The Toronto Raptors got back on the winning track with a 98-85 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies last night, following 2 consective losses, starting a week and a half ago against the Minnesota Timberwolves and on Friday night against the Bulls.
The Grizzlies made their annual visit to the Air Canada Centre, and quite honestly, looked deflated. With Marc Gasol slated to miss the rest of the regular season with a 4-6 month road to recovery ahead of him, the Grizzlies are a longshot to make any noise in a top-heavy Western Conference. Nevertheless, the team has 32 wins and is always a formidable opponent for the Raps.
Though the score was close, the Raps seemed in control from the tip, outscoring the Grizzlies in each of the 4 quarters, and by 7 in a crucial third quarter. Following disappointing losses to both the Bulls and Wolves due to third quarter collapses, it was refreshing to see the Raps come out to play in the second half, holding Memphis to 21 points in each of the final 2 frames and 37% from the field overall.
While the Raps didn’t necessarily shoot well themselves (41% for the night), they hit 4 more three-pointers than the Grizzlies which ultimately made the difference. Though offense for Dwane Casey’s squad continues to be the saving grace on most nights (the Raptors continue to remain 6th in the league in offensive efficiency), last night, defense was the name of the game. The Grizzlies struggled mightily shooting (Conley was 2/12), but got some contributions from the ever-steady Zach Randolph who dropped 18, Mario Chalmers who scored 17, Vince Carter who dropped 16, and Lance Stephenson who contributed 16 points on 10 shots in his Grizzlies debut. For Dave Joerger’s team overall though, who sit 18th in the league in offensive efficiency, the offense has not come easy, and last night was a clear example.
DeMar Derozan led the way once again for the Raptors, scoring 21 points (albeit on 16 shots), to go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Kyle Lowry chipped in with a stellar performance of 18 points, 4 boards and 7 helpers. The good news for Raptor fans was the strong play of the bench, with Joseph, Patterson and Ross combining for the 34 points. CoJo hit what was probably the final dagger in this game, nailing a deep three with just over a minute remaining to increase the Raptors’ lead to 10, ultimately sealing the victory.
The win was DeMar DeRozan’s 232nd in his career thus far, entirely with the Toronto Raptors, tying him for the most in franchise history with Chris Bosh and Morris Peterson. For DeMar, who stands just about 1.5K points behind Chris Bosh for the all time lead in franchise points scored, this offseason will be crucial in determining whether he will go down as one of the greatest in franchise history, or simply another star shipped out of town. At the moment anyway, it appears like the former is the more likely scenario.
JV, who continues to assert himself post-injury, followed up his stellar performance from Friday night with another double-double of 10 points and 12 boards. Getting solid contributions from their interior players, including Patterson, Scola and Biyombo will be critical for the Raps, who continue to rely heavily on their all-star backcourt for scoring.
The Raptors will take any victory at this stage of the season, and they know that absolutely nothing is guaranteed. Playing their first home game in more than 3 weeks, the Raps were starving for a momentum-starting victory. Sluggish performances in the recent games before and after the all-star break have given fans a taste of reality, as the team has shown some weakness following a blistering January that saw the team go 12-2 with a 11-game winning streak.
While they stand strong in the second seed in the Eastern conference, the focus for Dwane Casey and his staff has been establishing consistency even when things seem easy, mid-game. It is this relentless pursuit of perfection that will keep the Raps afloat if they have any hopes of reaching a Conference final. Don’t forget – with news of Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic being out until mid-March at the earliest, there’s a real possibility the Bulls could end up 7th, and with a fully healthy lineup, making them a scary first-round prospect for the Raptors who have already fell victim to Fred Hoiberg’s squad three times this year.
The Raptors get back on the court Monday night with a back-to-back against the New York Knicks at MSG. The road contest will be one of only 2 road games in their next 11, as they will begin a 7-game homestand on March 2nd against the Utah Jazz. For the Raps, closing out victories against the Knicks on Monday and at home against the Wolves on Wednesday will be critical, as LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers will be at the ACC this Friday. Tip time for tonight’s contest against NY is 7:30 pm.