Raptors ready to snap at NBA title rivals

Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan going up for a shot, as Houston guard James Harden is slow to block him at the Air Canada Centre. Harden’s 40 points came to nought for the Rockets, who paid the price for a poor start.
Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan going up for a shot, as Houston guard James Harden is slow to block him at the Air Canada Centre. Harden’s 40 points came to nought for the Rockets, who paid the price for a poor start.PHOTO: REUTERS

Eastern leaders hold off Rockets to end their long run, Cavs & Warriors both lose

TORONTO • It was not the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, but for just one night, the talk was not about the Golden State Warriors nor the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It was about the Toronto Raptors - the best team in the East who have already made it to the play-offs - against the Houston Rockets, the Western Conference leaders who were on a 17-game winning streak.

It was the blockbuster clash of the night at the Air Canada Centre and the Raptors did not disappoint their home crowd.

Toronto, who had won 13 out of 14, showed up when it was needed most and all the way till the end.

They withstood a late surge from Houston (51-14) to halt the Rockets' streak with a 108-105 victory on Friday.

Kyle Lowry scored 30 points and DeMar DeRozan added 23 for the Raptors (48-17), as James Harden scored 40 points for the Rockets.

"We were maybe surprised by the intensity or whatever," admitted Houston coach Mike D'Antoni, whose team had not lost since Jan 26. "We didn't quite come out with what we had the last three quarters."

TAKING THE LEAD

He shot the ball well. We needed our three-point shooting to pick up. I think once other guys saw him shoot the ball, they got rolling, shot it with conviction.

DWANE CASEY, Toronto coach, on Kyle Lowry inspiring the team with 13 first quarter points.

Despite the defeat, the Rockets maintained a half-game lead over Golden State atop the Western Conference after the reigning NBA champions were beaten 125-108 by the Trail Blazers in Portland.

Toronto coach Dwane Casey praised Lowry for igniting the Raptors' offence to life on Friday.

The guard had 13 first-quarter points while going three for three from beyond the arc. That ensured that Toronto had an early 32-16 lead behind Lowry.

"He shot the ball well. We needed our three-point shooting to pick up," said Casey.

"I think once other guys saw him shoot the ball, they got rolling, shot it with conviction."

For Lowry, he said that the Raptors must find a way to maintain the level they showed in the first quarter throughout the game.

"We can't be satisfied with big leads in the first quarter and let them go - we've got to find a way to continue to be strong," he said.

Meanwhile, with Stephen Curry sidelined by a right ankle injury and Andre Iguodala, Jordan Bell and David West also out, champions Golden State's Kevin Durant stepped up with a 40-point performance in Portland.

But that was not enough to stop the red-hot Trail Blazers (40-26).

Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 28 points and Portland won their ninth straight to consolidate third place in the West behind the Warriors (51-15).

The Warriors saw their seven-game win streak snapped and still await word on when Curry might return after "tweaking" his right ankle on Thursday.

Their star point guard will definitely miss today's (tomorrow, Singapore time) game at Minnesota.

The Cavaliers (38-27) also lost on the road, beaten 102-116 by the Clippers (35-29) in Los Angeles.

LeBron James scored 25 points with 10 rebounds and six assists for last season's losing finalists Cleveland, whose lead over Washington and Indiana for third place in the East is now just half a game.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 11, 2018, with the headline 'Raptors ready to snap at NBA title rivals'. Print Edition | Subscribe