DeRozan leads Raptors into playoffs, Rockets streak on
by Rob Woollard
DeMar DeRozan exploded for 42 points as the Toronto Raptors clinched their place in the NBA playoffs with a 121-119 overtime victory against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.
DeRozan added six assists and four rebounds in a virtuoso performance that hauled the Raptors back from the brink of what would have been an upset loss against the Pistons.
Toronto improved to 47-17 with the win, which tightened their grip on first place in the Eastern Conference standings and made them the first team to guarantee their spot in the postseason.
Detroit fell to 29-36 with the defeat, leaving them just outside the playoff positions in ninth place, five wins adrift of the Milwaukee Bucks in the eighth spot.
The Raptors had to work hard for the win, overcoming the early ejection of Serge Ibaka and holding their nerve after a late fightback from Detroit took the game into overtime.
Point guard Kyle Lowry was content to supply the red-hot DeRozan with ammunition, contributing 15 assists as well as 15 points.
Norman Powell had 17 points while Jonas Valanciunas chipped in with 14.
New Pistons arrival Blake Griffin had tied it at 119-119 with 37.3 seconds left in overtime, but Detroit were unable to find the go-ahead score.
Instead, it was Toronto that dropped the hammer with 1.1 seconds on the clock as Fred VanVleet made a two-point jumper to clinch the win.
It capped a roller coaster game for the Raptors, who were down by 17 points in the second quarter before recovering for the win.
“We’re at a point now where we understand that as long as there’s time on that clock, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win,” DeRozan said.
“Even if things aren’t going our way offensively, we play extremely hard and some ways something will turn up for us during the game.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers meanwhile remain third in the Eastern Conference after a pulsating 113-108 win over the Denver Nuggets in Colorado.
LeBron James provided the spark for the Cavs with 39 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.
James took control at the end of the fourth quarter, scoring all of his team’s final nine points to steer them to victory.
“To close the game out — that’s what my team-mates look for me to do,” James said. “We played a heck of a game and we didn’t want to give it away,” added the 33-year-old superstar, who said his form was at an “all-time high.”
“Just because of my body, my mind, the way I go out and approach the game,” James said. “I’m blessed and I’ll never take it for granted.”
– Rockets rumble on –
Elsewhere Tuesday, James Harden scored 26 points as the Houston Rockets rolled to a 17th straight victory with a 110-99 win over the Bucks in Miami.
MVP front-runner Harden pulled down five rebounds and six assists as the Western Conference leaders extended their winning streak to improve to 51-13.
Chris Paul had 16 points and 11 assists while Eric Gordon came off the bench to add 18 points in 33 minutes on court.
Harden said the Rockets remained focused on performance rather than maintaining their winning streak.
“We’re not worried about wins and losses right now. We’re worried about playing the right way at both ends of the court,” he told reporters.
“That’s what we want going into the postseason. Ninety percent of the time if you play the right way at both ends of the floor, great things will happen.”
Houston were always in control, easing into a 58-46 lead at half-time which they never looked like relinquishing at Milwaukee’s BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo led the scoring on the night with 30 points, but Houston’s greater offensive depth proved the difference.
Khris Middleton had 18 points and 12 rebounds while point guard Eric Bledsoe had 15 points for the Bucks, who fell to 34-31 after the loss. (Agence France-Presse/AFP)