DeMar DeRozan has been stockpiling new milestones this season at a relentless pace, and he was up to it again Friday night.
This season, the star guard earned his second all-star nod, his 500th career game, and became the franchise leader for most victories by a single Toronto Raptor. Friday night, he joined Vince Carter and Chris Bosh as the only Raptors to surpass the 9,000-career point mark, and set a new Raptors mark for free throws made in a game (24). Even on a night when he was 7-of-19 from the field, he led his team with season-high 38 points as the Raps beat the Portland Trail Blazers 117-115.
Lowry contributed 28 points, and the Raptors survived an incredible 50-point performance by Portland star Damian Lillard. Toronto (41-19) stretched its franchise record home win streak to 12 games.
Portland visited clawing for every point possible in the standings, jockeying for one of the final playoff spots in the tough Western Conference. It was a battle of two of the highest-scoring backcourt duos in the NBA: Toronto's Lowry and DeRozan against Lillard and shooting guard CJ McCollum.
Lillard is the league's fifth-leading scorer with 25.3 point per game. Snubbed for an all-star nod, he's playing with a massive chip on his shoulder. He had averaged 32 per contest over his last ten outings coming into Friday. He recently scored 51 points to hand the Golden State Warriors one of just five losses this season. He's a guy with so much confidence that he recently told a talk show he'd be in favour of the NBA adding a four-point line.
"This kid – and I know he doesn't like talking about it – but how he's not an All-Star is this league? Shame on us," said Toronto coach Dwane Casey. "That young man can score any which way he wants to. Talk about [Stephen] Curry coming across half court and shooting – well this young man can do it also."
The Raptors, who have been starting James Johnson at small forward in place of DeMarre Carroll, made a change to the opening lineup Friday. They shifted DeMar DeRozan to small forward and started rookie Norman Powell at shooting guard.
DeRozan opened with a 17-point quarter, while Lillard scored 12, including a 41-foot buzzer-beater to end the first. It was Lowry who stepped up in the second quarter, going the half with 15 as the Raptors held a 58-52 lead.
The Raptors got out to a 15-point lead, largely thanks to some hot shooting by Powell, who would score a career-high ten on the night. The Blazers roared back behind Lillard's monster fourth quarter, but the Raptors kept just slightly ahead and escaped with the white-knuckled win.
"Video game, video game, honestly," DeRozan said, marvelling at Lillard's out-of-this-world performance. "It's crazy when you're out there with guys who are capable of doing things like that. It's incredible to see. I'm glad we got the win."
At one point in the game, DeRozan was 24-for-24 from the free-throw line and was in position to break Dominique Wilkins's NBA record for a perfect free-throw performance in a game which stood at 23-for-23, set in 1992. But then DeRozan missed his 25th free throw with less than a second left and a Toronto two point lead, missing the perfect record.
"Kyle told me to miss. I'm blaming it on Kyle," DeRozan said, laughing it off after the game to which Lowry piped in, "I didn't know it was for the record, dawg."
Neither player realized DeRozan was narrowing in on Wilkens's record.
"No, I had no clue," DeRozan said. "He told me [there was] point-nine seconds left. [If I missed], they'd have to try to wind up and throw it. But hey, I'm happy we got the win."
Portland (now 33-30) got 24 points from McCollum. The Raptors got a double-double from Jonas Valanciunas (17 points, 10 rebounds).
The Raptors have five games left in this seven-game home-stand. Next up is a visit from James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Sunday, another Western Conference team fighting for a playoff spot.