No Kyle Lowry. No Amir Johnson. (Oh, and a less than 100 per cent DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas.)
The Raptors beat the Houston Rockets tonight 107 to 103 in a game that featured two clubs that weren't exactly in tip-top health. The Rockets were without star big man Dwight Howard as well as guard Patrick Beverley, while the Raptors were down the aforementioned Lowry, and lost Amir Johnson early on in this one. Lowry sat out due to the knee injury he sustained on Monday night, running into LeBron James while Johnson left early in the first quarter due to issues with the same right ankle that's been giving him trouble of late.
The absence of Lowry and Johnson may have been felt early as the Rockets ran away with the first quarter, streaking to a 25 to 14 lead. Houston was able to deploy its run-and-gun style right from the jump, and the Raps were caught flat-footed.
The Dinos' bench gave the club a nice lift though and thanks to going 7 of 11 from three-point range, Toronto climbed back into the match, and thanks to 15 second-quarter points by DeMar DeRozan, including a buzzer-beating bank shot to end the half, Toronto began the third quarter up 55 to 50.
Toronto's defence and rebounding was fairly lax in the first half but early in the third quarter, they turned up the heat and made the Rockets play a slow-down, halfcourt style that put their offense out of sorts. The Raps continued to run up the score at the other end and jumped to an 82 to 62 lead with only a few minutes left in the Q, and this one looked like it was over.
But the Rockets are one of the league's top offensive clubs for a reason and stormed back thanks to some personnel changes by coach Kevin McHale. McHale sent out a bevy of long-range gunners, spreading the floor on Toronto's D, and within minutes, that 20 point lead was reduced to a mere 8.
The Rockets kept coming in the fourth, whittling the lead down to a single point and suddenly it looked like the Raps were going to need another of their vaunted fourth quarter performances to get out of this one alive.
And indeed, that's what they did, clamping back down on D, returning to the offensive attack centered around Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan that was so successful earlier in the game, and despite a few miscues in the final seconds, generally walked away with a very satisfying win.
DeRozan led the Raps with 29 points and more importantly, made Kyle Lowry-worthy plays down the stretch at both ends to seal the W. Jonas Valanciunas had only six rebounds but chipped in 15 points and had a team-high plus/minus mark of +15, echoing his importance in this one.
Vasquez didn't have the best shooting night but was solid subbing in for Lowry in the starting lineup. He finished with 15 points and 8 assists.
For the Rockets, Harden led the way with 26 while Chandler Parsons had 20 in the loss.
The win for the Raptors was the 100th for Dwane Casey as coach of the club, and keeps Toronto tied with the Bulls (winners tonight) for third in the East.
In terms of awards, the STUB of the night goes to Donatas Motiejunas, who had 13 points and 5 rebounds although he wasn't a STUB in the 2010-12 Raptors sense.
Comment of the night?
That goes to the Treeeeeeeeeeeeeee for his very astute observation regarding the latest edition of Sportsnet Magazine, one that had me rolling my eyes when I saw it too:
Haha that magazine