After their worst defensive effort of the season, the Toronto Raptors bounced back with a much more inspired performance Wednesday night.
Toronto ended its six-game road trip in Salt Lake City while taking on the Utah Jazz. Utah was 5-0 at home entering the game.
Even in a tough place to play, the Raptors pulled off an impressive victory without C.J. Miles, who was in the arena but sat out the game because he is under the weather. The West road trip has to be considered a success when you beat two Western conference playoff teams from a year ago impressively and lose a close contest to the two teams in the 2017 Western Conference finals.
Toronto finishes its longest road trip of the season 3-3, and with a record of 5-3 overall, which is good enough for sole possession of fourth place in the East. Here are some takeaways from the 109-100 win.
Raptors rotation watch
The biggest topic of conversation around the Raptors of late has been their rotation and how Dwane Casey manages their depth. Casey continued to go deep in his bench following the returns of Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas from injury.
After playing 12 men against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, Casey played 11 in the first quarter alone versus the Jazz. He would have played 12 if Miles was in uniform. Pascal Siakam took the additional rotation minutes that would have gone to Miles.
Lucas Nogueira was the first centre off the bench, surprisingly ahead of Jakob Poeltl for the second straight game. The first substitutions were Bebe in for Valanciunas and OG Anunoby in for Norman Powell before the seven-minute mark in the first quarter.
Casey seems committed to having Poeltl start the second quarter as he did once again Friday night. All 11 Raptors that took the floor scored in the first half, and by the end of the game each had seen at least 10 minutes of action. After riding his bench to start the fourth quarter, Casey closed the game with his original starters for the final four minutes.
Big O without C.J.
Toronto lost to Denver on Wednesday due to poor defence, and while it was vastly improved Friday against the Jazz, it still wasn’t the most impressive aspect of the win. The Raptors offence was the story against the NBA’s third-ranked defence. It started from the beginning as the Raptors shot 57 per cent in the first quarter, including 3-of-7 from three-point range. They finished the game shooting 53.5 per cent from the floor and hitting 11 three pointers to Utah’s eight, even though their best three-point threat, Miles, wasn’t around to solidify their second unit.
Utah Utes reunion
Former Utah Ute Delon Wright got polite ovations when he checked into the game in the first quarter. Poeltl didn’t get the same reception as he wasn’t announced when he checked in between the first and second quarters. He did receive some cheers when he completed a nice put back dunk in the second quarter, the same day he helped make sandwiches for the local homeless.
Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak, who coached both young Raptors, was in attendance.
Toronto’s all-stars are looking much more comfortable in the new offensive scheme and were back to looking like themselves. DeMar DeRozan started hot with 14 points in the first quarter.
DeRozan was at his best after halftime with 17 points in the third, leading Toronto to 36 points over the 12 minutes. DeRozan finished with a season-high 37 points on 10-for-20 shooting, including 3-for-7 from three, and 14-for-14 from the free-throw line, to go with six rebounds.
Equally as instrumental was Lowry, who started the game as a facilitator getting teammates involved to the tune of six assists in the first half. Lowry finished with a double-double: 15 points, on 6-for-11 shooting and 3-for-6 from three, while dishing out 10 assists and grabbing four rebounds and was a team-best plus-13.
How DeRozan didn’t look like himself was when he was bombing away from deep. DeRozan hit two corner threes from the left corner and one from the top of the arch in the third quarter alone, the first of which was an and one after Donovan Mitchell took away his landing space.
The Raptors return home where they are 2-0 this year. Next Toronto hosts Washington on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET, the first of three home games before heading back on the road for three.