TORONTO — While the Raptors were busy running roughshod over the Brooklyn Nets during the fourth quarter Tuesday night, Toronto’s top scorer DeMar DeRozan rested elbows-on-knees on the bench.
It wasn’t because DeRozan was having an off-night, but because the Raptors had put the Nets away early in roaring to yet another blowout victory.
The Raptors went on to beat the lowly Nets 116-104 for their 12th victory in their last 14 appearances, and the chance to rest DeRozan could pay big dividends not only in their upcoming road trip out west, but at the end of the season, when bodies are inevitably breaking down.
"I don’t know how many chances or opportunities we had last year where we were able to sit out a fourth quarter and play 30-and-under minutes, but it’s great," DeRozan said. "It keeps us feeling good. As long as we take care of business in that first half and in that third quarter and give ourself that chance to be able to rest, I think it’s going to be beneficial."
DeRozan, who was coming off Eastern Conference player of the week honours and leads the conference in scoring, managed just 15 points on 6-of-20 shooting for Toronto (20-8).
But his teammates made up for his off night. Kyle Lowry led the way with 23 points, while Norman Powell scored a season-high 21, DeMarre Carroll had 17, Jonas Valanciunas grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds to go with 10 points and Cory Joseph chipped in with 11 points as the Raptors roared to their 15th consecutive game with 100-plus points.
Toronto is making a habit of putting games away early this season. DeRozan chalks it up to experience.
"Being in that situation so many times last year and understanding how to come out in the second half and put your foot on teams’ necks and understand how hard we have to play after halftime to give ourself that chance to have fourth quarters off," he said.
Rondae Hollis-Hefferson had 19 points to top the Nets (7-20), who played without starting centre Brook Lopez — he took the night off for rest.
Making their final home appearance of 2016, the Raptors let the Nets hang around for the better part of the first half, but ended the second quarter with a 17-3 run for an 18-point lead that would never be threatened.
DeRozan struggled mightily in the third, missing all six of his shots, but Lowry and Carroll made up for it with their 14 points combined and the Raptors took a 91-72 lead into the fourth quarter.
Lowry was able to exit the game with six minutes left, and the game virtually out of reach. Anthony Bennett of Brampton, Ont., drilled a three-pointer against his old team with 2:38 to play to cut the deficit to 15 points. Then Raptors coach Dwane Casey emptied his bench, sending Bruno Caboclo and Fred VanVleet into the game — to the delight of the Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800 — hours after they played for Raptors 905 in a D-League matchup.
It marked the first time a Toronto player had done double duty in the same day.
"I’m pretty tired. It’s a good accomplishment, it’s history so we’ll take it," said VanVleet. "But it’s not like I had to play 40 minutes tonight. Went in and cleaned up there at the end. Not terrible, but probably not ideal."
The locker-room had a festive feel as DeRozan delivered Christmas presents to teammates.
The Raptors now depart on a six-game road trip that begins Friday in Utah and should be their toughest test of the season thus far.
"This road trip will be a test for our defence," Casey said. "You’ve got some high octane teams in Utah, Portland, Golden State, Phoenix, San Antonio and Lakers, all high octane offensive teams."
Lowry was asked if the trip will be a measurement of sorts for his team, and was quick to fire back: "Nope. One game, one day at a time. That’s how we always do it. You knew my answer. Very Kyle Lowry cliche-ish."
The Raptors could only muster an eight-point first-quarter lead against the Nets on Monday, and headed into the second quarter with a 29-23 advantage.
Brooklyn outscored Toronto 5-0 to open the second, pulling to within a point, and the visitors were within four points with less than five minutes left in the half. Finally, the Raptors found another gear, ending the half with a 17-3 run that sent them into halftime with a 64-46 lead.