The Toronto Raptors dragged themselves through 48 minutes of mediocre, unspectacular basketball in Milwaukee on Saturday. In a few stretches, it would have been understandable if you wondered if either team even wanted to win. One player in Toronto clearly did, though. DeMar DeRozan made sure the Raptors wouldn’t lose in a Game 4 that kept their playoff hopes — and perhaps even their future together — alive.
In the 87-76 win, Toronto fell behind early in the first half with more seemingly uninspired basketball. Their offense, sixth best in the league this season, still hasn’t shown up in this postseason, as the team shot 41 percent from the field and only nailed five shots from behind the arc. This is, to an extent, what Milwaukee forces you into: ugly, unattractive and overly physical basketball. More often than not, they will win playing that style. In Game 4, the Raptors prevailed.
It doesn’t matter how the win looks, because the Raptors were willing to take it however it came. DeRozan steadily contributed throughout the first 24 minutes, ending the half with 21 points. Down the stretch, DeRozan’s efforts were matched by the other Raptors stars — Kyle Lowry snuck in for a couple layups, while Jonas Valanciunas even scored six points down the stretch. But it was DeRozan who made sure the Raptors reached that point, and Toronto couldn’t have survived without his 33 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
DeMar DeRozan has 27 of the Raptors' 66 points, including this monster dunk pic.twitter.com/ounD9poRCT— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 22, 2017
A loss could have meant an end for the Raptors as we know them, since another first round exit (their third in four years together) would have meant yet another underachieving end to the season. Serge Ibaka is a free agent this summer, while Kyle Lowry will almost certainly exercise his player option and hit the market as well. Toronto — by adding Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the deadline — seemed to have their most versatile unit yet and were coming off a career season from DeRozan. But they dropped Game 1 in Toronto and were waxed by the Bucks in Game 3, a game they didn’t even score 50 points in until the fourth quarter.
In that Game 3, DeRozan scored just eight points on 0-of-8 shooting. He owed this performance to the Raptors after that dismal showing, and he stepped up when they needed him. Perhaps a single game isn’t enough to make up for his poor showing in the previous one given he’s a franchise cornerstone who’s expected to carry the load, but without him in Game 4, these Raptors really would have been on the verge of extinction. Instead, Toronto lives to fight at least a couple more games, with the two teams tied at two games apiece with a home Game 5 coming up.
This first round struggle isn’t over, and it’s hardly a good sign for what would happen to Toronto if they make it past this round. But the Raptors had one thing on their mind in Game 4, and that was to win. They did that. Now they have one more thing on their mind, and that’s to finish off this series. It’s time to see if DeRozan can make sure the Raptors pull that off, too.