of the Raptors' 2013-14 campaign. I don't just mean that the calibre of opponent has decreased (that was bound to happen anyway), but the Raps have now played - in succession - the Lakers without Kobe Bryant, the Bobcats without Kemba Walker and the Mavs without Dirk Nowitzki. That Toronto has only won one of the three games is on them.
In former Raptor news, the recent mea culpas by and apology pieces for Carter didn't seem to have much of an impact on the ACC faithful. While there were some pointed cheers, the ever-present boo-birds represented the vast majority, particularly any time VC touched the ball.
Landry Fields' wrist surgery, which will keep him out at least three weeks, is a blow to the club's wing depth, but likely won't be felt in any significant fashion barring an additional injury to one of DeRozan, Terrence Ross or John Salmons.
Count Dallas among the clubs who drew the short end of the East/West disparity stick. In the East, their 25-19 record would have them firmly entrenched in the No. 3 seed and looking ahead to what would likely be home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Out West, they are clenching the No. 8 seed (at least they are on the inside of the playoff picture!), seemingly primed for a round one encounter with Oklahoma City or San Antonio.
The season's second half gets underway on Friday night in Philadelphia (7:00pm, TSN2), where the Raps visit the 14-28 76ers.
Prediction: Raps 106, 76ers 98 (23-10 this season)