Five takeaways: Raptors’ bench saves the day

Kyle Lowry had 21 points, Jonas Valanciunas added 20 and the Raptors got their eighth straight win, beating the Clippers 112-94.

The Toronto Raptors cruised past the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday for their eighth straight victory. Here are Donnovan Bennett’s five takeaways from the game:

Three and D
This version of Terrence Ross is the player Raptors fans dreamt of when the former first-round pick was drafted. This is the player the team counted on when Masai Ujiri signed him to an extension earlier this year.

In a brilliant performance, the 24-year-old showed off his tantalizing potential, compiling 18 points, four rebounds and four steals while knocking down five three-pointers. He managed to do all this while playing tough defence on one of the hottest shooting guards in the league, J.J. Redick. Ross ran Redick off of the three-point line multiple times, illustrating he’s now playing defence with not just his body, but also his head. Offensively, Ross has been much more confident and decisive coming off of pin-downs during the Raptors’ win streak.

Bench Mob
Four Raptors finished in double digits off the bench. That’s normally a good number for starters and reserves combined. Along with Ross’s 18, Cory Joseph had 12, and Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo had 10 each. When all was said and done, the Raptors’ bench outscored the Clippers’ second unit 51-29.

The starters struggled early for Toronto, but led by Patterson’s infectious energy, the bench changed the complexion of the game in the second quarter, as the home team outscored their visitors 35-15 in the frame.

What a difference the D makes
The Raptors gave up 34 points in the first quarter, but surrendered just 60 the rest of the game. Toronto has won 19 straight when keeping teams under 100 points scored. They are now 24-3 when their opponent is under the century mark.

Streaking at home
This is the best and most consistent basketball Dwane Casey’s group has played this year. They’ve now won eight in a row, giving this year’s outfit the second-longest winning streak in franchise history.

With the heavy lifting on this homestand now behind them, the Raptors’ next three games are all against Eastern Conference foes: The Washington Wizards, New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons. Just two games back of the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers, who are scuffling and trying to assimilate a new coach in Tyronn Lue, this could be moving time for the Raptors in the standings if they continue to play to their capabilities.

Elite status
With the win over Los Angeles, Toronto is now not just second in the East, but fifth overall in the NBA. Yes, they benefit by playing in a weak (but rapidly improving) Atlantic Division, but they have held their own against the league’s heavyweights. Toronto lost both of its games to Golden State by a combined eight points. They held leads in both and were on the wrong end of multiple questionable calls down the stretch.

How have they fared against the rest of the Western Conference title contenders? Toronto is undefeated versus the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Mavericks, and Grizzlies. Tonight’s win also marks the first time in franchise history the Raptors swept both Los Angeles teams. This edition of the Raptors has proven to be ready for primetime.

Super Stat – DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry left the game in the fourth quarter to a standing ovation and “All-Star” chant. If they both end up in the game, they’d be the first starting backcourt to play in a home All-Star Game since Jerry West and Gail Goodrich did it in 1972.