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Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz, left, fails to block a jump shot from the Raptor’s DeMar DeRozan at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Thursday. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)
Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz, left, fails to block a jump shot from the Raptor’s DeMar DeRozan at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Thursday. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Basketball

Raptors take down battered Utah squad Add to ...

You know the NBA is changing when Dwane Casey takes mild umbrage to the suggestion he forged his reputation on being a defensive-minded coach.

“First of all, I’m a basketball coach,” the Toronto Raptors bench boss insisted before Thursday night’s game against the Utah Jazz at Air Canada Centre. “I’m not a defensive coach, I’m not an offensive coach. I want to be successful on both sides.”

Casey has been widely lauded for devising the defensive schemes that helped the Dallas Mavericks win the NBA championship when he was an assistant coach. That was back in 2011. Perhaps he has forgotten.

With that trait weighing heavily on his résumé, the Raptors brought Casey to Toronto the following season to take over as head coach. He has never left.

It was in that vein that an interrogator wanted to know on Thursday how a coach with that kind of defensive pedigree felt about the offensive-first onslaught that has dominated play this season in the NBA, with the three-point shot playing a prevalent role.

After his initial rebuke, Casey warmed to the topic, pointing out that if you want to be a successful team in the modern NBA, a long-distance aerial attack is essential.

“We all have to adjust,” Casey said. “I think we’ve adjusted our philosophy here to take in that change, to shoot the three. Some shots I would have said five or six years ago that were bad shots, are good shots.”

Against Utah, many of Toronto’s shots were not falling – until the end that is when the Raptors (24-11) overcame an uneven offensive performance to pull off a 101-93 victory over the Jazz (22-15).

It was mostly an uphill battle for the Raptors, who did not secure their first lead of the game until just under four minutes remained in the fourth quarter when DeMar DeRozan connected on an 18-foot pull-up jumper to move Toronto in front 89-88.

A driving layup from Kyle Lowry followed by a tip-in by Jonas Valanciunas provided Toronto with a 98-93 lead with just under a minute to go to sink Utah’s hopes.

Lowry led all scorers with 33 points while DeRozan finished with 23.

While the Raptors have not gone hog-wild like some other NBA outfits with the three-ball, it remains an important part of their offensive arsenal.

Heading into NBA play on Thursday, a little more than 31 per cent of field goals attempted throughout the league this season are from behind the three-point arch.

Should that trend continue, it would establish a season high, eclipsing the current standard of 28.5 per cent established last year.

The Houston Rockets are the league’s long-distance kings with 45.6 per cent of all their field-goal offerings coming from three-point range.

“A lot of the … league is going to that philosophy,” Casey pointed out. “Houston’s got it down to a science right now. They’ve got a team full of three-point shooters that are taking advantage of it.”

The Raptors are not that daring as Houston, with just 28.7 per cent of their shots originating from long distance. But the team still embraces the quick strike from downtown.

In terms of three-point efficiency this season, the Raptors rank No. 3, hitting on 38.9 per cent of their attempts with Lowry taking things to extremes.

Heading into the Utah game, just over 50 per cent of the point guard’s field-goal attempts were from beyond the arch – and why not when he’s been successful on just over 44 per cent of those heaves, the third highest mark in the NBA.

Casey said he is okay with Lowry’s new-found love affair for long-range marksmanship.

“It’s kind of a natural evolution of his game,” Casey said. “He’s worked on his three-point shot. The things we run offensively are geared toward him getting the three-point shot.

“He’s one of the few players in the league on the dribble-up, three-point shots, he’s pretty good. It’s usually one of the lower percentage plays. But he’s one of those rare individuals who can make that shot.”

Thursday’s game marked a return home for Toronto following a six-game holiday road swing where the team went 3-3, including a 110-82 thumping at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in their last outing Tuesday night.

The Raptors encountered a battered Utah squad that was missing starting point guard George Hill, who is continuing through the league’s concussion protocol.

The Raptors played their third straight game without the services of forward Patrick Patterson, who continues to be bothered by a strained left knee.

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