TORONTO – One of the highest achievements for a professional athlete is to achieve consistency. The only downside is that your achievements run the risk of being overlooked.
DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors is consistent. Consistently excellent, as a matter of fact. Overlook him and you’re missing one of the better seasons a Raptor has put together in franchise history.
It may not match Vince Carter’s 2000-01 masterpiece or be quite at the level of Chris Bosh’s best year as a Raptor in 2009-10. And even this season, fellow all-star Kyle Lowry is probably more integral to the Raptors’ fortunes in the big picture.
But don’t sleep on DeRozan. The Raptors veteran was the linchpin that held a rather shaky overall effort against the Miami Heat together on a rare Saturday night start at the Air Canada Centre. He’s been a linchpin all season.
It wasn’t pretty and it was harder than it should have been given that the Heat were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and arrived in Toronto from Chicago in the wee hours of Saturday morning, and they were without a hobbled Dwyane Wade.
But the Raptors prevailed 112-104 in overtime, pushing their record to 44-20 and improving to 5-1 on their seven-game homestand with the finale set for Monday against the Chicago Bulls.
And they prevailed because of DeRozan who put up one of the best lines of his career: 38 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. It marked just the third time in franchise history that someone has had that many points with at least 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Oh, and he was charged with defending seven-time all-star Joe Johnson down the stretch, a task he managed to pull off without using up all the gas he needed to generate offence on a night when the Heat made it their mission to make life as difficult as possible for Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, although he did manage 16 points and seven rebounds, with 10 of those coming in the fourth quarter.
Johnson did manage 28 points, but they didn’t come easily and they didn’t come at the expense of DeRozan running the ball back the other way.
But even DeRozan seems almost bored by the blizzard of numbers he’s been able to put up so regularly this season. Or at least too busy doing it to stop and think about how he’s been able to do it.
"I have no clue man. I just go out there and play," he said. "I don’t think about what I’ve done previously or what I’ve been doing. I just go out there and play and try do something better every single night."
It’s working. Saturday’s effort against the Heat may have been the best game DeRozan has played this season, or even in his career, arguably, but it’s becoming a tougher choice to make all the time.
He’s topped 30 points in four of the Raptors' last six home games and 10 times in Toronto’s last 26 games. He’s averaging 25.3 points a game since the all-star break.
"We kind of take it for granted," said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. "That’s a man’s work. Especially his defensive effort. If he gives easy buckets away on the other end it’s worthless … he did it tonight on both ends of the floor."
He did it with his passing, too. It was a close game throughout. There were nine lead changes and 11 ties and the biggest lead either team had until before overtime was five points. The Heat are fighting for playoff seeding and it showed. "It’s go time right now," said Heat coach Eric Spoelstra before the game.
"We had that feeling where every single possession is a big possession, when you play those kinds of games, it’s fun," said DeRozan.
With a three-point lead with two minutes left DeRozan found Jonas Valanciunas off a drive for a dunk. After a Luol Deng triple tied the game with three seconds left DeRozan missed a tough turnaround to win it, but he didn’t hang his head. He started the overtime period by finding Valanciunas for another dunk and then made a steal, pushed the ball and found Patrick Patterson in transition for a three to get the extra period off to a good start. He missed a couple of free throws with 44 seconds left and the Raptors up six, but he can be excused. He hit 12-of-15 in the game and has knocked down 84.3 per cent on the year.
It was all-around performance and if the Raptors have come to expect it, opponents are becoming increasingly amazed at his ability to defy game plans designed to limit him.
"Great players outperform scouting reports," said Spoelstra before the game. After the game he elaborated on how DeRozan punched holes through the Heat’s best-laid plans.
"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," said the Heat coach. "He is crafty, he is clever, he’s aggressive. He’s all of it and then when he gets those buckets near the basket and then he starts knocking down the pull-up and it becomes very tough."
That’s how other teams see DeRozan, as some kind of multi-faceted offensive machine that can’t truly be contained.
Closer to home?
We’re used to it.