The Toronto Raptors were life and death to hold a 3-point lead over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies as the third quarter expired. We sat back in our seats, fully anticipating a seesaw Q4. And so it was until the game was tied at 80 – after which the Raps put the hammer down on defense. While Greivis Vasquez was leading a 12-0 Raps run, the Grizz’ every shot was contested, and all were missing. By the time Memphis’ 6+ minute field-goal drought ended, Toronto had built an insurmountable lead, and coasted home for a huge win.
Against a Memphis team which features two dominant big men, Jonas Valanciunas needed to step up defensively. To his great credit, he did that and more, leading the Raps in scoring with 23 points and 9 rebounds. JV missed only 4 of 15 shots, and several of his makes were jumpers from outside the paint, a welcome sight. The Grizzlie pair of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for only one more point and 2 more boards than JV alone. Without their accustomed big-men scoring, Memphis needed help from the backcourt and didn’t get it; Courtney Lee’s 12 wasn’t nearly enough.
Because the Raps were receiving huge games from Greivis (17 points & 6 assists) and JV, the struggles of DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross didn’t sting. DD, bothered severely by Tayshaun Prince, had one basket by halftime, which was one more than TRoss. Happily, both men showed up after intermission, and DD’s 3-ball was a dagger during the winning run. DeMar’s 16 points are a tribute to his determination. TRoss chipped in with 7, but continued his struggles with turnovers. However, Memphis guard Tony Allen had a game he’d like to forget. Although he scored 11 points, 3 of his 5 turnovers were in crunch time.
Kyle Lowry was sensational for Toronto. His 22 points included 4 of 7 from long distance, and he handed out 12 assists, many of them brilliant. More positive numbers: 7 rebounds and zero turnovers. He was (rightly) called for a foul while blocking a Zach Randolph shot from behind – Kyle is almost a foot shorter, but that’s trivial to our Little Big Man. Amir Johnson was quietly helpful on offense with 12 points, and solid on D.
Toronto was once again the happy recipient of a poor shooting effort from the free-throw line by an opponent, as Memphis missed 9 of 27. More head-scratching data: ex-Raps James Johnson and Ed Davis might as well have stayed on the bus. Johnson played 51 seconds, while Davis not at all. It’s beyond me why Grizz coach David Joerger wouldn’t use two players with a hunger to prove their former team made a mistake in sending them away. Emotion matters, coach, even in pro ball.
The Raptors complete this so-far successful home stand on Sunday afternoon against the surprisingly strong Phoenix Suns.