This was a monumental result, perhaps the biggest verification that the Raptors’ recent streak is not just a mid-season mirage. The Raptors are set to embark on a gruesome three-game road trip, with games in Washington, Miami and Indiana. Before the Raptors’ win in Chicago on New Year’s Eve, you would have said the Raptors would have been lucky to win twice in the five-game span.
These Raptors appear to be a laughingstock no longer. They fight hard, make life difficult for opponents defensively and play an effective brand of offence that is pleasing to the eye. They also execute down the stretch, operating as one of the NBA’s best squads in the fourth quarter of games. “We don’t care who is out there in front of us,” DeRozan said. “We understand that they are going to throw a punch and we’re going to throw punches back.”
Along with the Oklahoma City win less than two weeks earlier, this stands as one of the most impressive Raptors’ victories in recent memory. It’s truly incredible how much of a difference the removal of Rudy Gay has made. It’s like watching a completely different team and it’s a testament to how complex a basketball team is that removing a player like Gay could make such a huge difference. Many thought they’d be better, but playing like this? It’s next-level stuff.
I don’t suppose it’s been missed by many but think for a second what Jonas Valanciunas has done in the last few days. Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert: Three of the best centres in the East, if not the NBA, and Valanciunas has played them tough and straight up and more than held his own. None of them had great nights, none of them dominated and you know what’s most important? Valanciunas did not need a lick of help to get the job done.
“We’re going to go out there and battle with the best of ’em, night in and night out,” exclaimed DeMar DeRozan, who scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter. “We don’t care who you throw out there in front of us, we understand they’re going to throw a punch and we’re going to throw punches back.”
ndiana turned the ball over 23 times, allowing 32 points off of those turnovers. In all, the passing was just flat-out dreadful. Indy only assisted on 16 of their 32 baskets, finishing with an assist to turnover ratio that would make the oft-maligned DJ Augustin blush. They were also out rebounded by a Toronto team that, well, let’s just say isn’t known around the league for its ability to clean the boards. Perhaps the combination of back-to-back games sandwiched around New Year’s Eve was just too much to overcome. Either way, the Pacers deserved to lose this game, and they did so in ugly fashion.
Indiana was also outrebounded again, though the 39-36 Toronto advantage felt much higher, mostly due to Indiana’s ability to hold onto the ball and Toronto’s ability to come up with every 50/50 ball all night. Indiana’s ball movement on offense was another issue of concern. They assisted on just 16 of their 32 field goals while Toronto had an efficient 27 assists on 34 shots. Indiana also didn’t do any favors for themselves from the line when they did get there, shooting just 13-20 on the night.
While the Raptors have shown they can win without a big game from DeMar DeRozan, it is certainly a lot easier if their starting shooting guard can put up the points. In November, Lance Stephenson held DeRozan to 2-15 from the field and 4 points, but not this time. DeRozan had a monster game, leading all scorers with 26 points and tying Valanciunas for the most rebounds with 9.
Ross will never score as many points as Gay, but he is a much better shooter. With Gay gone, not only has Ross moved into the starting lineup, he is also averaging twice as many shots per game as he did before the trade. And Ross isn’t just taking more shots, he’s making them at a much higher rate.
Dealing Gay wasn’t just addition by subtraction. Ujiri turned him into a bench — a 6’6 point guard (Vasquez), a 6’6 wing (Salmons) and a 6’9 stretch 4 (Patterson) with NBA experience. All three have been productive starters at points in their careers; they can match-up with the vast majority of second units. The combination of the Sacramento refugees and the interior muscle of Tyler Hansbrough means Toronto’s reserves are no longer bleeding points. All of a sudden, Casey has a rotation he can work with. The Raptors are a versatile team with lineup options on their bench. They can play Lowry and Vasquez together or go big on the perimeter with Vasquez, Ross and Salmons. They can run pick-and-pops with Patterson or use him to open up the floor for pick-and-rolls. Toronto 2.0 puts pressure on the opponent for all 48 minutes. In the regular season, a strong second-unit keeps you in games and picks up wins.
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