Leave it to a basketball team from hockey's heartland to learn how to change on the fly. The Raptors have had no choice but to adapt in a hurry after star DeMar DeRozan went down with a serious leg injury late last month.
"It's tough to replace 19 points in your lineup," coach Dwane Casey said. Still, Toronto has kept rolling, with the latest effort being a 95-90 overtime win over the Knicks Sunday night at the Garden. That raised the Raptors' Atlantic Division-leading record to 18-6, showing that they have not missed a beat.
"Oh, we missed a beat," said Kyle Lowry, who had 21 points and 11 assists in 38:38 Sunday night, refusing to let the Raptors buckle. "We miss our guy, man, but we always say '15 deep.' We've got a bunch of guys that know their roles and know their positions. When a guy goes down, it's next man up."
It is not like switching players while a game is going on, the way fans in hockey-frenzied Toronto are used to seeing things. But it is daunting to re-make the offense with no time to spare.
"We can't change everything in midstream,'' Casey said. "We just have to improvise a little bit and run some plays for [Terrence] Ross that we'd run for DeMar, some plays for Lou Williams that we'd run for DeMar, just on the other side of the floor."
Ross kept the Raptors ahead with a 13-point third quarter on his way to 22 points. Williams, a veteran guard off the bench who scored 26 points against the Pacers on Friday, had 15 this time.
Said Lowry, "You have to ride it out. We kept our level heads and grinded it out."
Compensating for a big absence entails more than just spreading the scoring around. The Raptors played inspired defense when they really had to against the Knicks. Although Carmelo Anthony scored 34 points, teammates credited Patrick Patterson for making it tough for Anthony in crunch time.
"I ain't going to lie, that was a big challenge tonight as far as guarding one of the best players in the NBA,'' Patterson said. "I just tried to deny him the ball as much as possible."
The 2014-15 Raptors have maintained momentum from a strong finish last season, even after they seemingly surrendered by dealing Rudy Gay last December and nearly trading Lowry to the Knicks. So they had made the ultimate on-the-fly adjustment: from looking to the future to trying to win now. In a lackluster Eastern Conference, why not?
On Sunday night, Casey said, "It was one of those games where, if you are serious about winning, you find a way to get it done, and our guys did that."
They also showed that no matter who is in or who is out, they appear serious about winning.