TORONTO â€” Moments before Toronto took the court against Utah on Thursday, Jazz coach Quin Snyder was heaping praise on Kyle Lowry, calling him his favourite player in the Eastern Conference.
And then â€” much to Snyder’s chagrin â€” Lowry went out and reminded him why.
The Raptors guard scored 16 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Raptors a 101-93 win over Utah on Thursday â€” a game the Raptors never led until the final three-and-a-half minutes.
The late-game heroics came two weeks after Lowry scored 19 points in the fourth quarter to propel Toronto past the Jazz in Utah.
And after the game, it was Toronto coach Dwane Casey’s turn to compliment his all-star point guard.
“I tell you what, if it’s a loose ball down there, he’s like a little pitbull on it,” Casey said. “That’s why he’s who he is, he’s been that way since high school and it’s not going to change. He took over the game down the stretch.
“There’s going to be games he just doesn’t have it in the tank or situations he may not overcome, but my money would be on him if I was a betting man. I don’t gamble but if I did, I’d bet on him.”
DeMar DeRozan added 23 points for the Raptors (24-11), while Jonas Valanciunas finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Terrence Ross contributed 12 points.
Shelvin Mack had 17 points, while Gordon Hayward added 16 for the Jazz (22-15).
The game was the Raptors’ first in the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre since a six-game western road trip saw them go 3-3, ending it with an ugly 110-82 loss at San Antonio on Tuesday.
The Raptors, who didn’t arrive back in Toronto until Wednesday afternoon, got off to a sluggish start, and it was the Jazz who led virtually from the opening tipoff and had an 11-point lead over the home team in the first half.
A better third-quarter effort by the Raptors pulled them to within 73-71 with one quarter to play in front of a capacity crowd of 19,800.
The Jazz led by six points several times in the fourth before six consecutive points from Lowry, and a pullup jumper from DeRozan with 3:28 to play gave Toronto its first lead of the game â€” 89-88.
Lowry drilled a three-pointer on Toronto’s next possession to put Toronto up by six points with 2:42 left.
“It’s not surprising to me,” DeRozan of Lowry’s performance. “He picked up his aggressiveness, he’s the leader of the team, the things he’s able to do with the ball in his hands just orchestrating us offensively, he understands where he’s going to get his shots from. . . just being ultra-aggressive.”
The Jazz were within a point with two minutes to play before another basket by Lowry, and a rebound and bucket from Valanciunas with just under a minute to play â€” and the crowd on its feet â€” all but sealed Utah’s fate.
Snyder had talked glowingly about Lowry before the game, saying “I don’t know that there’s a better competitor in the league.”
“He’s like my favourite player in the league, in the East. And it’s because of his toughness and his competitiveness. He’s not tall, but there’s a strength that he has that we don’t underestimate. And he knows how to use his body and his hips and his strength.
“It’s just a different type â€” he’s not going to finish over the rim. But his game is so versatile. You get to that point and it’s like: how do you guard him?”
The Jazz had no answer for Lowry on Thursday, who finished with six rebounds and five assists, and shot 10-for-17 from the field including hitting four of his eight three-point shots.
“Kyle’s been doing a great job,” said DeMarre Carroll. “He started the game off trying to get other guys involved. He knows at the end either him or (DeRozan) have got to close it. Kyle stepped in and took it on his shoulders and kind of willed us to that win.”
After the Raptors’ woeful start at San Antonio, Casey changed up his lineup, starting Lucas Nogueira in place of Pascal Siakam. It didn’t help. When Saskatoon-born Trey Lyles drilled a three with less than a minute to play in the first quarter, it sent the Jazz into the second up 27-18.
The Jazz would stretch their lead to 11 points early in the second, but the Raptors clawed back with an 11-2 run, and would come within a point late in the quarter. Utah took a 52-48 advantage into the halftime break.
The Raptors showed more hustle in the third, outrebounding the Jazz 18-9 in the quarter, and tied the game on a pair of free throws by Valanciunas with five minutes left in the frame.
Raptors forward Patrick Patterson sat out his third straight game with a strained left knee.
The Raptors weren’t home for long. They play Saturday at Chicago then return home to host Houston on Sunday, the first of four in a row at the ACC.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press