Red-hot Raptors hold off Sixers
TORONTO—Jonas Valanciunas cherished the chance to think about nothing but basketball last night.
The Raptors’ sophomore centre cast aside his off-court troubles to score a career-high 26 points and grab 12 rebounds in Toronto’s 125-114 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers—less than three days after he was charged with drunk driving.
“I felt really good fan support—thank you to them,” he added. “I felt great because everybody supported me.
“I say sorry, and [am] learning to be better,” Valanciunas pledged.
“It’s been a really good two-and-a half hours [playing].”
Kyle Lowry topped Toronto (46-32) with 29 points in his first game back after missing three with a bruised kneecap.
Patrick Patterson finished with 17 in the Raptors’ fourth-straight victory and seventh in eight outings.
DeMar DeRozan added 17 points before leaving the game with a minute to play with a nasty gash over his left eye that required three stitches.
The swirling trouble surrounding Valanciunas didn’t show in his game. He scored the Raptors’ first points of the night, then grabbed a rebound on the Sixers’ first sho.
He scored on a thunderous dunk on a pass from DeRozan on Toronto’s next trip down the floor.
“I expected it,” Lowry said. “He was going to play like trash or he was going to play amazing.
“And he played amazing like we expected.
“It’s a tough situation for him to handle but this is our sanctuary, basketball,” added Lowry.
“We get a chance to be away from everything and basketball is our space—our secret spot.
“That’s where guys can release a lot of energy and intensity,” he explained.
Henry Sims scored 22 points, Michael Carter-Williams added 19, and Thaddeus Young finished with 16 for the Sixers (17-61).
The Raptors are headed for the post-season for the first time in six years, and a victory tomorrow night versus the visiting N.Y. Knicks will clinch the Atlantic Division.
It also will tie their franchise record for wins of 47—set in 2000-01 and 2006-07.
But the Raptors were coming off a tougher-than-expected 102-98 win over the last-place Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday and the lowly Sixers—who recently tied the league record for most consecutive defeats with 26—gave Toronto a decent game for much of the night.
“These are the dog days,” said Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey. “Teams that don’t have anything to play for, our guys see the computer, they see the standings and all the records.
“But we can’t play that way,” he stressed.
“I told them we’ve got to pick our defence up and not have the mental letdown.”
The Raptors led by only a point midway through the third quarter before taking a 98-89 advantage into the fourth in front of an Air Canada Centre crowd of 18,789.
“I think, for the most part, we went out there and played a solid gam,” said Young.
“[The Raptors] are a good team,” he noted. “They are a playoff contending team, third in the East, they have proven it day in and day out.
“They have a lot of key guys that can make shots and score the basketball.”
For his part, DeRozan was pleased Valanciunas “came up big” against the Sixers.
“I hope everybody leaves him alone,” DeRozan remarked.
“[His game] just shows you he’s not letting everything else affect him, everything that’s going on, or the situation that happened,” he noted.
“He’s just going out there playing, he did what he did, it’s over with, he apologized to us, and understands what’s at stake.”
Valanciunas’ first court appearance is scheduled for Collingwood on April 22.
The 21-year-old is not required to attend so a lawyer will stand in for him.
He could receive a suspension from the NBA, but that would be pending the results of a trial, which likely would be during the off-season.
Raptors’ starting forward Amir Johnson, meanwhile, missed his fourth game with an ankle injury.
Casey said the hard-working forward, who has long battled bad ankles, isn’t 100 percent but “he’s pretty close.”
“Probably if he had to go tonight, he probably could go, ” Casey noted.
“But again, we’re trying to make sure; trying to get him ready for the next couple of weeks.”