DeMar DeRozan delivered some monster plays in the fourth quarter of the Toronto Raptors’ nationally televised Wednesday night meeting with the Detroit Pistons, including one of the most thrilling throwdowns of the 2017-18 NBA season in the closing seconds. With Blake Griffin and company scratching and clawing to keep their postseason hopes alive, though, none of DeRozan’s late-in-regulation contributions were destined to be the game-winner.
So he went and made another in overtime to push the Raps past the finish line, and into the playoffs once again.
After Griffin answered a super-tough DeRozan double-clutch jumper over James Ennis III with a similarly tough fadeaway J over Pascal Siakam — plus the foul — to give Detroit a 112-111 lead with 10.1 seconds left in regulation, the Raptors went without a timeout, giving their All-Star shooting guard the chance to push the ball down the court and see what he could generate. What he came up with will be remembered as one of the plays of the year:
DeRozan picked up a quality backcourt screen from running buddy Kyle Lowry to pick off two Detroit defenders, then sprinted three-quarts of the court, gained the lane utterly without impediment — seriously: no help, gang? — elevated in the paint and threw down an absolutely crushing dunk all over Pistons forward Anthony Tolliver, a man who knows a thing or two about valiant but failed attempts to protect the rim, to put Toronto back on top. He finished off the old-fashioned 3-point play at the line, giving him 15 points in the quarter and 39 for the game, and giving the Raptors a 114-112 lead with 4.6 seconds to go.
It would’ve been an amazing game-winner. It should have been, really. But while Blake might not have been there for the help on DeRozan’s end-to-end dunk, he also wasn’t here for going out in regulation:
BLAKE GRIFFIN ANSWERS AND SENDS THE GAME TO OVERTIME! pic.twitter.com/6qAqLD9i0D
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) March 8, 2018
Griffin went right to work off the inbounds pass, backing down Siakam with a left-hand dribble toward the middle of the lane before drop-stepping to the baseline and lofting a righty hook that banked in to tie the game at 114 with 0.9 seconds remaining. Not nearly as loud or stylish as DeMar’s deuce, but, y’know, worth the same number of points. (Technically.)
Neither team could get a final shot in regulation. If there have been other games in recent NBA history that have featured three turnovers in the final nine-tenths of a second, including the two teams turning it over on consecutive plays by inbounding the ball straight out of bounds without having it touch anybody, there can’t have been many.
It was so hilarious that two very good clutch plays — DeRozan's end-to-end clutch dunk, and Blake's drop-step response to tie it — were followed by this final second. https://t.co/myyrk4zTFM
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) March 8, 2018
So we went to OT knotted at 114.
The extra frame started slow and ragged, almost as if both teams were still reeling from the thrilling back-and-forth that DeRozan and Griffin authored in the final half-minute. But the two stars got it going eventually, with DeRozan going for another traditional three-point play with just over a minute and a half to go, only to see Griffin even the score again with a pull-up triple over Jonas Valanciunas with 37 ticks left.
With the game tied in the final 10 seconds, everybody knew which players were going to have the ball to decide the outcome. Griffin worked a mismatch against the much-smaller Lowry and began backing him into the post, only to see DeRozan flash toward him with a double-team. Griffin rifled the ball out to the man DeRozan left open, swingman Reggie Bullock, who had scored 21 points and made three of his five long-distance tries on the night:
Reggie Bullock had a good look at what could've been a game-winner at the end of overtime. Just left it short. pic.twitter.com/i81ziG51GZ
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) March 8, 2018
Bullock came up short, though, affording the Raptors a chance to go for the win.
Once again, DeRozan had the ball in his hands. Once again, he went the length of the floor against a scrambling, backpedaling Pistons defense. Once again, he got into the paint and elevated to …
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 8, 2018
… drop the ball off to second-year reserve point guard Fred VanVleet, standing all alone in the left corner as four Pistons converged on the driving DeRozan. Despite opening the game a dismal 1-for-9 from the floor, the Wichita State product stroked the jumper with confidence and splashed it through, giving the Raptors at 121-119 lead with 1.1 seconds to go.
Griffin got one last look at a potential game-winning 3, but it went just long and bounced clear, allowing Toronto to finish off a two-point win, improve to 47-17 on the season, and punch their tickets for a fifth consecutive postseason.
The Raptors are the first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs pic.twitter.com/X4PSM7fRZH
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) March 8, 2018
DeRozan was absolutely sensational, scoring a game-high 42 points on 16-for-28 shooting to go with six assists and four rebounds against just one turnover in 43 minutes of playing time. After the Raptors slept through a second quarter in which Serge Ibaka got himself ejected, and found themselves in a 17-point hole with four minutes to go before halftime, he and Lowry kicked Toronto after intermission, combining for 23 points and nine assists in a dominant 40-25 third quarter that knocked the Pistons on their heels and got the Raps back in the game.
In a fourth quarter played entirely in a phone booth, with neither team able to get more than two possessions of separation, DeRozan carried the Raptors offense. He went 6-for-8 from the field and 3-for-3 from the line in 7 1/2 minutes of floor time, making tough shot after tough shot and capping it off with an end-to-end drive and dunk so devastating that we could only sit back idly and gaze at its majesty. Or, at least, that’s what the Pistons did, anyway.
Demar. DeRozan. MVP
— Fred VanVleet (@FredVanVleet) March 8, 2018
Griffin led the way for Detroit with 31 points on 12-for-21 shooting, four assists, three rebounds and two steals, while Bullock added 21 points off the bench. Andre Drummond struggled offensively, needing 14 shots to score 10 points, and while he did pull down 21 rebounds, the Pistons often seemed to perform better on Wednesday with backup Eric Moreland (six points, eight rebounds, two blocks, a steal and an assist in 16 minutes) on the floor. Detroit has now lost four straight and 10 of 12 to fall to 29-36, five games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the East’s eighth and final playoff spot. This is not what Stan Van Gundy hoped for when he swung for the fences with the Griffin deal, but it’s looking like the grim present — and maybe future — he’s wound up with.
Lowry shook off a slow start to finish with 15 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds and four steals in 41 minutes for the Raptors, who now sit 2 1/2 games ahead of the Boston Celtics in the race for the East’s No. 1 seed. Dwane Casey’s club has won 15 of its last 17 games heading into a Friday night showdown with the NBA-leading Houston Rockets, who have won 17 straight. That ought to be one hell of a game. Let’s hope it offers some late-game insanity on the order of what DeRozan brought to bear on Wednesday.
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