Raptors' evolution means finally being easy in role of overwhelming favourite
Toronto off to unprecedented 2-0 start in playoffs
It's been an unprecedented playoff start for Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors.
For the first time in its history, Toronto boasts a 2-0 series lead following its 130-119 win Tuesday night over the Washington Wizards. The Raptors began with a 114-106 Game 1 victory on Saturday, the first time they'd won a playoff opener since 2001.
Traditionally, nothing has come easily in the post-season for the Raptors. Suddenly, they find themselves in unchartered waters as an overwhelming favourite to win a playoff series.
It's a role Casey feels Toronto, which finished atop the Eastern Conference with a 59-23 record, is comfortable with.
"A few years ago, we had to have that (underdog) mentality, that chip on our shoulder mentality, or else," Casey said during a conference call Wednesday. "So we're growing, I think our guys are developing a mental toughness that you have to have to be the favourite.
"I think our guys are very comfortable in that role, I'm comfortable in that role as far as having the mental toughness to be the favourite. I think it coincides with the growth and establishing ourselves as a top seed of the conference."
Action now shifts to Washington, with the third game in the best-of-seven series scheduled for Friday night. Game 4 will go Sunday.
Toronto has been dominant thus far, averaging a playoff-high 122 points per game. The Raptors have also hit 29 three-pointers (first overall) and are averaging 7.5 blocks while shooting 52.4 per cent from the field.
Toronto's early success at the Air Canada Centre isn't surprising given it was 34-7 at home. But the Raptors head to Washington boasting more road wins (25) than the Wizards have home victories (23).
"It's going to be a hostile environment," Casey said. "They're going to be playing in a desperate mode, we've got to continue to be hungry, we've got to continue to go in with a fighter's mentality to start the game as we did at home.
"Don't change that and try to say we're going to come in here and it's going to be a cakewalk, no. It's going to be probably even tougher than Game 1, to get over that Game 1 jinx we had there for a little bit."
DeRozan's father sends words of encouragement
DeMar DeRozan was a force Tuesday night, matching his career playoff-high with 37 points. But the all-star forward is dealing with much more than basketball with his father, Frank, in hospital in California battling kidney problems and multiple other health issues.
"I love him," Casey said of DeRozan. "To me, he's like a son as far as just watching him grow up the last seven years from a snotty-nosed kid from Compton to the man he is now and taking on the family responsibility he's taking on and still playing.
"My hat is off to him from that standpoint because he's got a lot on his plate right now, probably more than you and I or any of us will ever know. His dad sent a beautiful video message we showed to the team that, I mean, it brought tears to my eyes anyway, to let the team know he was pulling for the team. And he did that from his hospital bed. DeMar, he's doing a great job for what he's going through in his personal life."
Casey said DeRozan's teammates understand his situation.
"There is life other than basketball and there's real-life stuff," he said. "Other players recognize and hopefully they're taking note to say hey look, even though we all have personal stuff going on away from basketball, we still have a job to do and he (DeRozan) is still doing his job here."
Toronto's early success has come with backup guard Fred VanVleet (shoulder) ailing. But Delon Wright has stepped up, registering nine and 11 points, respectively in the two games.
"He's shooting the ball with a lot of confidence," Casey said. "But Delon's been doing that all year and they've kind of been a tag-team tandem in that there's times when Fred will take over the game and then there's times where Delon will take over some games.
"(Wright) is very mature, he doesn't get rattled. If he makes a mistake, it's an honest mistake, it's not because of the moment. So we're very fortunate to have two young guys that we feel comfortable with having there in the fourth quarter in critical situations."