Raptors cool off Suns
Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas battles the Suns’ Miles Plumlee during first-half action at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night. (Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun)
Powered by the reigning NBA player of the week and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors soared past another team built on impressive depth — just barely.
But only the final score matters and the NBA-leading Raptors improved to 12-2 with a 104-100 win over now 9-6 Phoenix.
Up by 15 points entering the fourth quarter, the Raptors, by far the NBA’s top squad in final quarters, had to survive a furious Suns rally this time, to escape with a ninth home win in 10 tries.
“It’s no mystery, this is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league, they can get back in a game just like that and that’s the way they’ve been for two years now,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “Nobody should be surprised … it seemed like we were but we found a way down the stretch to win and that’s the most important thing.”
Coming off of a monster seven days that earned him recognition as the player of the week, Lou Williams scored 12 of his 17 points in the first half, while Valanciunas finished with a career-best 27 points, though the Raptors stayed small in the final moments, leaving him on the bench.
The Suns can heat up faster than any team and exploded after a quick Jeff Hornacek timeout to read them the riot act following a Chuck Hayes layup that opened the fourth.
A 24-9 Phoenix run followed, propelled by 6-for-8 shooting from outside, taking the game down to the wire after the Suns hit 7-of-10 from deep, while the Raptors shot 33% overall in the quarter.
With the score tied after a tough Eric Bledsoe layup and free throw and a DeMar DeRozan miss, Gerald Green was called for an offensive foul, giving the Raptors the ball back with 1:16 left.
They flubbed the first two chances, but were lucky enough to get the ball back twice, allowing Patrick Patterson to get fouled with 34.6 seconds remaining. Patterson nailed both, his first two points of the night.
With the Suns trying to set up another three-point attempt, the always dangerous Kyle Lowry poked the ball away from Isaiah Thomas. Lowry won the tip, but sent it flying nearly out of bounds. Terrence Ross made a great play to get it to Patterson, who found DeRozan, who sealed the game with two free throws, allowing the Raptors to move back into a tie with Memphis atop the league’s standings.
DeRozan finished with 23 points, Lowry had 14, Ross 13. Bledsoe scored 25 for Phoenix.
The Raptors, one of the NBA leaders in free throw attempts, went to the line 32 times, making 26 of them, while Phoenix, only 22nd in free throw attempts heading in, made just eight-of-11 from the stripe.
The Raptors forced 20 Suns turnovers, leading to 24 points. The biggest ones were courtesy of Lowry.
“He had a sequence where he got the block, loose ball, got the steal, got the assist and then the charge. Unbelievable. That shows our leader, man,” said Hayes.
Casey said Lowry “kind of always finds a way to find those big plays down the stretch, that’s just his nature ... He’ll coast a little bit, but when it’s really that time of day, he steps up.”
Lowry shifted the credit toward Valanciunas.
“He was dominant tonight. He was really aggressive. He asserted himself,” Lowry said. “He really attacked the basket (and) went out there and played like a true, dominant 7-foot centre.”
Earlier in the day, Williams became the sixth Raptor, and first reserve, to win player-of-the-week honours (Vince Carter and Chris Bosh won it seven times each). Williams had averaged 23.7 points during Toronto’s 3-0 week, shooting 53% from the field and a perfect 21-for-21 from the line. He was the key figure in Toronto’s comeback win Saturday over Cleveland, scoring a career-high 36 points.
But the laid-back veteran didn’t get carried away over the achievement.
“I didn’t really think about it. I’ve never really set my career on individual goals,” Williams said. “I wasn’t waiting or anything. I’ve put together some solid games this week so it was pretty cool to get that text.”
Toronto’s depth sparked last year’s post-Rudy Gay trade renaissance and it has been a key this season as well. Williams leads all Eastern Conference reserves with his 13.6 points per game average.