The Toronto Raptors welcomed 2018 with an intense overtime competition against the Milwaukee Bucks. With the Bucks being led by MVP-candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, it was clear that the game was going to be an exciting and explosive contest. Even with all the expectations of how great the game was going to be, no one could have expected Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan to have such an incredible outing on New Year’s night.

DeRozan and his Raptors, with the help of his co-captain Kyle Lowry, came out strong against the Bucks, scoring 35 points in the first quarter alone. DeRozan helped spark their first-half fire by scoring a resounding 21 of the 53 points. Even with the incredible effort put forth by the Raptors, the Bucks held steady and the two fought throughout regulation, pushing into overtime, where the Raptors sealed the game and added another notch to their win column.

DeRozan set not only a career-high with 52 points, but he also set a franchise record for points scored in a single game. His counterpart, Lowry, scored 26 and helped to push the Raptors to an NBA-leading 14-1 record at home as well as tying a franchise best 12-game winning streak at the Air Canada Center in Toronto.

DeRozan has not historically been an outside scorer, but he showed his might against the Bucks by hitting five three-pointers, which shows that he can shoot the deep ball when the Raptors need it. DeRozan may become more of an option for deep scoring as he has begun to put together some modest three-point outings, like the one several weeks back where he hit six in a game where he scored a total of 45 points, a then-career-high against the Philadelphia 76ers. Last season, DeRozan made about 26-percent of his three-point attempts, a fairly average showing for his career to that point, but this season, all that has changed. DeRozan is now shooting 36-percent from behind the arc, which is a considerable increase from his previous seasons.

Shortly after his incredible performance against the Bucks, DeRozan spent time talking about his emotions and mindset as the game came down to the final minutes in overtime.

“Honestly, I just kept looking at the score trying to figure how many possessions we had left, what we had to do, when we needed a stop, when we needed a bucket, when we needed something, That’s all I was caring about.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey branded DeRozan a “superstar” in light of another astounding performance as the shooting guard continues to grow from strength-to-strength this season, adding: “everybody criticized him for iso basketball, but again, get the ball in your best player’s hands.”

DeRozan’s incredible performance could have been followed up by any old game, maybe 12 points and a few assists, but he had other ideas. DeRozan finished with 35 points, scoring 18 alone in the third quarter, shooting 5-for-8 on three-pointers and shot perfectly from the line on Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls. With solid production from Toronto’s bench, the team was able to bounce back from a rough first half and finish off strong for their fourth straight victory, winning the contest 124-115.

DeRozan and his Raptors are blowing up in the Eastern Conference and seem to be preparing for a push into the Eastern Conference Finals, but how likely is it that they can secure a spot in the tightly contested Conference Finals? This totally depends on their backcourt, and a certain DeMar DeRozan.

The 28-year-old will likely be the X-factor for Toronto and if he continues to keep up his superstar form, he could be setting himself and his team up for a chance at the Conference Finals. Of course it is early to speculate whether or not he and the Raptors are ready to finally take the fight to the Cavaliers and Celtics, but one thing is for sure. The world of basketball needs to keep their eyes peeled for DeMar DeRozan.

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