DeMar DeRozan’s regular season streak of 113 straight games of scoring 10 or more points ended Saturday night against the Hawks. Though the statistic doesn’t mean much on its own, it earmarks a nearly 21-month era that lasted from February 28, 2016 to November 24, 2017, representing arguably the best basketball of DeRozan’s career. And so, here’s a subjective top-10 list of DeMar’s most explosive moments throughout this period, containing some truly awe-inspiring performances:
10) A Bounce-Back in Utah (Nov. 3, 2017)
On the heels of the club’s hard-to-watch season-worst thrashing at the hands of the Nuggets, DeRozan was determined to set things right against a Jazz squad that always presents a challenge on their home floor. He led the way with 37 points (50% from the floor), including three triples and a perfect 14/14 output from the charity stripe. He also added 2 assists and 6 rebounds to give the Raps a 9-point win, erasing the bitter taste of the blowout in Colorado.
9) A Scorching Playoff Preview (Mar. 12, 2016)
The Raptors faced the Miami Heat in what would become a preview of the Eastern Conference semi-finals and DeRozan set the tone in the 8-point victory. He poured in 38 points on 50% shooting, went 12/15 from the line, shared the rock with 7 assists, scooped up 10 rebounds, and chipped in with two steals and a block for good measure. A statement game for both DeMar and Toronto ahead of their longest playoff run in franchise history.
8) Gritting and Grinding in Tennessee (Apr. 1, 2016)
It was never easy to play in Memphis throughout their Grit N Grind era, and although the 15/16 season wasn’t their best, they were still a playoff team in the high-octane Western conference. DeRozan had the unenviable task of getting past Tony Allen, one of the league’s finest wing defenders. Despite a low scoring game overall, he put in 27 points (8/17 shooting, 10/11 from the line), 4 assists and 6 rebounds to lead the Raptors to a scrappy 99-95 win.
7) Bouncing Back (part 2), the Wizards Edition (Mar. 3, 2017, Nov. 19, 2017)
Ever since the embarrassing sweep in 2015 in Washington’s favour, these two clubs have developed something of a rivalry, as they vied for the honors of being recognized as the East’s 2nd best squad. Not only that, the two franchises feature the two best back-courts in the Eastern Conference, adding more fuel to the fire. Both of the above games had come soon after two Wizard victories, and on both occasions, DeRozan led the Raptors to revenge wins. He averaged an impressive 32.5 points on 58% shooting, 5.5 assists and 10.5 rebounds in the pair of contests, including a massive dagger 3 to seal one of them.
6) Someone Tell This Man He’s About to Break a Record (Mar. 4, 2016)
Just like Lowry elected not to mention anything to his backcourt mate about his 114 vs. DeRozan’s 113 record on Saturday, it appears no one told him he was on the verge of an NBA perfect free throw shooting record held by Dominique Wilkins in the dying moments of Toronto’s 2-point win against the Portland Trail Blazers that night. He had gone a remarkable 24-for-24 from the free throw line that evening as part of his 38-point outing (opposite Lillard’s 50), stepping to the line for a final attempt. It was probably for the best (as far as the team is concerned) that he missed his 25th on purpose, since it took enough time off the clock to deny Portland a chance to win the contest, and he did break a different NBA record for most consecutive free throws made in a single game. But still.
5) A Typical Stretch of Mastery (Jan. 7 – 17, 2017)
In a period of six games that was as impressive and steady as we’ve come to expect from DeMar, he led the Raptors to a decent 4-2 record with wins over the Celtics, Knicks and Nets (twice). The level of competition may not stand out apart from Boston, but the wins exemplified Toronto’s growth into a club that consistently takes care of contests that they’re supposed to, sprinkling in a statement win here and there. During the stretch, DeRozan averaged a shade over 33 points on just over 50% shooting, 3.3 assists, 7.8 rebounds, and 9.5 made free throws.
4) Playing Playoff Spoiler (Mar. 23, 31, Apr. 7, 2017)
Playing without Kyle Lowry in two of the three contests, Toronto won all three against the Heat (twice) and the Indiana Pacers, two teams that had come in playing desperate and efficient basketball in their battle for the 8th and final playoff spot. Miami’s two losses consigned them to missing the postseason, in large part because of DeMar’s incredible performances. In those three games, the USC product averaged 39.3 points (47% shooting), 3 assists, 7 rebounds, and 12.3 made free throws, acting as the Eastern Conference playoff gatekeeper.
3) Breaking the Curse (Mar. 21, 2017)
11 games. 11 disappointing, strange and miserable losses to the Jimmy Butler-led Chicago Bulls, that had many a Raptor fan terrified at the prospect of facing the club from Illinois in the first round of the playoffs that year. And with Toronto down 15 heading into the final frame, number 12 appeared to be on the horizon. And yet, buoyed by Ibaka and Lopez’s scuffle, the Raptors clawed back. Playing without his back-court buddy and fellow All-Star, DeRozan poured in 42 points on 44.7% shooting, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and a block, including two crucial buckets in the final minute of regulation to send the game to overtime. The Raptors’ momentum carried them through in the extra period, and the accursed streak was finally over.
2) An MVP-Calibre Stretch (Oct. 26 – Nov. 18, 2016)
What a start to the season it was – DeRozan scored 30+ points in 10 of the team’s first 12 contests, and hit 40 twice, as the Raptors went 8-4, including marquee wins against the Thunder and Wizards, alongside some very tight losses to the Warriors, Cavaliers (twice) and the Kings (sigh). It was an unprecedented all-time run for a Toronto Raptor, as DeRozan averaged 32 points (49% shooting), 3.6 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 8.5 made free throws per contest over the first dozen games. If it wasn’t for Russell Westbrook’s even more astonishing start (and middle, and finish) to the season, he’d likely have been mentioned in the MVP race considerably more often during that period.
1) On Top of the World (Feb. 24-27, 2017)
This 3-game stretch may not have been the first on the list if not for its final moment, yet there it was. And yes, he averaged a monstrous 37.7 points on 53.6% shooting, 3 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and 12.3 made free throws in those three games. But that alone would not be worthy of his top regular season moment in the last 21 months if not for that final play. Coming on the back of noteworthy wins against the Celtics and Blazers, Toronto delivered a very lackluster first half on the road against the New York Knicks, heading into the break down 13. It didn’t get any prettier in the second half, but once again without the comforting presence of Kyle Lowry, Mr. Toronto was there to bail out his teammates. With the Raptors down 1, the clock running down, guarded by Derrick Rose, DeRozan made a play that he will one day proudly show his grandkids. Backing down a former league MVP, DeMar took a game-winning fade away shot that met nothing but net, sealing Toronto’s win in the world-famous MSG.
To DeMar DeRozan’s next 113!