Crouching Derozan, Hidden Durant

The Raptors battle back from an early deficit thanks in large part to Demar’s career high 40 points.

I always have way too much to say when I’m excited about a Raptors victory, so I’ll just partition this game summary into four parts — game recap, statistics and shot charts, some love for Demar and a pair of play breakdowns. Read one section or read them all. It’s all up to you. But before you do anything else, check out my quick recap for individual player analysis.

Game Recap

Let’s get this caveat out of the way — Dirk Nowitzki didn’t suit up for last night’s game. He’s getting up there in age and the Mavericks felt it would be best if he took the night off. I can’t blame them because the Raptors were coming off a loss to a Walker-less Bobcats team (the Walker Dead?). Needless to say, Jae Crowder — his replacement in the starting five — failed to fill his large German shoes. Shocker, I know. If you want to put an asterisk on this game, go right ahead.

That being said, despite the absence of the Dirkus Circus, the Mavericks stormed out of the gate and took a 19 point lead after the first. Calderon’s jumper was on (10 points on 4 of 5 shooting in the first) and Vince Carter threw down a monster one-handed jam in the lane. By the end of the quarter, every Raptors fan — myself included — seriously debated turning off the TV and calling it a night.

But then Vasquez and the bench unit opened the second quarter on a nice 8-2 run to cut into the deficit. As originally advertized at the time of the Gay trade, Vasquez relentlessly worked the pick-and-roll to great effect. He set up Amir with for an alley-oop and he drove into the paint. More importantly, Gravy (trying out a new nickname here, let’s see if it’ll stick) re-energized the team, and by the time the starters started filing back in, the lead had been whittled down to single digits. A reinvigorated Amir played the type of defense we’re accustomed to seeing — moving his feet, getting in position, challenging shots, protecting the basket — which was a sight for sore eyes. Granted, the Mavs didn’t really have any scoring in their front-court, but Amir’s help defense helped set the tone for the remainder of the game. Gravy punctuated the quarter with two three-pointers and the Raptors went into the half trailing by five.

The two teams traded baskets for most of the third. The Raptors refused to allow the Mavs to stretch their lead into the double-digits, and the Mavericks kept the the Raps at bay by not letting the Raps come any closer than five. Lowry’s shot was off all night (to be fair, he had the flu), so others around him stepped up, namely Derozan, who channeled his inner Durant (more on this later) and poured in 15 points in the third (on just 6 FGA). However, his efforts were offset by Monta Ellis’ 13. The see-saw titled back and forth, but the Mavs maintained their five point lead going into the final frame.

The Mavs’ lead held steady at five points until halfway through the fourth. Casey rolled the dice by putting Jonas in for Hayes and the gamble paid off. Jonas’ length and tenacity helped the Raptors corral rebounds and Jonas even chipped in with some free-throws and the occasional post-move. Derozan hit a crazy 360 layup for an and-one with four minutes left to put the Raptors ahead 85-82, and they never looked back. Lowry played some gritty defense and single-handedly caused three turnovers down the stretch, including two on back-to-back possessions. Lowry, Derozan and Vasquez played a huge part in the Raptors holding Dallas to a meager 12 points in the final frame. Johnson capped off the victory with a gentle dunk and that’s all she wrote. The Raptors won by a score of 93-85 and swept the season series over the Mavericks.

Statistics of Note and Shot Charts

  • 32 — Number of free-throws attempted by the Raptors. They rank 10th in the NBA at 24.4 FTA per game, but thanks to Dallas’ total lack of rim protection, the Raptors went to the line all game long.
  • 21 — Number of turnovers committed by the Dallas Mavericks. The guards’ quick hands and Amir’s excellent defense caused the normally steady-handed Mavericks (6th in NBA in fewest TO per game at 13.8) to turn it over on the regular, especially in the fourth.
  • 1 — Charges taken by Lowry, because of course. Yes, he still leads the league in charges taken.
  • 21 — Greivis Vasquez led all players in the game with a +21 rating. He was instrumental in the second and fourth quarters, especially when he was featured as the primary ball-handler in Casey’s two-PG lineups down the stretch
  • 40 — A new career high for Derozan in terms of points scored, and more impressively…
  • 22 — The number of field goal attempts Derozan took to get his 40, thanks in large part to…
  • 68% — Shooting from the field and…
  • 14 — Free throw attempts. That’s how you do it, young fella!

dd wowTake a bow

Crouching Derozan, Hidden Durant

So…awkward story: yesterday morning, I published a post in which I chastised Derozan for his over-reliance on the mid-range game. In the post, I criticized his tendency to settle, and I repeatedly stressed that his mid-range shots weren’t ideal because 1) he doesn’t hit them very often, and 2) they’re not doing much for his teammates. I didn’t put all of the blame on Demar — he’s got to work with what he’s given in terms of teammates and coaching tactics — but I did critique the biggest part of his game.

And then he drops a career high forty points the very same night. Thanks for backing me up, bud.

Was it any different from a normal game for Derozan? In form? Absolutely. His jumpers tickled the twine and his midrange game was on-point. He curled off pin-downs all night and nobody could stop him. It got so bad that the analytically inclined Mavericks stopped conceding the shot and opted to double him in the fourth to get the ball out of his hands. He was that good.

But in essence? It really wasn’t all that different from a regular game from Derozan. He did attack the basket more than he normally does, but he still settled for his fair share of jumpers, and hey, that’s my point — he just needed to shift around his attempts! I didn’t expect him to go off for forty, but I knew that if Demar drove more and pulled-up less, he’d probably see an uptick in efficiency. He doesn’t have to drive every time, he just needs to mix it up. There was too much pina colada mix and too little rum, that’s all I was saying.

And you want rum? How this to get you drunk? Look at that beautiful up-and-under:

Or this crazy spinning layup to put the Raptors up for good:

Great stuff Demar. You don’t have to pour in forty or shoot 68% every game, you just need to bring this type of aggressiveness game-in and game-out, and we’ll be happy.

A Brief “Breaking it Down”

I’ve already kept you around for 1200 words (hopefully) so I’ll try to keep this quick. This first play involves Ross and Amir colluding on a pick and roll. If that sentence surprised you, it should have because Ross is usually a train-wreck in these situations. Opposing defenses know that Ross’ is a very capable three-point shooter, so both Mavericks defenders key in on Ross. Wright steps up briefly to dissuade the drive into the lane, while Amir alertly slips the screen and short-rolls to the basket. Ross sees this play unfold and he threads a perfect bounce-pass over to Amir for the easy layup.

My hope is that this develops into a trend. Ross’ is very much a work in progress, and while he’s suddenly found his stroke from range, he’s little more than a spot-up shooter on offense at the moment. When defenses key in on Ross, or when his jumper is off, Ross lacks a second offensive dimension to complicate matters for the defense. If Ross could develop some adequate ball-handling and passing ability, it would represent a huge boon for the Raptors offense.

This second play simply makes sense. I made a note of this in my column about Derozan’s midrange game, but Demar is oftentimes forced into settling for the jumper because he rarely runs the pick and roll with a big who can shoot. This allows Derozan to be smothered by temporary double-teams, especially when he’s ICE’ed (not by a Smirnoff) along the sidelines. I like this play because A) Derozan catches the ball moving towards the middle, B) because he shoots it better from the left side of the floor, and C) Patterson’s shooting ability forces the big to make a difficult decision between impeding Demar’s progress or contesting Patterson’s shot.

Demar should run his pick-and-rolls with Patterson more regularly because it’s a tougher assignment for the defense. When Derozan is paired with a big like Jonas or Amir, he can’t exactly kick it out to either one of them for an open look. However, if Patterson is his screener, Patrick can simply pop-out, which gives Demar something more than a reset-button to work with. This should also conceivably open up more space for Derozan to operate. Hopefully the coaches concur and this becomes a trend.

Final Thoughts

Raise your hand if you expected the Raptors to get blown out tonight. My hand is straight in the air because he Raps have dropped some stinkers of late. The Boston game was a gutshot, the Lakers loss make me queasy and the game in Charlotte legitimately made me angry. It’s not that I thought the Raptors were far in-and-away superior to those teams, I just felt that things were clicking for the Raptors and it was a chance to feast on some fodder — an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. Alas, it was an opportunity wasted (thrice), and I didn’t like their chances against a legitimately superior team in the Mavericks.

Dirk sitting out obviously helped, but there were plenty of positives to take from the game. Vasquez came alive and flourished in the pick-and-roll. Amir looked like his usual self, which in turn meant the return of the Raptors’ dominant defense. Even Valanciunas turned it around for a game and provided some key contributions down the stretch.

That’s not to say that it was all rainbows and butterflies — Ross is still nowhere to be found on offense and they came out flatter than an unwound guitar string — but they showed grit amd tenacity, and if there’s one thing Torontonians love, it’s the scrappy, hardworking underdog coming out on top.

Call them the Scraptors.

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