40, 32, and 33.
The first Raptor to score 30+ in three straight games in franchise history couldn’t have chosen a more opportune time to accomplish the feat. Watching his team’s 19 point lead slip away in an atrocious third quarter, DeMar DeRozan did what he does best: get buckets. To be fair, the $139 million-dollar man did have some help last night in the form of Kyle Lowry. KLOE poured in 12 of Toronto’s 17 points in the fourth including the game-winner with 45 seconds left. Denver had ample opportunities to tie the game from beyond the arc, but missed all three of their last-ditch efforts. The Raptors escaped a dismal defensive effort to hang on 105-102 and move to 2-1 on the season.
While the result is nice, the method is somewhat concerning. The Raptors turned what should have been a comfortable win into a dramatic final act against a Denver team in the second leg of a back-to-back. Toronto (as good, but not great) teams seem to do, grabbed their big lead, and then let up in the second half. The Nuggets dropped 35 points on them in the third quarter, and figured out most of the Rap’s lazy defensive schemes. DeMarre Carroll was particularly concerning. The “Lebron-James-World-Ender” had more than just a bit of trouble containing none other than Will Barton last night, who attacked him “at will” (sorry) to the tune of 16 points on 5-7 shooting.
Pascal Siakam forced out some grimaces as well. We can’t be too hard on a rookie who’s been asked to start for a hopeful Eastern Conference Finals team, but some semblance of offensive touch needs to be developed in order to have an effect on both sides of the ball. His energy and rim protection is still reminiscent of Biyombo, but it wouldn’t hurt to at least pretend he’s capable of popping off a jumper. The good news to come out of a tough game for Siakam was the Patrick Patterson sighting. PatPat played almost 33 minutes, and the effort did not go unnoticed by coach Dwayne Casey:
“Poor Patrick, he went 17 straight or 20 straight minutes,” Casey said. “My hat’s off to him. That’s why we’ve gotta make sure we keep Pascal rolling and coming, that way we don’t wear out Pat. ’Cause he’s putting in some hard minutes in the paint, wrestling guys like Nurkic and Jokic and big guys, and now he’s gotta go guard a guy like (Danilo) Gallinari when (DeMarre Carroll) comes out. This is the time now, everybody’s gotta step up and do their part.”
That last sentiment couldn’t be more true when it comes to Toronto this season. With the “what-if” scenario of Jared Sullinger continuing to linger, the Raps are going to to need more than DeRozan and Lowry every night, especially if they want to beat stronger teams than Denver. DeRozan’s scoring pace is beautiful, but to keep up that type of action without hitting a single three this season is a tough ask. Still, if you think DeRozan cares about how he gets his, you’d be poorly mistaken:
“I don’t get caught up in what anyone says. I just try to get the job done however I can. It doesn’t matter. As long as we go out there and win, that’s all I care about.”
And for the most part, that’s all fans care about as well. There’s few teams that have a sliver of what the Raptors backcourt has become, and appreciating it is important. Jonas Valanciunas took a step back from his torrid pace to start the season, Patterson’s shooting woes from three continue, and Terrence Ross has yet to blow our socks off the way he did in preseason, but there’s no point being cynical…yet.