TORONTO – Days after folding down the stretch in a loss to division-rival Brooklyn, the Toronto Raptors made a statement on Friday night.
Toronto stood tall in final quarter this time around, scoring 12 straight points late to break open a tie game on the way to a 99-86 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies before a crowd of 18,465 at Air Canada Centre.
“That’s a tough team to beat. We beat a playoff team,” said Toronto guard Greivis Vasquez, who scored 17 points off the bench, including five straight in 20 seconds to break an 80-80 tie and put the Raptors ahead for good with just under six minutes to play.
“That was a good win for us at home.”
Vasquez, who also had six assists, fired a cross-court pass to DeMar DeRozan who nailed a three-point jumper to widen the Raptors’ lead to 90-80 with 3:13 to go.
The Raptors (37-27) outscored Memphis 19-6 down the stretch to win their second straight and eighth in 10. It was the first loss in five starts for the Grizzlies (38-27).
The game had a playoff feel most of the night. The defences were stiff, play was physical, every shot was contested and momentum swung repeatedly. The lead changed eight times and there were 10 ties.
“I think any game like that is enjoyable for everybody,” said Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who was three rebounds shy of a triple-double, scoring 22 points, adding 12 assists and seven boards. “For our team, it just builds a little more character.
“The physicality that those Memphis guys bring in, our bigs matched it and did a good job.”
Lowry said Toronto centre Jonas Valanciunas “earned some respect” with his battle against Memphis big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Valanciunas led all scorers with 23 points.
Amir Johnson also had a great night, limiting Memphis centre Gasol to eight points and three rebounds while scoring 12 points and grabbing eight boards.
Randolph led the Grizzlies with 16 points and eight rebounds.
“It was not easy,” said Valanciunas. “They’re playing very good basketball, especially in the paint. We battled really hard and showed that we can win.”
The Raptors got out-muscled down low in the early going. Memphis had a 14-0 edge on second-chance points as they stretched their lead to nine in the second quarter.
But Toronto battled back and won, though the Raptors ended the night down 21-14 on second-chance points and were outscored 50-34 in the paint.
Toronto head coach Dwane Casey said he thought his team learned lessons from the loss in Brooklyn.
“We didn’t have to repeat it too much about the physicality, how much they were going to get into it,” Casey said. “Don’t look to the officials for help. Take care of your own business. Get guys off of you.
“It’s a man’s game in the paint, in that red area.”
Casey also praised his team for finding the open guy as Memphis repeatedly double-teamed DeRozan.
“Our guys did a good job finding (Valanciunas) rolling to the bucket and basically standing under the basket wide open,” Casey said.
The Raptors wrap up their three-game homestand on Sunday afternoon against the Phoenix Suns before visiting the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday and the Pelicans in New Orleans on Wednesday.