TORONTO — Saturday brought another gaudy statistical line from DeMar DeRozan, which has become commonplace for the Toronto Raptors this year. The points exceeded 30 points, the rebounds swelled to double digits, and he led his team in assists. It was an all-around marvel of a performance.
In his Raptors’ 112-104 overtime win over the Miami Heat, however, it was his work on the other end that proved nearly as important as the offensive exploits. As Joe Johnson, who tormented the Raptors as a member of the Brooklyn Nets back in the 2014 playoffs, threatened to take over the game, DeRozan did just enough to slow him down.
"That’s a man’s work tonight … his defensive effort," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "If he comes down and gives easy buckets away, at the end it’s worthless. But he came down and did a man’s job on the other end, defensively, which is huge. He did it tonight on both ends of the floor."
After Johnson scored seven quick points upon checking into the game in the fourth quarter, the seven-time all-star missed seven of his final eight shots the rest of the way. That did not stop him from setting up Luol Deng’s game-tying three-pointers with 3.1 seconds remaining in regulation. However, the Raptors (44-20) might not have even have received the extra five minutes had Johnson continued to dominate them as he had been for most of the night. Johnson still finished with 28 points.
"It's tough," DeRozan said of guarding Johnson. "I experienced it for seven games two years ago, going against him. He's a hell of a matchup but it's a challenge and when you take on a challenge like that, it's definitely fun."
"I knew he had defence in him," Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. "He can do that. It's just a limited time he has to do it."
On the offensive end, it was vintage DeRozan. His fellow backcourt all-star, Lowry, struggled through one of his worst shooting nights of the year, going 4-for-16 from the field. That left the majority of the heavy lifting to DeRozan, and he largely delivered.
DeRozan started the evening by hitting a series of difficult shots, and gradually worked his way into the heart of the Miami defence, shooting 10 free throws in overtime. He wound up with 38 points, matching a season high, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
"He puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you every single possession to keep him out of the paint and to do it without fouling," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He is crafty. He is clever. He's aggressive. He's all of it and then when he gets those buckets near the basket, then he starts knocking down the pull-up and it becomes very tough."
Jonas Valanciunas added 20 points, his 17th-consecutive game scoring in double digits.
Toronto caught a break when the Heat (38-28) decided to rest star guard Dwyane Wade, who suffered a thigh bruise against Milwaukee on Wednesday. Wade played 31 minutes on Friday in Chicago, but shot just 3 for 15 from the field. Spoelstra did not want to risk playing him in a back-to-back scenario.
Even without Wade, the Heat pushed the Raptors past 48 minutes, needing every bit of DeRozan's night to take the win.
"That's what an all-star does," Lowry said.