It took overtime and an enormous DeMar DeRozan performance to do it, but the Toronto Raptors pulled out a thrilling victory on the road versus the Detroit Pistons on the second night of a back-to-back. With the win the Raptors are on pace to set a franchise record and secure 60 wins. Toronto has now won 13 of its last 14 games and six straight.
Here are my takeaways from one of the most thrilling wins of the Raptors season.
With the win, Toronto became the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth. The 64 games it took is the the fewest in franchise history; the previous low was 70 games in 2015-16. How impactful has the Masai Ujiri era been? Under his leadership, this is Toronto’s fifth straight playoff appearance. Previously, the Raptors had five playoff appearances in 18 seasons.
DeRozan put on a performance for the ages racking up 42 points, six assists, and four rebounds. Every time the Raptors needed a bucket DeRozan was there to answer.
He drove the length of the court and dunked on Anthony Tolliver with two hands at the end of regulation to keep the Raptors in it.
To end the game in the extra frame, he made the right play despite having the hot hand to ensure the Raptors won it. DeRozan had four defenders collapse on him in the paint and trusted Fred VanVleet to knock down the go-ahead bucket despite the fact that VanVleet had struggled shooting the ball throughout the night. DeRozan was the hero because he insisted on not playing hero ball. Considering DeRozan averaged 13 points at USC it’s remarkable how far he’s come to become a prolific scorer who can put up points in a multitude of ways. In front of an American audience with ESPN broadcasting the game, DeRozan showed why he’s an all-NBA player and should be in the periphery of the MVP conversation.
Return of Norm
Norman Powell started in place of Malcolm Miller who started the previous two games for the Raptors. The position at the small forward spot in the starting lineup was available because rookie OG Anunoby remains out with an ankle sprain. Powell put up 17 points and four rebounds. More importantly he showed glimpses of his former self, playing with energy and defending with tenacity. The 24-year-old was supposed to be an X-factor for Toronto this season but he’s struggled mightily. Wednesday was a good sign that an already good team could have one of the better two-way players back at its disposal as he tries to bust out of an extended slump.
DeRozan carried the offence but it was a balanced effort despite the fact that no other Raptors player scored more than 20 points. Lowry bounced back from his worst game of the year to put up 15 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds and four steals. Jonas Valanciunas chipped in 14 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks. Pascal Siakam contributed eight points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Raptors next face the Houston Rockets in a battle of top seeds in their respective conferences on Friday at Air Canada Centre. The Rockets come in boasting a league-best 17-game winning streak, which is the second longest in franchise history. Since Jan. 8, the Rockets are 24-2.