You can have your layups and 3-pointers, Analytics Movement. DeMar DeRozan is plenty happy making lives miserable from midrange, thank you very much.
With just under a minute left in a sort of sloppy, sort of thrilling nip-and-tuck affair on Thursday night, the Toronto Raptors had the ball and a two-point lead over the New Orleans Pelicans. They needed a bucket to keep Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and company at bay, and to force the Pelicans to get make up a two-possession deficit in about 30 seconds. So they did what they’ve been doing for the last eight years in these sorts of situations: get it to Deebo, and tell him to get to his spot and let it fly.
DeRozan took a quick pitch from running buddy Kyle Lowry and dribbled right around a high screen from center Jonas Valanciunas. The pick triggered a Pelicans switch, leaving Cousins on the All-Star shooting guard. DeRozan never broke stride, taking a couple of hard dribbles to his right before pulling up at the elbow, raising up, leaning back and lofting a jumper over the outstretched arms of a recovering Dante Cunningham. Splash. Raptors lead, 118-114. Timeout, Pelicans.
Cousins tried to answer with a 3-pointer on the other end, but came up short, turning the game into a free-throw shooting contest for the final 20 seconds. DeRozan went 4-for-6 at the stripe down the stretch, finishing off a 122-118 win to snap the Pelicans’ three-game winning streak and improve Toronto to 7-4, tied with the Orlando Magic for the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference.
DeRozan scored Toronto’s final eight points on Thursday to cap a 12-point fourth quarter on his way to a team-high 33 points on 10-for-23 shooting — including a downright Curry-ian 2-for-6 mark from 3-point land (so much for eschewing the analytics!) — with eight assists:
The Raptors needed every basket and dime, too, because the Pelicans’ twin towers got plenty of help from their supporting cast. Shooting guard E’Twaun Moore chipped in 13 points, five assists and four boards. Cunningham added 11 points (3-for-3 from long distance) before fouling out in 30 minutes. Darius Miller, Jameer Nelson and Tony Allen all made positive contributions off the bench.
But that’s nothing compared to the night Jrue Holiday had. The former All-Star guard mixed aggressive moves to the paint, slick jumpers and timely feeds to keep Toronto off-balance all night and turn in his best game of the season, pouring in 34 points on 14-for-20 shooting with 11 assists and five rebounds in 42 minutes of work:
Despite all the support, though, the Pelicans still fell short thanks in part to a rare off night from their dynamic duo. Davis and Cousins combined for 38 points on 14-for-38 shooting, and while Cousins added a game-hgh 15 boards and five dimes, he also committed seven of New Orleans’ 14 turnovers, leading to 19 Raptor points.
On one hand, it can’t feel good to shoot 54 percent as a team, make 13 3-pointers, enjoy the Full Jrue Holiday Experience and still wind up with an L that drops you back to .500. On the other, it’s got to be sort of heartening to head coach Alvin Gentry (and to Pelicans fans) to get so much production from their non-star players. We’ve got a real Zo GIF situation going on in the Big Easy.
Things are a bit steadier in the Six. DeRozan’s still averaging nearly 25 points per game despite taking about 3 1/2 fewer shots a night this year. He couldn’t clamp down on Holiday, but Lowry (18 points on 7-for-13 shooting, seven assists, six rebounds, the 3 that put Toronto up for good with 3:21 to go) has now put together consecutive solid games after a slow start. Valanciunas only made three of his nine shots, but he was a force on the boards (13 rebounds) and held his own in going toe-to-toe with Cousins.
Serge Ibaka chipped in on both ends, adding 19 points on 14 shots (nine coming in the third quarter) with eight rebounds, three assists and a block. Norman Powell (eight points, a pair of 3s, a nice drive-and-dish for a Valanciunas dunk) showed some signs of coming around. The young bench pieces continue to contribute; rookie O.G. Anunoby even earned some crunch-time minutes, earning the chance to guard everyone from Holiday to Davis with his size, athleticism, energy and effort.
Toronto’s now won five of seven, owns the NBA’s No. 5 offense, and looks as well-positioned as anybody in the weirdo East — where the Cavs keep losing and three games separate third and 13th place — to take aim at a top-four seed. They’ll face some tough sledding, with six of their next eight coming on the road, including a Sunday matchup with the conference-leading Boston Celtics.
Getting through a road trip that features the C’s, Houston Rockets and a rematch with these Pelicans in New Orleans won’t be easy, but if they need a score late, at least the Raptors know whose number to call.
“It’s everything,” DeRozan said of having the ball in his hands with the game in the balance, according to Holly MacKenzie of Raptors.com. “As a competitor, you want to be in those situations where you just indulge in the moment. The crowd on their feet, a close game, it starts getting loud, whether it’s at home or on the road. It’s one of those feelings you dream about and try to reenact when you are a kid watching all your favorite players, so it’s always big for me to be in that moment.”
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