They left the Air Canada Centre with the cheer of a large crowd ringing in their ears, a freshly minted 104-98 win over the Golden State Warriors and a 33-26 record, and when their head coach spoke to the Toronto Raptors his words were clear: "Don't get into vacation mode," Dwane Casey said, with an eye toward four days off until they play the Sacramento Kings on Friday.
So much has changed since the previous meeting between Raptors and Warriors – who are one of the trendiest, sexiest teams in the NBA. That was a 112-103 Warriors win, as Golden State rallied from a 27-point, third-quarter deficit on Dec. 3. Six days later, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri made a trade that now rates as one of the most impactful in Toronto sports history: a seven-player deal with Sacramento that dumped Rudy Gay and made the Raptors deeper, smarter and more efficient and helped turn Kyle Lowry into a candidate for most-valuable player.
That trade also gave Casey the tools to coach defence. Both in temper and statistically, this is a vastly different Raptors team than the wide-eyed roadkill the Warriors ran over in December. To wit: The Warriors scored 42 fourth-quarter points in that comeback, and in 42 games since then the Raptors have held opponents to just over 21 points per fourth quarter, second in the NBA. Sunday, the Warriors managed just 20 fourth-quarter points.
This time it was the Raptors who put away a game in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 consecutive points out of a Warriors timeout. DeMar DeRozan, whose 32 points were two fewer than game-high scorer Stephen Curry of the Warriors, added 12 points in the final quarter.
"I don't think we've beat him [Curry] since I've been here," DeRozan said and with good reason: the Raptors were 0-for-7 against the Warriors with Curry in the lineup. Curry was hurt on March 4, 2012, when the Raptors won.
Casey had much to be happy about after Sunday's game. Landry Fields made his second start of the reason, finding out during pregame video work that Terrence Ross's sprained ankle made him a no-go. Casey said he thought Fields's length would present an issue defensively for the Warriors. It did.
Fields had six rebounds and eight points in 25 minutes. Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson, in Casey's words, "took the three-ball away from them a little bit."
And Jonas Valanciunas (10 points, five rebounds) looked much more comfortable than in recent games. "He let the game come to him," Casey said, adding: "I promise you the offence will come."
Mostly, however, this game was about DeRozan, who has now scored 30 or more points in four of six games and on this day contributed six assists, just two behind Lowry. DeRozan was 10-for-16 from the field and 11-for-12 from the line.
It was only the fifth time in 31 games in which the Warriors (36-24) couldn't hold a fourth-quarter lead. "We just lost our composure on the offensive end a little bit and just didn't play solid enough on either end," Curry said.
The Raptors will return to practice on Wednesday and then face Gay and the Kings, who beat them 109-101 on Feb. 5 in the first game between the teams since the deal.
"If I had my druthers, I'd rather not have it," Casey said of the break, his feeling no doubt exacerbated by memories of the previous game against the Kings.
"Sacramento took us to the woodshed the last time," Casey added. "They took our guys out, fed them, then beat them the next night."
The Raptors have mastered so much since that December trade. Time to see if they can add turnabout to the list.
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