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Raptors Silence Jazz 104-98

Heading into the holiday break, and a long road trip, the Raptors got a win on the road against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

This game started as a back and forth affair. Both teams scored fairly well early, thanks to hot shooting from distance for the Jazz (3-of-6 in the first Q), and steady scoring from DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas early, and solid contributions from the bench unit after quick substitutions in the thin Utah air. The Raptors were down 29-28 after the first quarter.

The second quarter started as a back and forth affair again, with the Raptors’ bench slowly clawing back into the lead (by one) with some solid defense. The Raptors pulled away once the starters checked back in (early, about 4 minutes into the quarter, continuing the pattern of quick substitutions) — from when Valanciunas checked in to when he checked out with his third foul with five minutes left in the half, the score went from a 34-33 lead to a 45-38 lead. Lucas Nogueira would come in for the rest of the half and between his defense and Kyle Lowry catching fire (all 12 of his first half points came in the second quarter, on 4-of-8 from the field and 2-of-5 from three), the Raptors managed to hold on to most of that seven point lead, finishing the half with the score at 56-51.

With Patrick Patterson starting the second half, and after Valanciunas picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, the Raptors ran a quasi-bench unit for most of the quarter. Thankfully, Lowry was still very much over everything, scoring the Raptors’ first five points of the quarter to push the lead to eight. Once again the star guards seemed to feel like trading off runs, as DeRozan followed that up with a 4-0 run of his own, helped along by two bad turnovers in traffic by Utah, and the lead grew to 12.

Those turnovers would dry up, though, and combined with a dry spell for the Raptors’ offense (coinciding with Lowry heading to the locker room to get stitches for a cut) as well, the lead shrunk to five by the two minute mark when Dwane Casey went back to Valanciunas, also bringing Norman Powell into the game to play 4-out with Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross and DeRozan. The Raptors’ struggles continued, and the Jazz caught fire again (Trey Lyles in particular, who scored 12 straight points for them). The Jazz would take a 74-72 lead into the fourth.

The Raptors started small again in the fourth, only this time with Lowry out there with Powell, Ross and DeMarre Carroll with Valanciunas in the middle. Kyle Lowry very much wanted to win this game — with two stitches in his lip, he once again caught fire, bailing out a stagnant and clearly tired Raptors’ offense. The Jazz got cold from three at the right time too, and the Raptors powered to an 89-84 lead with seven minutes left, on the strength of a 17-10 run to start the quarter. Lowry scored 11 of the 17. At this point the Raptors brought Nogueira and DeRozan back in. After pushing the lead up to eight with more scoring from Lowry and DeRozan, the offense got sloppy, leading to the Jazz pulling back within five with three minutes left.

With Lyles once again scoring for the Jazz, Lowry decided to close out the game. He put the team on his back again, scoring in bunches and drawing so much attention the Jazz even let Nogueira have an open lob dunk in crunch time (assisted by Lowry, of course). Lowry would score eight of the Raptors’ final 14 points, and finish with 36 points on the night (15-of-20 shooting, 4-of-8 from three, plus five assists, four rebounds and two steals), leading the Raptors to a 104-98 victory.

This was a rough one, with the usual Utah fatigue, a Lowry injury early on, foul trouble for Valanciunas on a night where he was actually very effective (14 points on 5-of-5 shooting and seven boards in 16 minutes, a +7 in that time), and a tough shooting night for DeRozan, with trips to the free throw line few and far between against the elite Jazz defense (he finished with 24 points on 28 used offensive possessions and only one assist), as the Raptors lost the free throw battle (10-of-15 to Utah’s 18-of-21), a rare situation for them. And thanks primarily to Kyle Lowry being very much a star tonight, with some strong supporting efforts from Valanciunas, Nogueira and Ross (10 points, 4-of-7 shooting), they pulled it out. A great way to start a tough road trip — with a win.