TORONTO — It was only 23 days ago that the Toronto Raptors hit what the team called the low point in its season — a humiliating 18-point loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that ended a winless road trip and prompted the suggestion that jobs were in jeopardy.
The Raptors turned the tables on the Blazers on Wednesday in a dazzling display of just how far the squad has come.
Rookie Terrence Ross poured in a career-high 26 points against his hometown team — including a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the first half — to lead the Raptors 102-79 over Portland, the eighth victory in nine games for Toronto.
“Two star players (Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry) getting hurt. Everybody looking at each other crossways. The whole organization. Everybody talking about firings. That was a crossroads for us,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of Toronto’s Dec. 10 loss in Portland.
“Our guys looked in the mirror, we all did,and decided ’Hey, we can’t continue this way.’ We started playing the game the right way, started sharing the basketball, starting more focus on the defensive end.”
Wednesday’s game was also the opener of a six-game homestand for the Raptors (12-20), a team that was hammered by a particularly unkind early-season schedule.
DeMar DeRozan added 24 points for Toronto, while Ed Davis had 19, Amir Johnson added 17 and point guards Jose Calderon and Lowry finished with 13 and nine assists respectively. And zero points between them.
“I don’t know what kind of record that is, but not too many times you’re going to win with your two point guards getting zero points,” Casey said.
“We were just making the easy plays,” Calderon added. “Today it was all the guys making those plays, and I’m cool with that.”
Ross drained six three-pointers on nine attempts, including the buzzer-beater that brought the crowd to its feet and saw him fall over backwards as he watched the ball fall through the hoop.
Ross, the Raptors’ No. 8 pick in last year’s NBA draft, has been big during this strong stretch for Toronto, playing with a level of confidence that seems to go up whenever he steps on the floor.
He said the confidence to get more involved in the offence has come from his teammates.
“When I hesitate, I come back to the bench and they’re all mad, they’re all like ’Shoot,”’ Ross said. “It’s just something they tell me to do to get my confidence up.”
Damian Lillard had 18 to top the Blazers (16-15), who were coming off a 105-100 victory at New York the previous night.