TORONTO — DeMar DeRozan's road to superstardom was built on experiences.
A day after scoring a franchise-record 52 points on Milwaukee, a brilliant performance on an array of shots that earned him the label "superstar" from coach Dwane Casey, DeRozan reflected on his journey to excellence.
"You go through making the all-star team once, and then the challenge is can you do it again? Can it not just be a mishap? You get put in a class of being able to be on an Olympic team and being around superstar type of guys and that kind of solidifies and gives you that confidence of 'I'm supposed to be here, what's next?' Of going to the Eastern Conference finals. Of being a few games away from the finals.
"All those things come into play for me that kind of helps me, molds me in the good and the bad, determines me to the type of player I am. Things like that really shift a player."
The Raptors edged Milwaukee 131-127 in a rematch of last season's opening round of the playoffs. But the night belonged to DeRozan, who topped his previous career high of 45 points set less than two weeks earlier at Philadelphia, and topped the Raptors record of 51 shared by Vince Carter and Terrence Ross.
Afterward, DeRozan's cellphone was abuzz with congratulatory messages.
"It's always cool to get acknowledged by your peers around the league, more than anything. That was definitely the cool part," he said.
I had a message from (Ross). . . he basically said 'about time.' He said 'it took long enough.'"
He hadn't yet heard from Carter, but said "I'm pretty sure he'll love it."
DeRozan's record came on 17-for-29 shooting. He was 5-for-9 from three-point range, one shy of his career best, and he went a perfect 13-for-13 on free throws. He also played facilitator, finishing with eight assists.
In a fitting ending, he broke the scoring record at the free throw line, which has been his bread and butter, with seven seconds left on the clock and the crowd chanting "M-V-P!" Teammate Kyle Lowry then scooped up the game ball leaving the court with it under one arm to present to DeRozan later.
The three-time all-star joined LeBron James, James Harden and Bradley Beal as the only players to score 50-plus points this season.
When DeRozan re-signed with Toronto in the summer of 2016, he famously explained why saying "I am Toronto." He's affectionately referred to as "Mr. I Am Toronto" during home game player introductions. And if there was any doubt about his place among the city's all-time greatest athletes, he earned his superstar label Monday night with his ability to make plays out of tough situations.
"A couple of times, when the play broke down, we were a little bit disoriented, they blitzed him, he was still able to get into his sweet spot. He made a pass, he burned them with that. Or he went down and made a tough shot," Casey said. "Superstars make those plays.
"You can draw up all the best plays in the world. But superstars make lemonade out of lemons. That's what he did last night. Whether he was driving down the lane, in transition, whatever it was, he made it happen with the defence draped all over him. That's what every superstar I've ever worked with does in those situations."
The Raptors (25-10) tied their franchise record for consecutive home wins with 12 on Monday night. But they face a tough January schedule with home games against Cleveland, Golden State, surprising Detroit, and San Antonio. They're in Chicago on Wednesday to play the Bulls, and battle the Bucks again Friday in Milwaukee. And they have a pair of games against the young Minnesota Timberwolves in the second half of the month.
DeRozan relishes the challenge.
"It's everything. I love the moments, I love the way we started out the season with the tough schedule because it forces you to play at a high level," he said. "There's no easing into nothing, there's no trying to figure something out, straight out of the gate you've got to be on all 10 toes ready.
"And you saw it (Monday) night for us, it's going to be like that, not just with the good teams. . . playing Chicago, they've been playing great basketball, they're going to come out and play extremely hard. It's something that keeps us on our toes and understand we've got to keep figuring out ways to be better."
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press