TORONTO – Every time the Toronto Raptors have reached a new high during their improbable run over the last three seasons, DeMar DeRozan has been forced into reflection mode. He is the last major link with the Raptors’ previous run of futility, a five-year stretch outside of the playoffs. He was a Raptor for four of those years, and knew the pain of playing meaningless games in March and April all too well.
Another peak came on Wednesday night. Following their 105-97 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, the Raptors reached 50 wins for the first time in franchise history. While some might see the accomplishment as merely an arbitrary round number, DeRozan could not possibly agree.
“It means everything to me,” DeRozan said. “This is where I’ve been my whole career. I’ve been through the tough times. Now to be, what do you call it, the winningest Raptor of all time and now to break the franchise record three years in a row, it definitely means a lot to me.
“You can never take that away. When (reporters) bring up things that I’ve done here, reality really hits me, honestly, because you really don’t think about all of the things you’ve (done) or things you’ve accomplished.”
DeRozan was stellar against the Hawks, scoring a game-high 26 points to go along with six assists and five rebounds. With the victory, the Raptors surpassed their previous high for wins in a season, set last season at 49.
It was DeRozan’s fellow all-star in the Raptors’ backcourt that was more in the spotlight, however. Despite a persistent elbow injury, Kyle Lowry played in Wednesday’s game. Lowry had his right elbow drained after Monday’s blowout loss against Oklahoma City, and had been enduring a shooting slump over the last few games. He played a game-high 40-minutes against Atlanta.
Lowry played most of the game with a protective sleeve on his elbow, before ditching it in the fourth quarter. He was moved to swearing when describing what it was like to play with the sleeve.
“Yeah, it’s really annoying,” Lowry said.
Lowry shot just 4 for 19 from the field, but improved from the free-throw line, where he made seven of his eight attempts.
“Anything you do to make a shotâ€¦hit your head, slap your butt, prayer hands, pray to God, anything,” Lowry said, describing his state of mind. ” At the end of the day, I’ll be all right. This is five games, whatever. I’ve been in a funk before earlier this season so I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Lowry did manage 11 assists, many of which set up Jonas Valanciunas. The smaller Hawks did not seem to have an answer for Valanciunas, who scored 19 points on just 13 field-goal attempts.
“One thing about Kyle, he’s going to figure out a way, no matter what,” DeRozan said. “He can go 1 for 40, and it wouldn’t seem like it because he does everything else.”
It was the Raptors’ third win in as many games against Atlanta this season. While the Raptors are all but locked into second place in the Eastern Conference, every win seems to matter to the team.
“Pretty good progression,” said Lowry, after recounting the team’s journey during his four years in Toronto. ” I think everyone in this organization that’s been here has built it up to be a winning organization. I think we’ve been on the right track and continuing to grow. We’re not just satisfied with 50 wins. It’s a great benchmark to get, but at the end of the day we still want to be playing as long as possible: as close as possible to the end of the whole NBA season.”