TORONTO – DeMar DeRozan has had higher scoring games in the playoffs. He just dropped 33 points on Saturday. He's had also more assists in a playoff game before.
But Monday felt like the night where DeRozan finally got it, the night when he made right decisions with the ball almost every time he touched it. Everything fell into place for the Toronto Raptors in Game 5 of the first round, and they took a 3-2 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks with a comfortable, 118-93 victory.
The ball went in the basket because the ball movement was the best it's been all series. Or maybe the ball movement was the best it's been all series because the ball went in the basket.
The 58 percent shooting was a franchise record for a playoff game and the 28 assists were the most in a playoff game (in six series) under head coach Dwane Casey. DeRozan finished with just 18 and six, but the offensive success started with his decision-making.
It's not like the Raptors didn't know how to beat the Milwaukee defense earlier in the series. They just didn't have the discipline to play the right way on every possession. Or maybe they weren't seeing the right results enough to trust the process.
The results were there early on Monday. On the Raptors' first possession, DeRozan passed out of a double-team to an open Serge Ibaka, who drained a 3-pointer from the left wing. Two possessions later, the Raptors made the first of many skip passes, leading to an Ibaka dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Make the right reads and the Bucks' defense can be beaten. Make strong passes across the floor and open shots can be had. DeRozan made those reads and those passes on Monday, in pick-and-rolls, in isolations, and in transition.
"I knew tonight they were going to come out and try to get the ball out of my hands early, blitz me, double-team wherever I caught the ball," he said. "And [it was about] me being conscious of that and taking advantage of it early."
For Casey, it's as much about the player receiving the pass as it is about the All-Star willing to make it. If a double-team creates an open shot or a four-on-three situation, the next player with the ball has to take advantage of it. That happened on Monday and maybe it's the start of something big.
"It's gotta be a confidence builder," Casey said, "in the fact that now guys, they know when they give the ball up that that player has an opportunity to score or has a good rhythm going. That made those 28 assists a lot easier. When that ball's zinging around and you're not afraid to give it up, is he gonna catch it, what's he gonna do with it?
"I thought guys made excellent decisions out of the double team, out of the trap, and everybody that caught it was ready to play, ready to either drive it, pass it, or shoot it. That's been our Achilles heel the first few games, our shot preparation, our readiness to play. We have a 0.5 rule and we haven't been sticking to that very much until tonight."
Every extra half second you wait to make a decision with the ball is a half second for the Bucks' defense to recover. But those decisions are easier when you have confidence in the next guy.
It helps when the next guy is a ball-handler. So Casey's move, prior to Game 4, to put Norman Powell in the starting lineup in place of Jonas Valanciunas has played a role in the Raptors' success. One more guy who can put the ball on the floor can make a huge difference and having five shooters in the starting lineup has made it more difficult for Milwaukee to load up on the strong side and in the paint.
On this night, Powell was the biggest beneficiary of the ball movement, scoring 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting, with seven of his eight buckets being assisted. No team allowed its opponents to take a greater percentage of their threes from the corners than the Bucks. On Monday, 14 of the Raptors' 27 threes came from the corner, where Powell had three of their six makes.
It all comes down to DeRozan, though. He made the right decisions early and his teammates rewarded him for them. So he never regressed into ball-stopping, hero-ball mode.
"He's gotten so much better at playing out of pick-and-rolls, out of traps," Casey said of DeRozan. "So many people are so ready to trap him now and now that he's making good decisions. Guys are making plays and making shots out of the double teams, it makes him look even better."
Earlier in this series, the Bucks looked like they had what it takes to slow down the Raptors. But Milwaukee might not have an answer for a Raptors team with All-Stars that trust their teammates and role players that can take advantage of better ball movement.
"We have to do a better job," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "If they're going to throw fastballs against our defense, it's going to put us in harm's way, and that's going to lead to them shooting open threes or redriving it and finding the open guys. You give DeRozan and those guys credit. They were moving the ball well tonight."
The question, of course, is whether they'll move the ball well in Game 6. The Raptors are 4-0 under Casey in Game 5s at home, but 0-3 in Game 6s on the road. Maybe the results of this Game 5 will lead to a better process on Thursday. Or maybe this team needs another reminder of what happens when the right reads aren't made or aren't rewarded.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.