The Raptors have won 10 consecutive games, setting a new franchise record. It is still early and they were playing well at this time last year before things fell apart, but this feels different. First of all, sweeping basically one eighth of a regular season is pretty impressive.
They are defending their home court, winning the last six at home. In their 21 years can you think of a better level of basketball any Raptors team has played? In the past, they’ve had some pretty good teams but a lot of it was smoke and mirrors. They relied on great individual efforts from Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, and more recently, their all-star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to drag them to wins.
Now they are playing efficiently on both ends of the floor, and most importantly, the bench is increasing leads rather than relinquishing them or playing opponents even.
The real streak that matters is on the defensive end. Toronto has won 21 consecutive when holding opponents under 100 points. They did it again on Thursday, getting stops in the half court and holding New York to just four fast-break points. When holding opponents under 45 per cent shooting, the Raptors now move to 23-5.
Officially an All-Star Backcourt
Pregame, DeRozan was announced as an Eastern Conference reserve. DeRozan’s second all-star appearance, coupled with Lowry’s second consecutive starting nod, results in some history for the franchise.
Toronto becomes the first host city since Los Angeles in 1972 to have a pair of guards participating in the same All-Star Weekend. The Lakers had Jerry West and Gail Goodrich in their hall-of-fame backcourt.
The Raptors had two players in the All-Star Game in 2001 when Antonio Davis and Vince Carter represented the franchise. Tonight the Raptors’ current backcourt combined for 52 points and 14 assists. Both DeRozan and Lowry had 26 apiece on 50 per cent shooting from the field.
DeRozan, who used to go weeks without attempting a three, has now hit a triple in four straight games. The development speaks more to his work ethic than anything else.
At the NBA draft combine, scouts often pay close attention to a player’s weight lifting, free-throw shooting, and three-point shooting. Not just because those skills matter in live-game situations, but more so because they are examples of how hard a player works on his game in the off-season.
DeRozan’s ascension is impressive because he’s a gym rat who works on adding things to his game constantly. The best argument for giving him max money is not because he’s now among the league’s best scorers, it’s because he’s proven he’ll put in the work to be an appreciating asset moving forward. His stroke from beyond the arc is testament to that.
Flick of the Wrist
Lowry had the fan base holding its breath when he left the court holding his left wrist on Tuesday. Even when the X-rays came back negative, there was fear he’d be questionable to play just 48 hours later, but he was unquestionably unaffected tonight. Lowry played through any discomfort he was having and logged 41 minutes.
Unafraid to go in the paint with a bad wrist, he grabbed six rebounds. Unfazed on his shot being affected, he scored 10 straight down the stretch to put the game out of reach. Lowry finished plus-15, on the night abusing the Knicks’ struggles at the point guard position.
Lowry What If
As Lowry was jawing with members of the Knicks bench and coaching staff like Kurt Rambis and hitting step-back threes in the fourth, it made me wonder: What if Kyle Lowry was traded to the Knicks before the deadline two years ago? Forget about what the ramifications would have been for the Raptors, look at the trajectory since that point and time for Lowry.
Instead of being sent to a tanking team that rested Carmelo Anthony for the second half of the season, he stayed in Toronto. He earned himself a large free-agent contract, which he’s already outplayed.
Last year he was back in New York as an All-Star Game starter. This year he’ll be a starter for his home team in Toronto. Lowry is a great example that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side but that patience and persistence pays off.
Super Stat - Toronto was one of just five NBA franchises to never win 10 straight games before tonight.