#WeTheFourth. The great Aubrey Graham once said, “better late than never, but never late is better”, and it’s quite crazy how accurately this lyric describes modern times in Raptorland. Though much of tonight’s game was spent going back and forth with a Utah Jazz team on the second night of a back-to-back, the Toronto Raptors found a way to break through during the second half to get the 111-93 win. Following a rough home loss to an elite conference opponent on Thursday, the Raptors bounced back and got their eighth win of the season (and their sixth win at home). The team knows that they need to take care of business at the ACC, and they did just that tonight. Let’s begin.
While the 15 team assists on the Raptors boxscore leave much to be desired, there were some positives to take away from the offensive components of tonight’s win. For “starters”, DeMar DeRozan played with a chip on his shoulder and returned to form after putting up a stinker on Thursday. The all-star swingman dropped a cool 27 points on a cool 10/17 shooting night. With a healthy mix of drives to the basket and mid-range jumpers, DeRozan found his groove. He let the game come to him and was aggressive at the right times. Kyle Lowry was no slouch either, netting 19 points on 8/14 shooting, hitting timely jumpers throughout the game— whether to keep the Raptors in the game, or to extend the lead in the game’s later stages.
Jonas Valanciunas was awesome on this end of the floor tonight too. In his best performance of the season, the young big man scored 17 points and actually looked engaged throughout. In his matchup against Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, JV wasn’t phased by the imposing presense of the Jazz bigs. We were all waiting for a game like this, and it finally came tonight. The “white-squad” (nickname coined in practice for Toronto’s bench players) made some noteworthy contributions for the Raps tonight as well— particularly in the second half. Patrick Patterson, Lou Williams, and Greivis Vasquez combined for 37 points, most of which came during the late-game push to clinch the win. On the negative side of all things bench-related, James Johnson exited the game after rolling his ankle pretty badly. X-rays were negative.
For about two and a half quarters, Utah just kept knocking on the door in a game that some would argue shouldn’t have been so close for so long. Prior to the fourth quarter, the Jazz were able to push the ball in transition, capitalize on easy opportunities, and in some instances, even outworked the Raptors in the half-court. In the final frame however, the Raptors finally cracked down on defense. The Jazz fatigue finally showed, and Toronto outscored Utah 35-21. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Raptors went from up by a single possession to up by 15+.
Outside of his absolutely insane alley-oop from a Kyle Lowry lob, Terrence Ross‘ impact on offense was pretty quiet. His defense was pretty impressive against Gordon Hayward, who is no scrub at the small forward spot. Ross’ consistent pressure and shot contests were instrumental in limiting Hayward’s imprint on the game early, thus keeping the Raptors above water prior to the #WeTheFourth takeover. Though he’s been the leading scorer for the Jazz thus far, Hayward only finished with 12 points, shooting 3 of 10 in the process.
The Raptors won the rebounding battle 42-38. No complaints here. Toronto only allowed 10 offensive boards, and the team effort looked consistent from start to finish. JV led the way with a monster rebounding total of 14, while the rest of his teammates provided smaller contributions.
Game Ball: Jonas Valanciunas
While DeMar DeRozan made this a tough decision, it’s just too difficult to resist rewarding JV for his best game of the season thus far. A 17 point, 14 rebound double-double is legit, no matter how you swing it. Huge confidence builder for the young big man. Oh yeah, and Dwane Casey gave the starting center 34 minutes of playing time tonight. 34! Don’t pinch me.