TORONTO – The Raptors were rolling to their 13th straight home win until the Rockets blasted them with 36 points in the fourth quarter to win 113-107.
The turning point came when James Harden’s three and pair of free throws made it 109-105 right after Dwight Howard fouled out, and the Raptors never recovered.
The Beard had just 10 points in the first half but turned it up to finish with 40 points and got his teammates involved with 14 assists.
“The assists hurt us because he’s finding [Corey] Brewer for open looks or finding [Dwight] Howard for lobs,” coach Dwane Casey said following the loss.
“You’ve got to take something away and we did with our defence but he kicked it for so many looks at threes. He’s so hard to guard one-on-one but he’s also a willing passer and very smart player.”
Luis Scola led the Raptors with 21 points, DeRozan had 19, Lowry 17, and Jonas Valanciunas registered another double-double with 12 points and 10 boards.
With the loss Toronto drops to three games back of Cleveland atop the Eastern Conference, but home court advantage hasn’t been exactly advantageous the last two playoffs for the Raptors.
“We can’t let up and we know that,” Lowry said in the locker room after a game Toronto led by as many as 18 points. “We’ve got to do better throughout the game and not get relaxed or have any lapses, just continue to push.”
It was supposed to be another classic west-coast matchup between fellow Los Angeles natives DeMar DeRozan and Harden, but DeRozan scored just three points in the first half and finished with 19.
Nobody on the other side could contain Harden who got everywhere he wanted and DeRozan said he read the defence well all night.
James Johnson started at the small forward spot and defended Harden well, but finished the game on the bench. DeMarre Carroll is back to practicing shooting drills in the recovery from right knee surgery, but is yet to be cleared for contact, and will be the team’s go-to defender in situations like this come playoff time.
In the meanwhile, Patrick Patterson, Bismack Biyombo and Cory Joseph closed the game with the all-stars in Lowry and DeRozan.
Expectations for Houston were high coming into the season, but they’re clinging to eighth spot in the West with Utah right behind them. It’s been an injury-riddled season with a coaching change on the fly and now they have to play desperate.
“There’s still a lot of games but we have to take advantage of our opportunities,” said Rockets coach JB Bickerstaff. “Utah’s a good team, they’re capable of running off a few games in a row, but so are we.”
The Raptors were 38-22 after 60 games last year, and entered this one 41-19. They’re still on pace for 50 and at the current pace would hit 55 wins, obliterating last year’s franchise mark of 48.
Toronto plays next on Tuesday when they host the lowly Brooklyn Nets.