TORONTO — DeMar DeRozan stood at the free-throw line on Friday night with a chance to make NBA history.
No player, in the regular season or post-season, had ever hit 25 free throws without a single miss. DeRozan would shoot a free throw with 0.9 seconds left in the game, having made his first 24.
He decided to miss no. 25 on purpose. His Toronto Raptors led 117-115, the game’s final score, and the Portland Trail Blazers had no timeouts left. There was no way that the Trail Blazers could get the rebound and get a shot anywhere near the rim in such scant time. It was Kyle Lowry who gave DeRozan the advice to miss. It was the surest route to a win.
"I didn’t know it was for the record, dawg," Lowry said, apologizing to DeRozan as his fellow all-star spoke to the media following the victory.
"I’m blaming it on Kyle," DeRozan said.
DeRozan had to settle for personal bests in free throws made and attempted, a franchise record for free throws made, 38 points and, most importantly in the moment, the win. Dominique Wilkins’ regular-season record of 23 free throws without a miss and Dirk Nowitzki’s playoff record of 24 escaped the Air Canada Centre, if only barely.
"I’ll get it again," DeRozan said. "I don’t know how long (it will take)."
DeRozan was clinical, slicing through Portland’s shoddy perimeter defence at will. The referees were content to blow the whistle whenever there was an opportunity, and DeRozan was happy to give them cause.
It was to be expected in such a closely officiated game, as only Houston’s James Harden and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins have shot more free throws than DeRozan this year. DeRozan finished with 38 points, while Kyle Lowry added 28.
"I thought both teams were forcing the issue," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "They shot 35 free throws and we shot 54. It was a free throw fest. We were both putting our heads down and going to the rim. I really was proud of DeMar playing through contact and the physicality and the way the officials were calling it."
The Raptors needed almost every one of DeRozan’s free throws, as Damian Lillard single-handedly brought the Trail Blazers back into a game that looked done. Toronto led by 15 points early in the fourth quarter, but Lillard caught fire, scoring 22 of his 50 total points in the final frame. The Raptors tried a bevy of different strategies to slow down Lillard, and he responded by shooting over and dribbling past the Raptors — repeatedly.
DeRozan said Lillard’s performance was one you would see in a video game.
"How he’s not an all-star is this league? Shame on us," Casey said. "That young man can score any which way he wants to. Talk about (Stephen) Curry coming across half court and shooting — well this young man can do it also. I’m happy for him and the way he’s dealing (missing the all-star game) because he can be a bitter young man. He’s going to be trouble for all of us for a long period of time."
In a battle of two of the most prolific backcourts in the league, Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 74 points, while DeRozan and Lowry scored 66. While Lillard had the late-game flurry, DeRozan got the win, and another honour. He became the third player in Raptors history to score at least 9,000 career points with the team, joining Chris Bosh and Vince Carter.
"Oh, really? I don’t know none of this," DeRozan said. "I swear, I don’t be knowing anything until y’all tell me or I read it on Twitter."