With 33 seconds remaining and the Raptors and Celtics tied at 105, DeMar DeRozan dropped a vicious hammer on top of Kelly Olynyk’s long locks. Boston’s TD Garden crowd fell silent. You could practically hear Kevin Harlan screaming, “He just sucked the gravity right out of the building!”
DeRozan shot just 9-25 from the field in the Raptors’ dramatic 110-107 win at Boston on Wednesday. He still managed to score 23 points, thanks in part to his relentless attempts to get to the foul line. That slam also proved to be the game-winning bucket. Kyle Lowry’s 18-foot jumper with eight seconds left sealed the deal.
“DeRozan and Lowry come at you downhill at 100 miles an hour,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said.
Two years after many skeptics criticized Toronto for extending DeRozan with a four-year, $42 million deal, he’s morphed into an elite scorer in the NBA. As he became an All-Star in 2013-14, DeRozan finished tied with DeMarcus Cousins as the ninth-leading scorer in the League. Today, he might be on one of the league’s biggest bargain contracts.
DeRozan’s most deadly weapon on the offensive end has been that knack for getting to the charity stripe. His 630 free-throw attempts a year ago were good for sixth-best in the NBA. Through five games (excluding Friday night’s festivities) DeRozan ranked fourth in the entire NBA in free-throw attempts at 47, good for 9.4 a game.
“I’m a student of the game and, if you get to the free-throw line, it can make your game that much more efficient,” DeRozan explained. “If you do that every single night, if you’re making 10 or 12 free throws, you can make six field goals and easily have a 22 or 24 point game.”
Outside of that simple logic, the other elements of DeRozan’s game are anomalies in today’s NBA. Last season, he attempted only 210 three-pointers, 106th most in the League.
He’s a maestro of the mid-range; often taking five or six dribbles before cocking the ball above his shoulder, fading away from the basket and launching a 17-foot turnaround over his defender.
Through five games this season, 40.8 percent of his shots have come from 15-19 feet, the zone otherwise known as the anti-Houston Rockets long two.
“I don’t care about analytics at all. I could give a hell about ‘em,” DeRozan said. “I don’t try to base myself off machines, I just try to take advantage of everything within that arc.”
It’s a strategy coach Dwane Casey is comfortable with.
“I know he’s an analytical nightmare, but he’s one of the best mid-range shooters in the League because he does get to the free-throw line,” Casey said. “So it kind of equals itself out and I don’t have to fight with the analytical people all the time.”
Casey reaped the benefits of DeRozan’s developments last season and guided the Raptors to the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. He was in turn rewarded with a three-year contract extension in May.
The coach has seen a noticeable difference in his star shooting guard during the start of this campaign as well.
“I thought the USA experience really helped him. His confidence, being around those guys this summer, just seeing how hard guys work, being around Durant and those guys, just taking in all that,” Casey said. “Not only playing with them, but how they prepare themselves, how they approach the game, how they attack the game I think has helped his confidence level so much. He’s getting to where he needs to go with the ball, creating contact, initiating contact is something he didn’t do before but now he’s doing that with confidence.”
In Wednesday night’s win, DeRozan passed Morris Peterson for fourth all-time in scoring in Raptors franchise history. He only trails Andrea Bargnani by 69 points for third.
“His heart and his quiet leadership has been unbelievable,” Casey said. “We’re trying to build something here and he’s a very large part of that.”
Less than 4,000 points shy of Chris Bosh’s franchise record, DeRozan is on track to one day claim that top spot. Casey’s right: Toronto truly is building something special.
The Raptors are considered clear favorites for the Atlantic Division crown and return nearly all of their key contributors from last season’s 48-win club. They’ve added nice contributing pieces in Lou Williams and James Johnson and have rookie Brazilians and best friends Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo waiting to play their part.
That recipe, along with DeRozan’s prolific rise, will be a nightmare for opponents this season.
“Sometimes that chemistry can beat out a more talented team,” DeRozan said.