Raps beat Suns 101-97 to end six-game slump
Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan, right, tries to keep a loose ball in play as Kyle Lowry, left, and Phoenix Suns' Marcin Gortat look on during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. (The Canadian Press/Chris Young)
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, November 30, 2012 9:45PM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 30, 2012 10:59PM EST
TORONTO -- Dwane Casey walked into the post-game press conference and plunked down a bottle of Gatorade on the podium.
The coach joked that he didn't drink beer, so Gatorade was his post-game celebratory drink of choice.
The beleaguered Toronto Raptors finally had something to celebrate Friday, beating the Phoenix Suns 101-97 for their first victory in seven games -- a much-needed mental boost, they said, before departing on a tough five-game road trip.
"The way Kyle (Lowry) put it, we're in a four-and-a-half feet hole, trying to stop digging," Casey said of the Raptors' early-season woes.
DeMar DeRozan scored 23 points to top Toronto (4-13), while Amir Johnson added 16, Jose Calderon contributed 13 points and nine assists and Lowry finished with 15 points.
"It felt good, we definitely needed it mentally, we definitely needed it before we went on this tough road trip," said Lowry.
The Raptors open this latest road trip on a gruelling early-season schedule Monday in Denver.
Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley and Shannon Brown scored 14 points apiece for the Phoenix (6-10).
The Raptors found themselves in a situation all-too-familiar, watching a fourth-quarter lead all but disappear against a Suns team hungry to make up for a humiliating 117-77 loss in Detroit two nights earlier -- the third worst margin of defeat in the Suns' history.
DeRozan's putback of his own blocked shot with 0.3 seconds left to go in the third gave Toronto an 80-76 lead with one quarter left in the game, and then Calderon carried the team for much of the fourth, either scoring or assisting on virtually every point for a Raptors squad desperate to hold on for a victory. A three-point play by Johnson gave Toronto a nine-point lead, but the home team's advantage in front of 18,246 fans at the Air Canada Centre slowly disappeared, a bucket by Brown with 1:07 on the clock to make it a one-point game.
But that would be the Suns' only two points in the final two minutes.
"Big-time defence down the stretch," Casey said.
Lowry scooped up a rebound on a Gortat miss and was fouled, draining one of two free throws.
Then Andrea Bargnani, back after missing Wednesday's loss at Memphis with a sore left ankle, grabbed a huge rebound with three seconds on the clock and was fouled for two free throws to clinch the rare win for Toronto.
"Our other guys were doing a great job offensively so I didn't need to take many shots, and I was trying to make myself useful on defence," Bargnani said.
The strong late effort must have been welcome relief for the beleaguered big man who scored just four points on 1-for-4 shooting in 27 minutes. Bargnani, Toronto's No. 1 draft pick in 2006, has drawn the ire of Raptors' fans again this season, and last week against San Antonio scored just four points on 2-of-19 shooting.
"He did an excellent job of moving his feet, sliding his feet and got the stop," Casey said of Bargnani's big rebound. "He did a great job down the stretch, free-throw wise, so he came in after struggling with a sore foot and everything and gave us something at the end."
Mickael Pietrus, who made his Raptors debut just hours after the team announced his signing had kind words for Bargnani.
"Sometimes you're not going to get 20 shots, so you've got to do whatever it takes to help the team," Pietrus said.
The six-foot-six three-point specialist, acquired to help fill the void left by injured Landry Fields (arm), finished with six points, making two-of-five shots from three-point range.
The Raptors had a sluggish start falling behind by 10 points midway through the first quarter and trailed 25-19 heading into the second.
Calderon made an immediate difference in the second, doling out five assists as the Raptors shot 72 per cent and whittled away at the Suns' lead. A three-pointer by Lowry at the buzzer cut the Suns' lead to 52-51 at halftime. It was the first time in eight games the Raptors weren't outscored in the second.
DeRozan led the way with seven points in the third, and his bucket and free throw with less than a second left in the game gave Toronto an 80-76 advantage heading into the fourth.
Notes: Toronto rapper Drake had a courtside seat, along with Senator David Braley, owner of the Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts. . . The Raptors honoured Canada's men's wheelchair basketball team that captured gold at the London Olympics.