Kyle Lowry once again provided tenacity in droves, picking up his fifth career triple-double and second of the season in a masterful performance. Each starter scored at least 15 points besides Jonas Valanciunas, who picked up nine rebounds in a quietly effective outing. Contributions came from across the board, a total team effort, a theme since Rudy Gay was dealt to Sacramento. Steve Novak replaced Patterson’s shooting touch with five three-pointers on six attempts and Chuck Hayes provided the grit, defence and rebounding that Patterson had been chipping in.
The Wolves had pulled within a basket with five minutes left. “This is their team,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said of his starting backcourt. “Down the stretch they really turned it on.” Down the stretch, the Wolves couldn’t convert enough around the rim, as they hadn’t all night, while the Raptors continued to make three-pointers. Four of their 14 threes came in the final quarter. The Wolves end their four-game homestand against Eastern Conference opponents by playing NBA-worst Milwaukee on Tuesday, with the season and any distant playoff hopes disappearing from sight. “We just have to do it better,” Adelman said. “We can’t hang our heads. It’s a good team that we played … We got beat. We’ve got to turn it around and come back Tuesday and get a win.”
He’d heard some chirping from the Timberwolves earlier in the game, but the last laugh is always the best, and as the ball ripped through the cords of the net, he turned to the bench, glared, let loose a couple of words not suitable for publication and trotted back down the court. It was the punctuation mark on a delightful fourth quarter for both DeRozan and Kyle Lowry as the Raptors dumped the Timberwolves 111-104 — and it looked like DeRozan was having all the fun in the world. “When you’re an all-star, you’re growing up, your true self starts to come out a little bit,” Lowry said of DeRozan. “He’s a quiet guy but when you’re winning and you’re a leader, you’ve got to do it.” And you’ve go to do it because it feels great to give as good as you get.
“It’s crazy,” DeMar DeRozan said of Lowry’s effort. “We all look at one another and realize, what can I do to help him out?” “Just seeing him going there, sometimes he comes out of nowhere and you see him snatch a ball out of a bigs hand, or coming over the top like he has a 42-inch vertical or something. That’s just Kyle, man. He’s hungry for the ball every time the ball goes up.” His passion, like his tenacity, has been contagious and his backcourt partner appears to have caught the bug. With just over a minute to go and the shot clock ticking down, up seven, DeRozan took a pass from Lowry. Situated in the left corner, with the Wolves’ Corey Brewer in his face, he drained the dagger, a three-pointer to put the Raptors up 10. On his way to the Raptors’ huddle, Minnesota having just called a timeout, a fired-up DeRozan turned to the Wolves’ bench and shouted a couple of R-rated words that did not sit well with coach Rick Adelman.
Remember all those blown games? The fourth-quarter losses when the HOTH just couldn’t avoid those three- or four-minute lapses and so many games got away from them? Seems a long time ago, doesn’t it? Have said often, even as those defeats piled up, that they were perfect learning opportunities and it seems they have learned quite a bit. And when we were talking to DeMar about it, he made the point as well as anyone could: “That’s just the confidence we have. We have guys on this team one through five that can hit big shots. When you have that type of confidence, you never feel like you’re out of a game.” Confidence is a fickle thing, sometimes it goes as quickly as it comes but this group is as confident as any I’ve seen around this franchise in a very long time. Odd feeling.
The loss puts the Wolves at 31-31 on the season, and with Dallas notching a big win tonight over Indiana, the Wolves’ already-slim playoff chances are looking worse and worse. Despite some feisty play from the starting lineup, they were forced to play catch-up for essentially the entire game, and never fully recovered. “We just have to do it better. We can’t hang our heads, it’s a good team that we played,” Rick Adelman said after the game. “They’ve [Toronto] been playing really well and they have a lot of veteran players. They did a nice job of getting the win. We can’t hang our heads, we got beat. We got to turn it around and come back Tuesday and get a win.”
With the game still close as ever, the Raps were to put it to rest as a small three-point party emerged from the team. DeRozan and Lowry made a three point shot each, while Novak continued doing what he does best, making two three pointers. As well, the Raps were shooting 80 percent from that area. In the waning minutes with what looked like a Raptors win in the books, things took a quick turn. The Wolves’ Brewer was fouled on a late play, but instead of stepping to the line to take the usual two, he missed his second free-throw on purpose, secured the rebound, and put in the lay-up. He then attempted it again and while he wasn’t successful, Minnesota secured the rebound and nearly got the game to only two possessions.
But if the playoffs did begin today, Toronto and Brooklyn would face off in the opening round. And with two of the three games that have already been played between these two having been decided by a total of three points, Raptors-Nets could be one of the better first-round matchups. Beginning on Monday, when Toronto is scheduled to face Brooklyn for the fourth and final time, the Raptors will play five of its next 10 games against teams headed for the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Nets will be tested a little more than Raptors, with seven of their next nine outings against opponents bound for the postseason.
For the Raptors to reach more than 47 wins, they have to go at least 14-8 in their final 22 games. It is not impossible, but it will be a tough task. They have six divisional games left, they have six back-to-back games remaining, and they still play the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers one more time each. The Raptors have been playing solid basketball since December and they are likely going to have an opportunity to win each of their remaining games. However, will they learn how to play a full four quarters instead of mostly showing up in the second half? Will they learn how to close out games instead of allowing teams back in it? The Raptors have proven they can play with anyone and beat anyone. Now it is just a matter of consistently going out and doing it.
It can be argued that behind James Harden, DeRozan has been the second-best shooting guard in the NBA this season. At the very least, that deserves All-NBA consideration. First team? Let’s say Harden. Second team? Wade seems reasonable. Third team? It’s got to be No. 10
He helped make “Mozgov’d” and “posterized” synonymous with an incredible throwdown during the 2012-13 season. DeRozan is the kind of player who in years past has been forgotten by fans outside of Toronto. He’s always been an incredible athlete, but unless you followed the Toronto Raptors or stumbled across them on League Pass, you probably didn’t see enough to create any significant memories.
Q: So who or what movie was the Kyle Lowry of the Oscars? A: Man, I was actually surprised that “American Hustle,” I don’t think they won anything. Except for maybe costumes, maybe? Maybe costume design, it was either them or “The Great Gatsby.” Maybe “The Great Gatsby” won costumes. [Ed: “The Great Gatsby” did indeed win Best Costume Design; “American Hustle” didn’t win any of the 10 categories in which it was nominated.] But there was an award that I felt like “American Hustle” should have won, or at least they should’ve won one.
When the schedules were announced in early August, the Nets’ news release mentioned games with the crosstown Knicks, defending-champion Miami Heat and the team’s mid-January jaunt to London where they faced the Atlanta Hawks. The Raptors, justifiably, weren’t mentioned. This was a team that stumbled out to a 7-12 start before trading its best-known player, Rudy Gay, to the Sacramento Kings for Greivis Vásquez, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson. Less than two months later, those four helped steal a win in Brooklyn that ended a five-game winning steak and put the Raptors 2½ games over the Nets for first place in the Atlantic Division.
DeMar DeRozan vs. Joe Johnso. Both all-stars, though DeRozan was a far more deserving choice. Johnson got in on reputation, but remains one of the best clutch players in the game and a solid defender. Johnson has shot 43% from three-point range over his past five games, but is averaging career lows in most categories and will have his hands full with DeRozan. Look for Kyle Lowry to try to make a statement against the Nets, since he didn’t make the all-star game because Johnson did.
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