Add Dillon Brooks to the list of Canadians fulfilling their dream of playing an NBA game at the Air Canada Centre.
On an early Sunday afternoon game, the Mississauga, Ont. native led his Memphis Grizzlies into Toronto, and for over three quarters, they had a Raptors team with the best home record in the league on their heels.
Things fell apart in the fourth quarter as the Raptors came away with the 101-86 victory, but for the locals looking for a performance from their native son, they left with their heads held high.
Brooks showed just how quickly he’s coming along in his rookie season, picking up the assignment of all-star DeMar DeRozan and doing an admirable job in forcing the MVP candidate into some difficult spots and out of his sweet spots.
Whether it was closely trailing DeRozan’s every move off the ball, or ensuring he had no room to move once he had it, the hallmarks of what have got Brooks to this point were evident.
He’s relentless, refusing to give an inch, undeterred by who stands in front of him, and always playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Of the 27 minutes that DeRozan played, 17 came matched up against Brooks. He shot just 2-for-8 from the field against him, compared to 3-for-6 when Brooks was off.
What makes the defensive effort of Brooks stand out is the fact that he doesn’t fit the prototype of players who traditionally pose problems for Toronto’s shooting guard out of Compton. It’s usually the Otto Porters, Kawhi Leonards and Paul Georges of the world who have incredible length and hands to disrupt DeRozan’s rhythm.
The former Oregun Duck has a six-foot-six wingspan, which matches his height, and doesn’t give him the advantage those aforementioned players have. Instead, Brooks used his strength to get DeRozan out of his comfort zone and smarts to stay down on pump fakes, something rookies are most guilty of.
Offensively, Brooks showed a part of his game that not many expected so early in his NBA career. His first two field goals were three-pointers, where he is now shooting 38.7 per cent from on the season.
Those who followed him in college are well aware of his ability to attack off the dribble and get all the way to the rim or bully his way to an easy bucket in the post, but with the long-distance shot so prevalent in the NBA today, his ability to keep stroking it from range will go a long way in establishing his future.
He showed his basketball instinct on several other occasions as well, making strong cuts to the basket and consistently staying active off the ball to create space and opportunities for his teammates.
Before we make this all about Brooks, this was in fact a game played between two teams, and while the Grizzlies did an excellent job of hanging with the Raptors starters, their lack of depth was evident as the Toronto bench punished them at every opportunity.
Delon Wright led them with 15 points, four rebounds, four steals and a couple of assists, and even had one euro step move which had DeRozan out of his seat on the bench. He was a plus-36 for the game to illustrate just how impactful the bench was.
In fact, they were so effective that head coach Dwane Casey didn’t even both checking the starters back into the game in the fourth quarter, and the Raptors took the quarter 25-12.
Second-year player Fred VanVleet added 13 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and a couple of steals himself, while frontcourt duo Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl combined for 19 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.
Next up for the Raptors is a crucial home game, Tuesday night, against the Eastern Conference leading Boston Celtics, whom they trail by two games in the standings.