By Frank McLean
For one night anyways they looked like the old Toronto Raptors. They played some decent defense and DeMar DeRozan got his shooting stroke back in an exciting 99-96 win over the Houston Rockets at the Air Canada Center Monday night.
The significance of the win is that it is Toronto’s first win over a +.500 team since they beat the Atlanta Hawks in February and it’s the last time they will see a team with a +.500 record for the rest of the regular season.
Raptors Head coach Dwayne Casey was happy in his post game comments using that F word again to describe the Raptors defensive game.
“I thought the entire team was ready and more focused,’’ Casey said. “We had a good defensive practice (on Sunday). Again, our whole theme from here on out, not only this game but Wednesday night (vs the Timberwolves) and the rest of the way is going to be defense. But the fun part of this game was watching a couple of childhood friends go mano a mano against each other. DeRozan and James Harden.”
DeRozan had a career night scoring a career high 42 points, tying a career high 11 rebounds and if he hadn’t missed on a couple of free throws he might have had a chance at 50. But let’s not get too carried away with the criticism, he did hit on 12 of 17 from the charity stripe. He was aggressive driving to the hoop and was drawing fouls which when he does that he is one of the most dangerous guards in the game.
Harden was no slouch either. He scored 31 points and grabbed 12 boards leading an undermanned Rockets squad which dressed just 10 players and rested Dwight Howard as he slowly gets back from a knee injury for the playoffs. But that battle with Harden was the fun part and with the crowd really getting in to it, the game took on a playoff like atmosphere.
With time running out in the fourth quarter and Raptors up by one DeRozan was looking to ice the game and his buddy Harden was guarding him. He dribbled to his left and hit jumper from 18 feet to make it 99-96. The Rockets Trevor Ariza missed on desperation three pointer and that was the game.
“Tough shot. Tough shot. Contested shot,” Harden said. “He had it going. When you got it going like that, those shots are going to fall. In this league, when you get a good rhythm, get a good feel, any player can get it going. A fine example was tonight.”
Kind words from a friend.
“It’s definitely cool because we have been playing against each other since we were kids,’’ DeRozan said. “He’s one of my close friends in the league to this day. I’m close with his family and he’s close with my family, so it’s always cool knowing we can cherish this 20 years, 30 years from now.”
But the most important thing was the win a team win and DeRozan did not forget that.
“I just want to go out there and win,’’ DeRozan said. “The crowd was into it and the last time we played these guys they got us pretty good. We are really just trying to go out there and be ourselves and understand that we can use these next few games to get ready for the playoffs.”
Getting ready playoffs is theme now for the remaining 8 games of the regular season and none of them is against teams with a +.500 record.
Using Monday night’s game as an example if they keep playing like this and the old Raptors comeback maybe these guys can attain their next goal and win a best of seven series in the playoffs.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.