TORONTO — Patrick Patterson is one of the more level-headed guys in the Toronto Raptors locker room, a constant reflection of calm whether his shots are going in or not. Which is good, because for most of this season they haven’t been. Patterson carried career lows in field goal percentage (.393) and three-point shooting (.339) into Sunday night’s tilt with the Los Angeles Clippers, and hasn’t been shy to ruminate publicly about his continuing search for shooting rhythm as the Raptors cross the season’s halfway point.
But he’s seldom seemed frustrated on the court or particularly emotional about his struggles. When shots have missed, he’s simply put his head down and run back up the floor, looking to contribute something positive at the other end. That’s why it was more than a little surprising to see Patterson mixing it up in a shoving match with Clippers guard Jamal Crawford midway through the second quarter Sunday night, earning just his third technical foul in a nearly 400-game NBA career.
“I mean, it definitely surprised me,” said Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan. “I was like, man, he must’ve woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”
However Patterson has been waking up of late, it’s working. His energy, physicality, and all-around effort against a physical Clippers team was a pillar for the Raptors second unit Sunday night, which put together one of its most thorough performances of the season, completely dominating LA’s bench and helping the Raptors to a 112-94 victory, their eighth in a row.
"This is one of the few times I’ve seen a plus 25, 31, 24, 33 off the bench—That’s big time," said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, referring to the plus/minus numbers Terrence Ross, Patterson, Bismack Biyombo and Cory Joseph posted, respectively. "I thought that second unit got a togetherness and a rhythm and a chemistry going that we’re going to need as we go down the road."
No doubt, if the Raptors bench players can continue to contribute the way they did Sunday night, this team will be in much better shape as it cruises towards the playoffs. Casey can begin to lean less on DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who are each averaging more than 36 minutes a game, and he can slowly re-incorporate DeMarre Carroll once he’s ready to return from knee surgery. And on nights like Sunday, when the Raptors first unit started sluggish and let the Clippers get out to a 13-point lead, it gives him more options to spark his team and not let games slip away.
"We gave up, what, 34 in the first quarter? I thought it was gonna be a long night," Casey said. "And then the second unit—that group came in and changed the game. They started getting into bodies, being physical—I thought that changed the mentality."
Whenever you’re playing a group like the Clippers, who seem to thrive on getting under the opposition’s skin and have been fouled the most of any team in the NBA, a resolute mindset is essential. Patterson knew that coming to the arena Sunday afternoon, and he knew it when he checked into the game midway through the first quarter.
"There are those teams that tend to be a little bit more physical; and push and shove, and have a bit more cockiness and attitude, per se. And the Clippers are one of them," Patterson said. "Granted, they have phenomenal players; they have an all-star caliber team. But they’re physical; they’re showboating; they’re dunking all over the place with DeAndre Jordan. So they’re one of those teams that you want to rise to the occasion against and play tough."
The entire Raptors second unit managed to do that, but for Patterson especially the game felt like a solid step forward. He contributed across the stat sheet with 10 points, three assists, six rebounds and even a steal.
Early in the second quarter he came off his man to help in the paint and earned a big block on a Cole Aldrich hook shot which was gathered up by Biyombo and quickly sent down the floor for a Ross three. Later in that quarter Patterson knocked down a pair of three balls of his own, continuing to show signs that he’s coming out of his season-long shooting slump. And then, of course, there was the altercation with Crawford, which energized the Raptors bench and had Biyombo sprinting in to get in Jordan’s face.
"I think Pat doing that for this team is great. It’s fun, you know? It’s fun when you play with guys like that. It’s almost contagious," Biyombo says. "It goes from one guy to another and then it’s everybody. And then the game for me goes to the next level."
As the season has worn on Patterson has been hard at work on the Raptors practice court, honing his in-between game so that while his three-point shot eludes him he can adapt and attack the basket, trying a floater, or a hook, or a drop-off pass to a big down low. It’s all part of continuing to contribute and be productive during one of the more frustrating stretches of his career.
And really, with Ross shooting confidently (he hit five or seven three-point attempts on Sunday) and DeRozan beginning to show off the three-point shot he’s been working on for years, that’s all the Raptors need from Patterson right now. A guy who brings energy; a guy who plays tough, a guy who finds a way to produce however he can.
"I never want to let my offence dictate the way I play on the defensive side. So I’ve just been trying to stay consistent with that," Patterson said. "I’m giving more energy; I’m having a better focus; I’m being more in tune with what’s going on out there; I’m communicating; I’m talking to my coaching staff, talking to my teammates, working on things in practice, watching a lot of film. And that’s all been translating over to the game."