By RACHEL BRADY
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
TORONTO -- Life without Kyle Lowry looked frightening for the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night, as they began one of the most highly-anticipated home stands of the regular season.
With their all-star point guard sidelined due to a back injury, the Raptors suffered a crushing, white-knuckled 90-89 loss to the Miami Heat, in which they were badly outrebounded and lost Serge Ibaka to an ejection.
DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 25 points on 10-of-29 shooting - struggling much of the night until the fourth, but his late-game heroics weren't enough.
It was a punch to the gut for the Raptors before the Cleveland Cavaliers visit on Thursday, followed by the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.
Lowry was recovering from a bruised tailbone and back spasms suffered Monday night in Brooklyn against the Nets. He had been in the midst of his 15th double-double that night, when he suffered a nasty fall while attempting a rebound - hard on his back in overtime - and left the game. A wincing Lowry needed the help of teammates to get to the locker room. X-rays found no broken bones, but it's not yet known when he'll return.
"It's an example of Kyle busting his butt for the team. That's one of those things that you appreciate about him," said Toronto Coach Dwane Casey, not too sombre about the injury to make a pun. "He's going to be sore; we don't know how long."
The Raptors' "Better Together" ads played anyway throughout the game - much as they have all month - reminding fans to vote both DeRozan and Lowry into the NBA All-Star Game. As video and caricatures of the inseparable best friends flashed on the video board, the star point guard was off recuperating and his bestie was struggling through a tough night.
It was the first missed game of the season for Lowry, who is averaging 16.2 points, a team-high seven assists and 6.1 rebounds for the Raptors, and playing 31 minutes a night.
Starting in his place was third-year Raptor Delon Wright, scoring 13 in just the second start of his career. Fred Van Vleet would play the spot too (eight points), and the Raptors also called Lorenzo Brown up from the G-League Raptors 905.
The Heat came to town with a 22-17 record, sitting fifth in the East. The second-place Raptors hadn't faced them since last April in the regular season.
DeRozan, who on Monday had been named last week's Eastern Conference player of the week for the third time this season, hit just one of his first seven field goal attempts.
Instead it was Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka doing much of Toronto's scoring, trying to keep pace with Miami's Hassan Whiteside.
DeRozan's presence improved only marginally in the second quarter, and by the half, his stat line read 3-of-13 shooting for eight points, with three assists. Instead, Miami players like Wayne Ellington and Goran Dragic were stealing the spotlight with their shooting, and the Heat were dominating the boards, causing the Raps to slip into a 51-41 hole by half time. The usually raucous Air Canada Centre crowd was bored and quiet.
Inside the second half, there was excitement, but not the good kind for Toronto, as it cost them another starter. Serge Ibaka tangled with former Raptors tough guy James Johnson. Both men tossed punches, were slapped with technical fouls and ejected.
Ibaka was hardly a player they could afford to lose - he'd been escorted off the floor after providing 11 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Raptors had staged several comebacks late, but Miami kept surging back. Van Vleet and Norman Powell stepped up, and with less than two minutes left, DeRozan finger-rolled in a dramatic go-ahead bucket, then delivered another to keep his team up by one with three seconds left on the clock.
But that was enough time for the Raptors to let Ellington to hit a dagger and steal the win for Miami, who had out-rebounded Toronto 64-37.
The Raptors fall to 28-11, and theirs record at the ACC, which was leading the NBA, is now second behind the San Antonio Spurs' 18-2 home record.