TORONTO â€” Kyle Lowry had to end the Toronto Raptors’ ugly slump without his running mate DeMar DeRozan. Friday night, he played big enough for the both of them.
A night after Lowry was named to his third consecutive NBA all-star team, the Raptors guard proved why, scoring 32 points to lift Toronto to a 102-86 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
The victory ended Toronto’s losing streak at five games.
“He stepped up,” coach Dwane Casey said. “The bigger the moment, he performs, that’s the reason why he’s a three-time all-star.”
Norman Powell added 19 points for Toronto (29-18), while Patrick Patterson had 10. Jonas Valanciunas grabbed 11 rebounds to go with eight points.
Patterson said Lowry simply raises his game when he’s without DeRozan, who was sidelined for the third straight game with a sprained right ankle.
“He’s more I would say focused. He’s more leading out there. He’s making the right play every single time, offensively and defensively,” Patterson said. “It just seems like he’s more aggressive on both sides of the ball. He’s just pretty much putting us on his back. So without DeMar out there, he’s just more hungry, I would say.”
The scheduled return of DeRozan, who will also play in his third straight all-star game, is unknown.
Jabari Parker had 21 points to top the Bucks (21-25), while Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 19.
In Toronto’s last two games â€” two-point losses to San Antonio and Memphis â€” the Raptors sputtered out to horrible starts then rallied in the dying minutes to make the games close.
Friday, they roared out of the gate, as Lowry orchestrated a 31-6 run in the first quarter to give them their biggest lead of the game â€”19 points.
“That’s what we’ve got to do, most important is we have to play with an edge, that spark, that swagger,” Casey said. “We’ve kind of been moping, in second gear, and tonight I thought we were zinging around and zipping around on both ends of the floor. We can’t go and just out-power somebody or go toe-to-toe with somebody, we have to play with that zip, the ball going side to side.”
The feisty Bucks, however, weren’t going down without a fight and Toronto led just 77-70 with one quarter left to play.
Lucas Nogueira and Terrence Ross brought the Air Canada Centre fans flying out of their seats with a beautiful passing play midway through the fourth: a Nogueira steal, pass to Ross, lob back to Nogueira, who finished with a big dunk. The highlight-reel play gave the Raptors a 12-point lead.
A three-pointer by Rashad Vaughn with 5:11 to play cut Toronto’s lead to nine points, but that was as close as the Bucks would come.
Lowry was pleased with the Raptors’ consistency on the defensive end.
“We were just flying all around the floor,” Lowry said. “I think we rebounded the ball well, but I think we were active in flying all over the floor, getting our hands on basketballs.”
Toronto shot 44 per cent on the night, and connected on 10 of their 25 three-point shots.
The Raptors, who haven’t lost six in a row since Dec. 3-12 of 2012, missed out on an opportunity to make up ground on the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have held onto the top spot in the Eastern Conference despite a big-time slump of their own.
“It sucks, but we can’t work like that,” Lowry said of the lost opportunity. “They’re having their difficulties, we’re having our difficulties.”
Lowry couldn’t put his finger on why some teams are struggling.
“I don’t know, you write the story and tell me,” he joked with a reporter after the morning shootaround. “I can’t tell you. I think the first two months is a push and everyone’s just going and going and going and that third month is like ‘OK.’ That’s when the better teams keep going. Spurs, Warriors, those guys are playing extremely well right now so we’ve got to make sure we get to that level as well.”
The Raptors briefly trailed the Bucks, but a dunk from Nogueira was the punctuation mark on their huge run that put Toronto up by 19 points. The Raptors took a 36-19 lead into the second.
The Bucks showed some fight to cut the deficit to single digits for large chunks of the second quarter. But the Raptors had stretched their lead back to 53-39 at the halftime break.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press