If finishing the game is important, John Lucas had a very important game.
After the game, in which the Toronto Raptors defeated the New Orleans Hornets 102-89 thanks in part to Lucas’s 19-point performance, including 10 points in the fourth, his teammates treated him like the VIP of the locker room. First, Jonas Valanciunas, seated in the locker beside Lucas, joked with the media that they would have to talk to him first and wait for his superstar teammate. Next, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were eager to slip out of the locker room while the media waited on Lucas. Finally, Aaron Gray walked over to the whiteboard in the locker room where Monday’s practice time was written out, picked up a marker and wrote underneath it, “Whatever time works for Lucas.”
The mood was light in Toronto’s locker room.
Lucas was a big reason for that. After the team got off to a great start against the Hornets and led by as many as 13 in the first quarter, they allowed New Orleans to reel off a 12-0 run to get right back into the game. Things would remain close for the first three quarters. It was in the fourth quarter, one that saw Dwane Casey stick with the reserve point guard for the full 12 minutes, keeping Lowry on the bench. Coming up with a big bucket whenever the team needed it, the Raptors outscored New Orleans 33-22 in the period as they pulled away.
While Lucas finished with 19 points in 19 minutes, Rudy Gay had a game-high 20 points. It’s the fifth straight game since Gay has been traded to the Raptors that he has led the team in scoring. It was a big night for Lowry as well, as he finished with 14 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in less than 30 minutes of burn. The Raptors shot 51 per cent from the floor and connected on 50 per cent of their attempts from deep, aided by Lucas hitting all five of his attempts.
Monty Williams praise’s DeRozan’s evolving game
Prior to the game, Hornets coach Monty Williams praised the season that DeRozan is having, saying that the fourth-year swingman is playing at an all-star level. He said he is impressed with the growth in the DeRozan’s game, singling out his shooting the post game he has shown for the first time in his career.
Lowry finding the right balance
It was enjoyable to watch Lowry against the Hornets. He looked like the aggressive player that started the season for the Raptors before his year was derailed by injuries. The Lowry that was the terrifying mix of aggressive scorer and smart playmaker. After the trade that sent Jose Calderon to Detroit and Ed Davis to Memphis in exchange for Gay, Lowry has been trying to find his groove. Save for an exciting third quarter against the Boston Celtics in a Raptors loss last week, he hadn’t seemed to find it … until Sunday against the Hornets. Sure, the line of 14 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and two steals looks nice, but it was the energy and confidence that he played with that made the difference. When he plays that like and is engaged on both ends of the floor, the Raptors look like a much different team.
Valanciunas continues to impress
In a rookie year that has been more learning than success, Valanciunas took a step back when he broke the ring finger that sidelined him for the better part of a month.
It wasn’t his fault.
The rookie season is hard on every young player, especially when paired with a language barrier and the challenge of learning an entirely new style of play and league of players. Still, Valanciunas showed heart and effort every time he was on the floor, even through his mistakes.
Since returning from the injury, he’s shown a better understanding of defensive schemes, as well as an aggression that is very exciting to see in a young player. Whether battling against the big men in a gritty win in Indiana on Friday night or giving the Hornets trouble on Sunday with his relentless energy on both ends of the floor, Valanciunas is showing Raptors fans a glimpse of what the team saw in him when they drafted him with the fifth overall pick in 2011.
He is also endearing himself to his teammates, new and old. While Gay said he knew that Valanciunas could play from the game the Raptors played against Memphis earlier this season, he was pleased to see the passion his new rookie has for the game.
Lucas summed up Valanciunas’s enthusiasm perfectly, saying, “He’s like a kid in a candy store with an all-access (pass) to get whatever kind of candy he wants.”