Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey was glad to see his team snap out of “vacation mode” Sunday night.
In their second game back from the lengthy all-star break, the Raptors looked more like the team that had won 14 of 16 matchups before the break, and less like the squad that allowed the Chicago Bulls 116 points in a sluggish Friday loss.
Appearing at home for the first time in three weeks, the Raptors toppled the Memphis Grizzlies 98-85 on Sunday night, behind 21 points from DeMar DeRozan, 18 from Kyle Lowry and 14 from Cory Joseph. The Raptors improved to 36-18 and remain second in the Eastern Conference.
“I thought our defence was in the game,” Casey said after the win. “If you don’t snap back into that physicality against a team like that, you’ll get punched in the mouth.”
The 32-22 Grizzlies were visiting as the fifth-place team in the West, but were without an injured Marc Gasol (fractured right foot) and had just traded away Jeff Green. Memphis did, however, have legendary former Raptor Vince Carter, who was making his 15th regular-season visit to Air Canada Centre since he was traded to the New Jersey Nets in 2004. He came off the bench in the first quarter to mostly cheers – at least enough to overpower the smattering of boos from the Toronto faithful.
The Raptors shot just 9-of-22 in the first quarter. They made only one of their eight three-point attempts in that time – a quarter-ending buzzer-beater by Joseph that put Toronto up 22-20.
Inside the second quarter, the Raptors made their first three attempts from beyond the arc, part of steadily building a 12-point lead. Still, Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, coming off Friday’s game in Chicago in which he had 25 points and 12 rebounds, had just two points on a pair of field-goal attempts in the first half.
Thanks to a 10-2 run, the Grizzlies were right back in the game. Carter had a 10-point quarter to lead Memphis, and Toronto held just a 46-43 lead at halftime.
The physical, grinding Grizzlies kept it close until late in the third, when the Raptors rebuilt a cushion. They went to Valanciunas a little more in the second half. He finished 4-of-7 for 10 points and led all rebounders with 12 boards. Joseph got even hotter, finishing 5-of-8, with another long three-pointer in the fourth as well as four rebounds. The crowd had the Canadian’s back when Carter shoved him to the floor late in the game, peppering the former Raptor with boos.
“It was a hard foul, he wasn’t trying to hurt me,” said Joseph. “He was a big inspiration to me growing up playing basketball. I watched Air Canada. I was out on the driveway trying to do the things he was doing. So it was a great moment for me tonight, being able to play against him and to see how far I’ve come. It’s great he’s still here. It’s special for me.”
Carter, who has transformed his game from the high-flying, dunk-driven play of his early days to a sharp-shooting three-point specialist, once again humbly accepted the praise he finds when visiting Toronto. He’s credited with helping inspire many of today’s Canadian NBA players, like Joseph.
“It does make me feel a bit old, but I do think it’s a testament to me that I can still play against those young Canadian kids who were asking to stay up late to watch our games,” said Carter after the game. “It makes me feel old, but it also makes me feel good. It’s an emotional rollercoaster for me some days.”
Carter finished with 16 points, while Zach Randolph led the way for Memphis with 18. Toronto held Memphis to 36.8-per-cent shooting, 15 per cent from three-point land.
Because of the time the NBA needed to transform Air Canada Centre for the all-star game, paired with the break after the midseason showcase, the Raptors hadn’t played at home in 21 days. It was the longest stretch between home games in franchise history.
Casey hasn’t been happy with the way his team is closing out quarters since the break.
“We’ve got to be smarter in closing out quarters. We’ve had cheap fouls in the last few games,” Casey said.
The Raptors have begun a hectic stretch – four weeks with a game at least every second day. The team won’t have another two-day break until March 21.
They take a quick trip to New York to face the Knicks on Monday night before returning home for two games – Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Friday against the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers.Report Typo/Error