All-Star voting closed at midnight last night, with two Toronto Raptors (26-15) making an emphatic last minute case for inclusion in the game. Okay, so a fan vote for entry into an exhibition game may not have been the sole motivator for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but it certainly helped add to a little extra to their already-strong arguments for spots on the East roster to play in front of their hometown fans next month. On this night, their 61 combined points served as a primary factor in the Raps’ 112-100 win over the Brooklyn Nets to help extend what is now a five-game winning streak.
The 12-point win over Brooklyn wasn’t as comfortable as the final score made it appear to be. The Nets surged out to a 10-point lead after the first and reclaimed a three-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. However, a perfect quarter from Lowry (more on that later) and some additional contributions off the bench from Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross helped Toronto put away their Atlantic division foes with a 31-16 run over the final 12 minutes. After shooting 56.1% (32-57) over the first three quarters, the Raps held the Nets to just 36.8% (7-19) shooting in the fourth, including just one made basket over the game’s final 6:34.
The win brings the Raps to the midway point in their 2015-16 campaign in pretty strong standing. Despite some injury issues that have kept Jonas Valanciunas and especially DeMarre Carroll off the court and a home/road split heavily tilted towards the road side, the Raps sit second in the East, trailing the Cavs by three games for first and remaining 1.5 games up on third place Chicago. Currently, the club is just one game behind the torrid pace they set last season over the first half.
Lowry’s perfect fourth
My wife served as my stat department resource in recognizing just how good the Raptors point guard was in spearheading Monday night’s pull-away fourth quarter. His final push for All-Star votes included 13 points on 4-4 shooting (3-3 from deep), 2-2 from the free throw line, four assists, three steals, two rebounds and no turnovers. The crunch time numbers helped contribute to a final stat line that saw Lowry finish with a game-high 31 points on 10-13 shooting and a Steph Curry-like seven made threes on nine attempts.
Three and D
The Raps will continue to be without Carroll (right knee surgery) through the All-Star break, so it’s an encouraging sign when they can make up for his absence by successfully doing some of the things he is counted on to do when healthy. On Monday, facing a deficit in both field goal percentage (50.6%, to 51.3% from Brooklyn) and rebounding (36, to 40), Toronto balanced things out in the turnover and three-point departments. They forced 14 Net turnovers, compared to just seven of their own, while making 13 of their 24 attempts from deep (54.2%), to just five of 14 (35.7%) by the visitors.
Even beyond the battle on the glass, the Raps struggled to contain the Brook Lopez-led inside game of the Nets, who helped their scoring efficiency by collecting 50 points in the paint (Toronto had 42). Jonas Valanciunas pulled down 12 rebounds, but made just three of his 11 shots and had difficulty containing the versatile and creative Lopez, who exploded for 29 points on 13-22 shooting and 10 rebounds. Beyond the JV / Lopez matchup, Luis Scola shot 1-6 and continued to look as though his early minutes logging is catching up to him and Bismack Biyombo struggled to stay on the floor amidst foul trouble.
If it seemed like there were an abnormally large collection of t-shirts being launched into the crowd at the ACC, it’s because there were. Faced with the unique challenge of hosting their first home game since New Year’s Day and having precisely one night to elicit All-Star votes, the team’s game ops crew had to get their “Vote Lowry” shirts out in a hurry to spread the word and deplete the inventory.
While All-Star nods have not been announced yet, DeRozan did earn another impressive honor on Monday, being named one of the 30 finalists to fill one of the 12 spots on Team USA for the 2016 Olympic tournament in Brazil. DeRozan was a member of the 2014 FIBA World Cup team that ran the table to an undefeated 9-0 record en route to a gold medal in Spain.
There’s nothing like a pair of back-to-back wins to help shake a slump that has seen the 905 lose nine straight. To get out of their funk, the D-Leaguers welcomed back some of their London travellers in time for a 107-94 romp over the Westchester Knicks at the Hershey Centre on Saturday and a 98-94 road win over the Iowa Energy on Monday. Against the Knicks, Delon Wright (20 points), Anthony Bennett (19 points) and Bruno Caboclo (17 points) represented the club’s top three scorers, helping the home side to a defensively dominant showing in which they held a 22-point lead after three and held Westchester to 3-26 (12%) shooting from three on the night. On Monday, Ronald Roberts Jr. posted a monster 19-point, 18-rebound double double, helping his team hold on after accumulating a 17-point lead heading into the final frame.
Few trade assets have been as critical to the long-term outlook of their team as Lopez is to the Nets. With no other significant assets to peddle and without their own first round pick until 2019, any hopes Brooklyn has of a resurgence lie in the return they recieve from dealing their franchise center. Is it unfair pressure to place upon Lopez and the currently vacant GM position? Absolutely, but it highlights the difficult position that Billy King and the Nets brass has put themselves in. That being said, in what could be a deep draft, it’s amazing what one first round pick would have the potential to do.
It’s reunion night at the ACC on Wednesday, as the Raps open the second half of the season by welcoming Amir Johnson back for the first time as a member of the Boston Celtics (7:30pm, TSN).
Prediction: Raps 104, Celtics 98 (record this season: 23-17)