The first-place Toronto Raptors played like a team becoming of their rank on the road Sunday afternoon against the Charlotte Hornets.
Here are a few takeaways from an impressive, and historic, win for Toronto.
DeRozan in the paint
DeMar DeRozan was in attack mode early and remained aggressive throughout the game.
DeRozan began the contest determined to get to the basket and all 10 of his first-quarter points came in the paint. His ability to penetrate didn’t just get him easy buckets it opened things up for his teammates when the defence began to collapse. The Raptors all-star finished with a team-leading 25 points and eight assists before sitting the entire fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
Bench Mob scoring
Toronto got off to another slow start but once again were saved by their young second unit.
Despite playing an early game after a long west-coast road trip, Charlotte started the game hot quickly leading 10-0. Toronto then went on 21-9 run as the team’s subs began to enter the game.
Toronto’s bench unit normally turns up the intensity defensively but against Charlotte they had a great flow on offence. Toronto started the game missing their first three shots before hitting nine out of their next 14. All eight of the Raptors’ reserves that entered the game scored, led by C.J. Miles’ 24 points. Trade deadline day acquisition Malachi Richardson even made his debut for the team grabbing a rebound and a bucket in five minutes of garbage-time action.
OG Anunoby left the game in the first half with a right ankle sprain. Norman Powell started the second half in his spot. Powell spent some time guarding all-star point guard Kemba Walker, allowing Kyle Lowry to rest a bit on defence and guard off the ball.
The Raptors’ three-point revolution was on full display with Miles leading the way hitting a bunch of tough, contested triples with a couple four-point plays for good measure.
Miles (six), Lowry (four), DeRozan (three), VanVleet (two) and Jonas Valanciunas (two) all hit more than one triple in the game. Additionally, Pascal Siakam found his stroke as well, hitting his only three-point attempt in the game as the Raptors hit 18 from outside for the game.
Against Charlotte, Toronto shot 56.3 per cent from the field and 48.6 per cent from three. Add the 35 assists the team racked up and the offensive cultural reset of increased ball movement, man movement, and three-point shooting is flourishing.
300 wins for coach Casey
With the win, Dwane Casey became the first coach in Raptors history to win 300 games.
DeRozan, who has been in Toronto for Casey’s entire tenure, saved the game ball for him.
Casey has a .565 winning percentage. No other Raptors coach is above.500. Unquestionably, Casey is the best coach in the history of the franchise.
Toronto is not a super team but the Raptors are playing the best basketball in the NBA right now.
Toronto has now won eight of their last 10 and five straight with an average margin of victory of 21 points during that five-game win streak.
The real benefit to this dominance is the built-in rest and low usage of their stars. Lowry, DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Valanciunas haven’t played at all in the fourth quarter during that stretch.
Is it time to talk about Valanciunas as a most improved player of the year candidate? His numbers aren’t that different than they were in previous years but it’s the way he’s impacting the game that a case can be built.
Valanciunas has hit more than one three in a game five times in the past nine contests, something he had never done in his career previously. More interestingly, the big Lithuanian has the third best three-point percentage (of qualified shooters) in the NBA in 2018.
With 21 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes against Dwight Howard, Valanciunas is proving his detractors wrong by adapting his game to the modern-day NBA.