TORONTO â€” They were playing some of their worst basketball in recent history, and missing all-star starter DeMar DeRozan. Tuesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs could have been truly ugly for the Toronto Raptors.
But the Raptors took the Spurs to the wire in a 108-106 loss, showing signs of life that had coach Dwane Casey optimistic the team is turning the corner on this slump.
“I thought our guys competed their behinds off in the second half. I was really proud of the way they played,” Casey said. “It comes back to the will thing. It’s not the three-point shots or the fancy plays, it’s the fundamentals â€” box out, free throws, layups â€” tonight in the second half.”
Kyle Lowry scored 30 points to top the Raptors, who have lost four straight for the first time since March 4-10 of 2015.
Terrence Ross scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter for the Raptors, who were playing without DeMar DeRozan. Norman Powell added 16 points, Patrick Patterson finished with 12, and Cory Joseph finished with 10.
DeRozan, who leads the team with 27.9 points a night, is out at least two games with a sprained right ankle after landing on the foot of Jonas Valanciunas in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 115-103 loss to visiting Phoenix.
Lowry said the margin for error narrows dramatically without DeRozan, who will also miss Wednesday’s game in Memphis, then be re-evaluated later in the week.
“With an all-star starter being out it’s always a little bit more difficult to win games,” Lowry said. “But Norm stepped up tonight and played well, Terrence played well, everyone’s got to step up. We have another task (Wednesday) and we’ve gotta live without him for another game.”
LaMarcus Aldridge had 21 points, while Patty Mills had 18 for the Spurs (36-9).
Patterson, who returned after missing six in a row, and 10 of the last 13 with a sore knee, said the Raptors’ second half was as good as he’s seen in awhile.
“But we have to play that way no matter who the opponent is,” Patterson said. “Granted this is the Spurs and you want to play to the best of your abilities but we have to have that mentality every single game. Second half was, I think, Raptor basketball. We haven’t played that way in a long time.”
The Spurs were also undermanned â€” Kawhi Leonard, who’d scored 30-plus points in six consecutive games, sat out with a hand injury.
The Raptors trailed the No. 2 team in the Western Conference all night, finally taking their first lead midway through the third quarter. The game went into the fourth all tied up at 79-79, to the delight of a capacity Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800 fans.
Ross opened the fourth quarter with a pair of three-pointers, and when he drilled a three with 4:23 to play, the basket put Toronto up 102-98.
With 11.3 seconds to play and the Raptors trailing by a point, Ross threw up a three that circled the rim tantalizingly before dropping out. Aldridge was fouled on the play, and his free throws made it a three-point game before a Powell dunk with 6.2 left pulled the Raptors to within a point once again. An Aldridge free throw clinched San Antonio’s victory.
“I thought it was a really competitive game, anybody could have won the thing,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Down the stretch, very honestly, it just went our way. We didn’t do anything special to deserve it other than playing hard just like they did, so we’re thrilled with the win.”
The Raptors and Spurs both shot 45 per cent, but Toronto won the rebounding battle 46-35.
Toronto has lost 19 of the last 24 meetings against San Antonio, including a 110-82 decision in Texas on Jan. 3. San Antonio scored 13 points on Toronto’s 13 turnovers.
The Raptors couldn’t buy a basket in a first quarter that saw them miss 12 of their first 15 shots. The Spurs took an eight-point advantage but baskets from Powell and Joseph cut San Antonio’s lead to 29-25 going into the second.
Toronto pulled to within a point early in the second, but the Spurs used a 15-4 run to go up by 13, and took a 61-54 lead into the halftime break.
Joseph led the way with eight points in the third, and his driving layup tied the game 70-70 with three minutes left in the third. A Ross free throw gave the Raptors their first lead late in the quarter.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press