The Raptors set a new franchise record for the most wins in the first 10 games of the season in Toronto on Saturday night against the Utah Jazz by pouring in 35 fourth quarter points on their way to a 111-93 victory.
Over their 20 NBA seasons the Raptors haven’t exactly become known as a team that gets off to a good start each year. This season’s 8-2 start is just the third time in franchise history that the team has managed to win more than half of their first 10 games. Far too often the Raptors season has been over before it barely began.
The last time Toronto had a winning record after 10 games was over a decade ago in 2001-2002 when they started 6-4 and their best start previously was in 1999-2000 when they got out of the gate with a 7-3 mark. In all the Raptors failed to reach a 5-5 mark in 12 of their seasons and have broken even after 10 games 5 times.
If the fans north of the border seem a little more excited about NBA basketball than usual this year it’s with good reason.
In their eighth win of the season Toronto seemed to be taking things easy in the first half, happy to be playing a causal up and down game with the Jazz where buckets came easily and physicality was at a minimum. The 49-46 Jazz lead and near 50 percent shooting from the field by both teams happened in less than an hour as turnovers and personal fouls were few and the game was played as soft as a marshmallow. The Raptors only went to the free throw line twice in the half because they didn’t do anything to get there.
In the third quarter DeMar DeRozan made a concerted effort to create contact and shot 6 free throws as a result as his team went 11-13 from the line and scored 30 points to open up a small lead. The Raptors still weren’t playing hard, but they were starting to do enough to win this game.
The Jazz tied the game at 76 early in the fourth quarter just before Lou Williams hit another improbable three-point shot while creating contact for the and-one opportunity. Toronto went on to score 35 points in the quarter and won this game going away.
DeRozan led all scorers with 27 points on 10-17 shooting, but this was Jonas Valanciunas’ night as the big man battled for 17 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Patrick Patterson and Lou Williams were huge off the bench scoring 16 and 13 points respectively.
James Johnson played another strong game but had to leave midway through the fourth quarter because he tweaked an ankle. It’s a good thing the Raptors don’t play again until Wednesday.
All five Jazz starters scored in double figures with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors leading the way with 18 points each. Both players found ways to get baskets, but neither player was particularly effective on the boards. The battle to watch was between Kanter and Valanciunas as both players know each other well.
“(Kanter) is a good player, I know him (well),” Valanciunas said. “I know him since we were 16-years-old, so I know what he does, I know how he plays and maybe it’s easier for me to play against him.”
With Valanciunas on the court, Kanter found himself on the perimeter on offense for much of the game.
Raptors Republic: Quick Reaction: Raptors 111 – Jazz 93 by Tamberlyn Richardson noted:
Raptors are now 5-1 at home and 4-1 in their current home stand. Of note: last season Toronto got their eighth win on December 13th.
Utah Jazz have a young athletic team who is playing with a great deal of confidence. If they played in the Eastern Conference they would likely be a playoff team.
The Raptors were expected to get off to a fast start this season based on how last year ended, however, this team has a long history of disappointing their fans. It is something special to see this organization finally starting to get things right.
“Once we all get on the same page, I think we’ll be unstoppable,” Johnson said. “Right now we got guys that are lifting other guys and that is definitely helping us out.”
Argue all you want about strength of schedule, teams can only play the opponents scheduled in front of them and the Raptors have taken care of business through their first 7 games. First place overall is theirs to enjoy – for now – and when fans are used to seeing their team fighting for position in the NBA Draft Lottery, it would be just plain wrong to not let them celebrate when things are looking this good.
“Some nights you are going to be in rhythm and some nights you’re not,” Hayes said. “It’s a marathon. It’s game four out of 82. Me or anybody else, you can’t dwell on it. You move on, we have another game tomorrow.”