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Lewenberg: Nowhere to hide after Ross's 51-point explosion

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Josh Lewenberg, TSN 1050
1/26/2014 7:45:50 PM
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TORONTO - As a sizeable media contingent jockeyed for position around his locker, Terrence Ross searched for the words to describe his historic night.

"It feels good," he settled on.

It's been nearly a year since the Raptors' sophomore had his coming-out party at All-Star Weekend, since the spotlight was this big, this bright. Whether he likes it or not, the attention is something he may have to get used to.

Often one of the first to escape Toronto's locker room, the soft-spoken 22-year-old has perfected the post-game dash like a grizzled vet. There was no avoiding it on Saturday.

Ross nearly doubled his career high, previously 26, en route to a magical 51-point performance that matched Vince Carter's franchise scoring record, set in February of 2000. Not only is Ross, according to Elias Sports Bureau, the first player averaging fewer than 10 points per game to ever score 50, but he also became the second-youngest to accomplish that feat.

Moments after it came to an end - Toronto dropping a 126-118 shootout to the Clippers - his teammates threw a basketball into his locker.

"What's this?" he asked, as if he didn't know.

It, of course, was the game ball.

With the souvenir comes the heightened expectations that accompany a 50 point-game. There's no sneaking up on anybody now. He's raised the bar for himself.

"Now he's told on himself," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after the game. "Not that he has to get 51 every night, but he's got to have that offensive focus."

A much improved defender in his second NBA season, Ross has also excelled from long range, shooting the three-ball at a 41 per cent clip. His next step, as Casey has alluded to, is to capitalize on his proficiency from downtown by putting the ball on the floor, creating his own looks around the rim and getting to the free throw line.

With his full offensive arsenal on display against the Clippers, it's not hard to see why Casey is enamoured by his potential. Twenty-one of his 23 first-half points came from beyond the arc, as Ross eclipsed the franchise mark for most threes in a half with seven. Coming out of the break, Doc Rivers and his team made the inevitable adjustment, closing out hard on the red-hot Ross.

"They were running at him," Casey said, "[but he] did a good job reading the defence."

DeMar DeRozan, who rolled his ankle on the foot of Toronto supervillain Hedo Turkoglu in the first half, left the game early in the third. Ross immediately stepped in for his mentor.

Midway through the quarter, he made his presence felt with a put-back dunk in the lane. Ten seconds later, he picked off Darren Collison's pass, ran the length of the floor and finished an alley-oop. Eight of his 13 third-quarter points came in the paint and he also made nine of 10 free throw attempts on the night.

His 31-foot, buzzer-beating bomb tied the game going into the fourth. From there he was on cruise control.

"You don't think about it," Ross said. "You don't really realize what you're doing until it's all over."

What's the mindset when one of your teammates is playing like…?

"Give him the ball," Kyle Lowry said, before the question could even be completed. "Give him the ball, I don't care what he's… just give him the ball."

When it was all said and done the Raptors had lost, defence being the primary culprit, but Ross had accomplished something remarkable. He was speechless, essentially, and so too were his teammates.

"Unbelievable," said Lowry, succinct once again. "He did an unbelievable job. That's it, unbelievable."

A primary beneficiary of the Rudy Gay trade, Ross is averaging just under 30 minutes a night since the deal, 12 minutes more than he was getting as sub. He has earned the trust of his coach with his commitment to defence and his teammates are comfortable with him firing at will, provided they're good shots. With DeRozan out of the lineup indefinitely Ross's role figures to expand once again.

"I'm probably the happiest person on the team for him to be honest," DeRozan said. "I've been going up against T since his rookie year, pushing him, going at him day in and day out. Just seeing how high his confidence level is is definitely good to see."

Now, all eyes are on Ross. What will he do for an encore?

Terrence Ross (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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