TORONTO â€” DeMar DeRozan's desire to play grew with every passing game he was forced to sit on the sidelines.
The three-time all-star returned Monday, scoring 31 points to lift the Toronto Raptors to a 118-109 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, showing no rust from the seven of eight games he missed with a sprained ankle.
And if there was anything to be gained from his time on the bench, DeRozan said it was "motivation."
"Sitting out, you kind of regain a certain hunger that you could lose track of when you're out there playing," he said. "It gives you that hunger all over again to get back out there, to do what you were doing, but even at a higher level."
Kyle Lowry became the franchise leader in three-point shots made, and finished with 24 points and eight assists. Lowry, who had five threes on the night, now has 804, passing Morris Peterson's record of 801.
DeRozan's return is good timing for a team that had slipped down to fourth place in the Eastern Conference. They went 3-4 without him.
DeRozan played 38 minutes, and insisted he felt no pain playing or in the moments after. He'd experienced swelling after the Raptors' game versus Orlando, forcing the medical staff to hold him out for another four games.
"It felt great to be back out there, to be with my guys, pulling out a victory, especially at home," he said. "I didn't have no problem, no pain, no nothing. I just got a little winded the last minute or two. It feels good."
Better than the Orlando game? "Yeah, yeah. Day and night."
DeRozan joked in the post-game locker-room about how Lowry's job is easier when the two of them are playing.
"He has a smile on his face going onto the court and walking off. He was happy. Anything I can do to help Kyle is always beneficial for Kyle," DeRozan said.
Coach Dwane Casey said DeRozan's return puts things back in the "pecking order."
"Guys know the rhythm with DeMar back in, how we play offensively, how we play defensively," Casey said.
Jonas Valanciunas added 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Raptors (32-21), who won for the second day in a row.
Blake Griffin had a triple-double â€” 26 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists â€” to top the slumping Clippers (31-21), who lost for the seventh time in nine games.
The Raptors, who were coming off a 103-95 victory at Brooklyn a day earlier, got out to a sluggish start on the defensive end, but quickly composed themselves, taking the lead late in the first quarter and never relinquishing it. They headed into the fourth quarter with a 97-82 lead, and the game was never in doubt over the final 12 minutes in front of a delighted capacity crowd of 19,800 fans at the Air Canada Centre.
When Norm Powell, who hadn't played through the first three quarters, took flight for a huge alley-oop dunk from Lowry, it brought the fans out of their seats and gave Toronto a 17-point lead. J.J. Redick converted a four-point play with 6:23 to play, but DeRozan answered with a buzzer-beating three to stifle any momentum the Cliippers might gain.
"It's very good," Cory Joseph said of the back-to-back wins. "Whenever anybody's winning, everybody's happy. It's good to have Deebo (DeRozan) back. It helps us out a lot. We all know the points he can put up on the board. So get back into Raptors basketball. . . it was fun.
A day after he was a healthy scratch against Brooklyn, Joseph finished with 12 points in an energetic performance.
Casey had said Joseph hasn't been the "energy backbone" recently that he was last season, but praised his performance against the Clippers.
"Never worried about Cory for one second. A lot was made to do about nothing," Casey said. "He's what we're about. . . he just needed some rest like Kyle and DeMar and like Pat (Patterson) is getting some rest. Guys go through that, Cory is fine. He's the heart of our team, he's our spark off the bench and I never doubted that for one second."
Patterson missed his second game in a row with a sore knee.
The Clippers, who were coming off a 107-102 loss in Boston a night earlier, were without all-star point guard Chris Paul, who's out with a torn ligament in his thumb.
The Raptors' lacklustre first-quarter defence had fans groaning, and when J.J. Redick scored on a long jumper just four minutes into the game, it gave the Clippers and 11-point lead. But Toronto turned things around with an 18-5 run to take their first lead of the game, and ended the quarter up 35-31.
Toronto kept the pressure on in the second, and expanded their lead to 11 points. They took a 70-60 advantage into the dressing room at halftime.
A Lowry three-pointer put Toronto up by 15 points late in the third quarter.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press