Lewenberg: Brooklyn-bound Raptors reliant on chemistry

Josh Lewenberg, TSN 1050

4/23/2014 9:16:23 PM

TORONTO - Fresh off of a season-saving win, Raptors guard Greivis Vasquez stood behind a podium on the third level of the Air Canada Centre and impersonated one of his teammate's most identifiable moves.

As if he had been rehearsing it, Vasquez looked around with a grimacing stare as he clinched two fists and flexed his muscles.

What do you think of DeMar DeRozan's face after he hits a big shot, he was asked moments earlier.

"I love it, he goes like this," he exclaimed without hesitation, busting out his interpretation of what has been dubbed "the DeRozan face".

To his credit, it was dead on.

DeRozan's signature celebration has become a welcomed sight for Vasquez and the rest of the Raptors' players.

"It's something I can only do in a game after shots or a dunk or something," DeRozan said. "It's just me being intense."

After draining an 18-foot fadeaway jumper, his second straight bucket, with just over two minutes left in Tuesday's 100-95 Game 2 win over the Nets, the Raptors' all-star guard strutted up the court doing the DeRozan face.

"I told him before the game," Vasquez noted. "I said, 'You're going to have a great game, I want that face'. I get fired up when he starts doing that and he makes that face."

"I think you see it in all of us," DeRozan fired back. "Even with Greivis, what he does when he makes a big shot, when he looks up in the air. I'm like, ‘whatchu looking at, G?' Everyone has their own gestures and we feed off one another when we see somebody else doing that and it just gets us going."

Can you do the DeRozan face, Dwane Casey was asked.

"I don't know what you're taking about," said the Raptors' coach, immediately turning away. So, not everyone was playing along.

This was the lighthearted scene following practice on Wednesday afternoon, just two hours before the Raptors shipped off to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4. Naturally, the conversation turned to the immeasurable chemistry that has held this team together throughout a tumultuous season, the chemistry they feel will work to their advantage as they enter enemy territory this coming weekend.

"It's going to be a new frontier," Casey said, preparing his team to face the Nets at Barclays Center with their opening round series tied at a game apiece. "We've been a good road team in hostile situations, hostile gyms. Our guys have responded."

That they have. Their 22 road wins are a franchise record and they're just one of four teams to knock off the Nets in Brooklyn in 2014. Throughout the season, they have cited their togetherness, a camaraderie on and off the court, as the primary reason for their unexpected success - being a young team - away from home.

Both DeRozan and Kyle Lowry referred back to a conversation they shared after Tuesday night's win. Toronto's two leading scorers were in full agreement that this is the most harmonious team they've ever been apart of.

"It's just great to have a group of guys who just really get along," Lowry said. "You'd never think a group like that, with so many different personalities, that everyone really just feeds off each other and everyone genuinely likes each other. We really are like a band of brothers. It's cool. It's like, we're able to hold each other accountable and we know it's not out of spite, it's because we want to be better. It's constructive criticism."

Chemistry and winning seem to go hand in hand. You're unlikely to enjoy a sustainable measure of one without the other. Chemistry is a valuable commodity in professional sports, but it's fragile and almost impossible to quantify.

"Chemistry is a funny thing," Casey admits. "You know it when you got it, but it's so easy to lose. It's hard to put your finger on it. I think we have good chemistry, the right pieces, the right guys, the right personalities in the locker room."

That togetherness, like defence - Casey's other fixation - tends to travel well. The Raptors have harnessed an 'us versus the world' mentality in the unfamiliar surroundings of the road and will need it more than ever if they hope to take control of this series on foreign soil. The Nets own a record of 22-4 at home since Jan. 1, tops in the NBA over that span.

"The reason we're here right now in the playoffs is just because we got one of the most healthy locker rooms," Vasquez said. "No egos at all. Everybody's just happy if anybody does well. We care about each other on and off the court and when we go on the road, we get each other's back." 

"The reason we became a good team, [are] on our way to becoming a great team, is just because we care. Chemistry is such a big factor on any team, and we have it. We do have it."