Raptors win wild one at the buzzer
By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency
|Raptors' Amir Johnson slams the ball over J.J. Redick of the Magic last night in Orlando. (REUTERS)
ORLANDO - The Raptors had every excuse to lay down and die and at times the team did snooze a bit on Thursday night.
But DeMar DeRozan woke up in the fourth quarter and nailed a buzzer-beating fadeaway jumper from the left corner, sending the Raptors to a 97-95 road victory.
DeRozan scored 14 points in the quarter, including the make with 0.6 ticks on the clock, shaking off what had been a poor outing.
He led the club with 22 points, while Amir Johnson scored 21 in an impressive game of his own as Toronto completed a four-game sweep of Orlando this season.
Before the game, head coach Dwane Casey made it clear that the Raptors weren’t just happy to be there against NBA competition, particularly against top dogs like Miami.
“I got in trouble a little bit with some people that said well we’re just happy to play close. No, we’re not happy to play close. We’re going in to win, we’re not just to show up just to play, be respectable, we want to win each and every time we step on the floor,” Casey said.
“Play with sense of desperation. That’s one thing they can’t say about our team that we don’t compete, that we’re not playing hard. We’ve got to embrace that as our identity and bring it to the floor and then, in clutch situations, make winning plays and come out with a (win).”
And that’s the key really. These Raptors stick around nearly every night. Often do better than that (this marked the fourth game in a row the squad led at the half – but closing the deal has been maddeningly difficult.
The Raptors led this one by nine heading into the final quarter, but gradually saw Orlando chip away.
This time, a Terrence Ross brain malfunction allowed J.J. Redick to get open for a game-tying four-point play late. But it didn’t matter, thanks to DeRozan.
With half a season still to go, Toronto is in an unenviable position. There isn’t enough talent on hand to win a lot of games based on that alone and few other teams have logged as many miles as this group, which also makes digging deep especially challenging.
First there was the obscenely road-heavy start to the campaign, then there has been the constant string of extra-time contests.
Thursday marked the third time already that the Raptors played the second leg of a back-to-back after going to overtime the night before. Three of the last four games have gone to overtime.
Not exactly a recipe for success, especially with the injuries to Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani forcing Amir Johnson and Ed Davis into unsustainable minutes.
Still, as Casey says, this team fights, it competes. It might catch up to them at some point – and nights like Thursday, where a lot of time was spent slogging through quicksand, will likely start to pop up more frequently from here – but it’s a positive aspect that there is no quit in this group.
And it was a nice change to see a different outcome on Thursday for once.
WANT MORE? YOU’VE GOT MORE
Casey said he wants to see more aggressiveness out of DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan started the year better than ever, but has plateaued mightily since.
Forays into the post, where DeRozan has found considerable success, particularly when he gets the ball in close, have been far less frequent, and he has not attacked the basket like he did to start the year.
Casey said the team was tracking DeRozan, and he got to the rim about seven times a game last season, but has not approached those numbers recently.
“This year there’s a significant dropoff. He and I talked about it. Not the easiest team to do that against (because of Arron Afflalo, a strong defender who has given DeRozan trouble in the past),” Casey said.
Against Orlando, DeRozan continued to play passively, settling mostly for jump shots, many of the unhelpful long-two point variety, until the fourth quarter, where he began to play more to his strengths.
Though not all of the close looks fell, DeRozan found more success playing that way and it paved the way for his heroics.
Looking to sweep the Magic for the first time since 2006-07, the Raptors knew the task would be difficult.
“Last game was totally different, they didn’t have Jameer (Nelson), didn’t have E’Twaun Moore, didn’t have Davis. They’re playing much better basketball, as are we. Totally different team,” Casey said.
There was a lot of praise for Vucevic, who has been tremendous and came away with another double-double.
“He’s long and he also can step out and hit jump shots. He can stretch the floor as a big five. He gives us all kinds of problems in the post,” Casey said.
Vucevic went to work, tapping in countless shots and controlling the boards, but Orlando didn’t use him much in the pivotal fourth.