Jacksonville Sports Day

Denton: Friday Marks Fifth Anniversary of Ross’ 51-Point Night

ORLANDO – Terrence Ross doesn’t remember many of the mundane specifics about Jan. 25, 2014 – such as what he had for lunch that day or the music that he listened to on his way to the arena – but he does remember how he felt after his pregame shooting routine.

And, oh yeah, he remembers the deafening roar of the crowd inside the Air Canada Centre that night.

Heck, even former teammate DeMar DeRozan remembers the crowd noise that night and he was deep in the bowels of the arena tending to a tender ankle.

It’s been five years since Ross – then a member of the Toronto Raptors and currently a standout reserve for the Orlando Magic – had a night for the ages and one he won’t soon forget. However, the memory of that night has had to be a lasting one for Ross considering the fact that he’s never even come close to duplicating it in the hundreds of games he’s played since.

Back on Jan. 25, 2014, Ross poured in a jaw-dropping, head-scratching 51 points against the Los Angeles Clippers by making 16 of 29 shots, 10 of 17 3-pointers and nine of 10 free throws. His only faux paus, as it turns out, was missing a free throw with four seconds remaining that could have allowed him to break Vince Carter’s Raptors’ record instead of merely equaling it.

“It was just a typical day and I don’t remember that much about it other than I was shooting really good in the pregame shootaround,’’ recalled Ross, whose Magic squad will host the Washington Wizards on Friday – the anniversary of his memorable night in basketball. “That hot feeling just kind of snuck up on me in warmups, Then, after I made my first shot, I felt really good and I just kept it going.

The Jan. 25, 2014 game between Ross’ Raptors and the Clippers was the second night of a back-to-back set of games for both teams as Toronto had won a night prior in Philadelphia, while L.A. was victorious 24 hours earlier in Chicago. Clearly, both teams would be playing with heavy legs after arriving in Toronto in the early-morning hours of the 25th.

Ross, 22 years old at the time, breathed life into the night in the early going by drilling his first shot – a 3-pointer from the left wing over Matt Barnes – and five threes in the first period alone for 15 quick points. In a somewhat strange twist of fate, Ross – a native of Portland – would do battle all night with Clippers’ guard Jamal Crawford – a Seattle native, a close friend and a mentor of Ross’ for years – who pumped in 37 points and five 3-pointers of his own.

Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry set up most of Ross’ early shots, running a dribble hand-off play for the second 3-pointer and finding Ross on a cross-court pass for the third 3-pointer. A feed from Chuck Hayes set up the fourth triple and Ross dribbled up and into the fifth one with nine-tenths of a second remaining in the first quarter.

Ross was Toronto’s featured player that night because DeRozan – the Raptors’ top scorer for years – played just 21 minutes because of a sore ankle. Back in the Toronto locker room, DeRozan tried watching the game on TV only to have the plays spoiled by the sellout crowd of 19,800 fans in attendance.

“I remember everything. I remember playing the Clippers. I remember that I got hurt in the first quarter really bad and I kept trying to play and I just couldn’t go no more,’’ DeRozan said earlier this season before the Magic faced his San Antonio Spurs. “I remember sitting in the back and T-Ross started going off. It was so loud in the arena and I remember hearing the crowd yelling before I’d see him make a shot on the TV. You could hear the reactions before the shot went in and that’s just how hot he was.’’

In the fourth period, Ross hit the 40-point plateau when he crossed over J.J. Redick and went right at shot-swatting center DeAndre Jordan for a layup.

Ross’ 49th and 50th points came from the free throw line with 33 seconds to play. And even though the game was out of reach for the Raptors – 126-118 losers to the Clippers – Griffin gave him a shot at setting the Toronto franchise record by fouling him in the final seconds. Ross’ first free throw was true, giving him 51 points to match what Carter did a decade earlier. However, when his final free throw was off the back iron, Ross missed out on a chance to stand alone as the Raptors’ record-holder.

A couple of thousand miles away, Evan Fournier – then a member of the Denver Nuggets and now Ross’ teammate in Orlando – was on a bus in Sacramento when he saw the then-Toronto shooting guard’s huge night. Like most NBA fans, Fournier was flabbergasted.

“I was on the bus looking at the (NBA) app and I was like, `What? Fifty-one from this guy?’’’ Fournier said. “Nate Robinson was on the (Denver) team and he knew T-Ross and we were talking about him.’ I know now T-Ross is just that streaky and if he gets it going, there’s just not much that you can do about it. I remember checking his stats and he bumped like a point-and-a-half in one night with his scoring average. It’s crazy what one night like that can do for a guy.’’

By shattering the 50-plateau, Ross reached some rarified air by putting his name on a list that includes Wilt Chamberlain (118 50-point games), Michael Jordan (31 such games), Kobe Bryant (25), Elgin Baylor (17), Rick Barry (14), active superstar James Harden (14) and others.

While nearly doubling his previous career high of 26 and becoming the first player in NBA history to reach the 50-point plateau while averaging less than 10 points a game, Ross also joined another distinctive, yet vastly less prestigious list.

Ross is one of 81 players in NBA history to own one 50-point performance. That list includes current NBA players such as John Wall, Bradley Beal, LaMarcus Aldridge, Devin Booker, CJ McCollum, Karl-Anthony Towns, Lou Williams, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, DeRozan and Griffin. Many of those players, however, have gone on to make NBA All-Star Games, win championships and post other high-scoring nights in the 30s and 40s.

Instead, Ross has been compared to the likes of other lesser-known players who were one-and-done with 50-point performances. Tony Delk (53 in 2001), Willie Burton (53 in 1994), Charles Smith (52 in 1991), Tracy Murray (50 in 1997), Corey Brewer (51 in 2014), Dana Barros (50 in 1995), Brandon Jennings (55 in 2009), Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (51 in 1995), Vernon Maxwell (51 in 1991) and old-school veterans Freeman Williams (51 in 1980) and Walt Wesley (50 in 1971) have been some of the most unlikeliest players to score 50 points based on their track records.

Two others with Magic ties, Nick Anderson and Rashard Lewis, also were surprise 50-point scorers. Anderson, the first draft pick in Orlando history and a Magic Hall of Famer, scored 50 against the New Jersey Nets on April 23, 1993. While the night should have been remembered for Anderson becoming the first player ever to score 50 points as a reserve, center Shaquille O’Neal stole the headlines by breaking the basket stanchion on a thunderous dunk.

Lewis, who helped lead the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, had his highest-scoring night early in his career while playing for the Seattle SuperSonics. The two-time all-star, who often played in the shadows of Ray Allen and later Dwight Howard, scored 50 points on Halloween night in 2003 in, of all places, Saitama, Japan, against the Los Angeles Clippers.

For whatever reason, Ross has never been able to recapture the shooting magic that he harnessed for one night back in 2014. Maybe basketball fans should have seen that coming based on his track record leading up to the 51-point eruption.

In his season-and-a-half prior to scoring 51 points, Ross had 20 points four times – and never consecutively. In the eight games prior to Jan. 25, 2014, he netted just 60 points combined and it took him five games afterward to eclipse 51 points.

Prior to scoring 51, Ross’ biggest achievement was winning the 2013 Slam Dunk Competition. That was especially significant to him because his father, Terry Ross, had won the Continental Basketball Association dunk title in 1995.

Known throughout his career as a streaky, but wildly erratic shooter, Ross has seemingly always had trouble following up big games with another one. He didn’t have back-to-back 20-point performances until the 2014-15 season – his third in the NBA. His hot-and-cold nature got him traded from Toronto to Orlando in February of 2017, and he wouldn’t repeat that feat of scoring at least 20 points in consecutive games until this season with the Magic when he had 22 against the Knicks and 21 against the Wizards in November.

This season with the Magic, Ross has been arguably the most consistent of his seven-year NBA career. The true irony of this bounce-back season from a serious knee injury is that Ross has taken what has always been the biggest knock on him and inexplicably turned it into a strength.

Consistently inconsistent throughout the first six years of his NBA career, Ross has evolved into a consistently dynamic threat for a Magic team that relies heavily on his instant offense and high-degree-of-difficulty shot-making skills. This season, he has 35 double-digit scoring games and eight nights where he’s pumped in at least 20 points for the Magic. In addition to leading the team in scoring six times, he’s averaging a career-best 13.9 points while shooting a solid 37.5 percent from 3-point range.

Though he’s a reserve, Ross usually sits atop the game plan for opposing teams and coaches such as Rivers and Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce warn their squads about the dangers of letting Ross heat up. “When he makes that first shot, the basket just looks really big to him the rest of the night,’’ Pierce said.

He’s also near the top of the Magic’s scouting report as head coach Steve Clifford hasn’t hesitated to go to Ross in big moments all season. Clifford marvels at how Ross often doesn’t even need to feel the basketball to come into a game hot. Dozens of times already this season, Ross has scored within 30 seconds of checking into a game off the bench.

“He doesn’t need much time (to heat up),’’ Clifford said. “They play differently, but he reminds me of (former NBA forward) Bonzi Wells, who was like that. (Former Houston coach) Jeff (Van Gundy) would go right to (Wells) and he wouldn’t need touches to get loose, and Terrence is the same way. You put him in the game, and you can go right to him. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense.’’

And he’ll keep trying recreate the shooting magic that he had in the palm of his hands back on Jan. 25, 20014. He’s scored at least 20 points 27 times since that magical night and his high point total since pouring in the 51 points was 29 while playing for the Magic in April of 2017.

Whether he ever scores 50 points again or not, Ross will always have the memories of a night that started mundanely and ended with deafening roars from the crowd and a feeling he could do no wrong. No, he’s never quite lived up to the hype that 2014 night created for his career, but he’ll always be able to savor those memories and tell his two small children about the time he pumped in 50.

“After me scoring 51 points in my second year in the league, of course everybody was going to say I was going to do this or that (as far as being an all-star player),’’ he recalled. “Really, that moment just helped me grow into myself. Everybody goes at their own pace and I feel like I’m just now coming into my own as a player. That night is something that I can always look back on and be proud of.’’

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