TORONTO — No one on the current Toronto Raptors roster knows the struggles of the franchise better than DeMar DeRozan. His first four seasons with the club, Toronto was on the outside looking in when the postseason began.
With the Raptors setting a new single-season record for wins with their 50th on Wednesday night, DeRozan admitted it’s extra special for him.
The 26-year-old poured in a game-high 26 points and 16 assists as the Raptors defeated the Atlanta Hawks 105-97.
“It means everything to me,” DeRozan said. “My whole career, I’ve been through the tough times, now to be called the winningest Raptors (team) of all time and now to break a franchise record three years in a row — it definitely means a lot to me.”
Jonas Valanciunas added 19 points and nine rebounds, while Kyle Lowry, who continues to be bothered by a right elbow injury, chipped in with 17 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.
The Raptors (50-24) topped Atlanta (45-31) for the fourth consecutive meeting and improved to 13-3 against the Southeast Division this season.
“I think for our organization, for the program that we’re building, I think it’s a good step for us,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “Like I told the team, we’re not done yet. But it’s an accomplishment that they can’t take away from you, but we’ve got to continue to grow, get better in different areas to fry the bigger fish.”
With the win, Toronto moves two games back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks were led by 18 points from Jeff Teague, while Tim Hardaway Jr. added 15 points off the bench. Dennis Schroder had 13 points, and Mike Scott finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
“A lot of credit to Toronto, how well they played,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. “I think their effort and activity defensively probably set the tone.
“We have to be better against a team like this.”
Trailing by 22 after three quarters, Atlanta cut Toronto’s lead to nine by holding the Raptors to 2-of-11 shooting from the field while outscoring the Atlantic Division leaders 17-4. However, that was as close as the Hawks would get as their four-game win streak ended.
“We came out of the timeout with a response, with a disposition of, ‘OK, no we’re going to turn this water off’,” Casey said. “We didn’t wilt, we kept playing and teams are going to make a run. That game wasn’t going to stay a 20-plus game all night against a good team like Atlanta.
“It was a good test for us to get our backs against the wall, come out of timeout, respond and I thought our guys did.”
The Raptors led 89-67 after three quarters as guard Norman Powell heated up. Powell had 10 points third-quarter points on 3 of 5 shooting from the field while going 2-for-3 from beyond the arc.
Toronto led 54-41 at the break behind 13 points from DeRozan.
In the second quarter, DeRozan had eight points, two rebounds and two assists.
Toronto held Atlanta to 38.6 percent shooting from the field and 29.4 from beyond the arc in the first half.
“They’ve got great guard play,” Hawks swingman Kyle Korver said of Toronto. “Those two guys are really tough. They lead that team and they’ve got a lot a lot of really good pieces around them too; guys that know their role and they execute really well.”
For the game, the Raptors barely outshot the Hawks, 45 percent to 44.6 percent.
Atlanta also made 14 3-pointers to 11 for Toronto. The difference was at the foul line, where the Raptors were 22-for-28 while the Hawks were 9-for-13.
NOTES: Raptors F DeMarre Carroll (knee) received the green light from doctors to resume practicing. Carroll has missed 39 games. … Raptors F Terrence Ross was available after missing three games with a sore left thumb. … Raptors F Luis Scola missed his first game because of a sore left knee. F Jason Thompson started in his place. … Hawks G Thabo Sefolosha remained active Wednesday despite right ankle stiffness. … The Hawks open a four-game homestand Friday when the Cleveland Cavaliers come to Atlanta. The Raptors head out on a two-game trip to Memphis (Friday) and San Antonio (Saturday).