Raptors beat Knicks in opener of home-and-home
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By BRIAN MAHONEY
NEW YORK (AP) Road crowds and fourth-quarter deficits are suddenly no problem for the Toronto Raptors, who have turned from chokers to closers.
"Last year we were in a ton of situations, late-game situations we couldn't pull out. We'd kind of fold under the pressure, get frustrated or let a big shot frustrate us," guard DeMar DeRozan said. "Now, we don't let none of that get to us."
Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, DeRozan scored 25 and the Raptors rallied for a 95-83 victory over the New York Knicks on Friday night.
The Raptors trailed by 12 points in the third quarter but outscored the Knicks 29-12 in the fourth to take the opener of a home-and-home series.
"Second half we picked it up defensively and offensively. We got the ball up the floor a little bit faster, picked up the pace in that third and fourth quarter, and really made a charge down the stretch," point guard Kyle Lowry said.
Lowry had 15 points and 11 assists for the Atlantic Division leaders, who host the Knicks on Saturday with a chance to extend their lead to five games over last season's division champions.
Andrea Bargnani had 18 points and 12 rebounds against his former team. Beno Udrih finished with 15 points and 10 assists for the Knicks, who played again without Carmelo Anthony because of a sprained left ankle.
Anthony was hurt Monday and had hoped to play against Oklahoma City on Christmas, but instead might be out until the new year. Knicks coach Mike Woodson said Anthony likely wouldn't travel with the team to Toronto for the rematch.
The Raptors won for the fifth time in their last six road games, this one adding to a recent stretch of impressive fourth-quarter performances. The Raptors started the fourth with an 11-0 run in an overtime victory at Dallas on Dec. 20, then outscored Oklahoma City 29-14 on Sunday while handing the Thunder their first home loss.
Toronto shot 9 of 18 in the fourth quarter, held the Knicks to 5 of 19 and had a 16-9 rebounding advantage.
"Fourth quarter we just couldn't get a win. We couldn't get stops. They played well down the stretch," said the Knicks' Amare Stoudemire, wearing a brace over what he said was a jammed right wrist from the previous game but adding he expected to play Saturday.
John Salmons' 3-pointer gave Toronto the lead for good with 8:07 left, and DeRozan followed with a jumper. After J.R. Smith's basket, Salmons made another 3 before Valanciunas scored to make it 81-75.
Valanciunas had a three-point play that made it 91-81 with 2:01 remaining.
Despite the Knicks' miserable 9-20 record, Woodson has continued to point their focus toward the division title. The Knicks thought for most of the game they would cut their deficit to two games, but instead headed north of the border down four.
"It's just disappointing because I felt like we had the game in control for a big part of the game. And then kind of let it dwindle away fourth quarter, it's pretty disheartening," center Tyson Chandler said.
Despite playing without Anthony and point guard Raymond Felton, the Knicks jumped out to a strong start. Toronto fought back to take a 37-36 lead with 3:17 to go in the second, but the Knicks outscored the Raptors 13-3 the rest of the half, with Smith's second 3-pointer during that span coming with 4.5 seconds left and giving New York a 49-40 lead.
The Knicks extended it to 61-49 on Tim Hardaway Jr.'s 3-pointer with 7:17 remaining in the third, but the Raptors had it down to 71-66 by the end of the period before controlling the fourth.
Smith had 17 points and Hardaway added 15.
NOTES: Saturday's game is the last of 2013 for the Knicks, who are off until visiting San Antonio, Houston and Dallas from Jan. 2-5. ... Woodson wouldn't comment on an ESPN.com report that Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan met with the team Thursday and told players there were no trades or coaching changes forthcoming. Knicks forward Metta World Peace, who played despite a sore left knee, said he wasn't there and couldn't comment because he was an alien. "I was in another galaxy yesterday with my galactic friends," he said. ... Toronto and New York will have played eight times in 2013. The Raptors only faced Orlando once.
Updated December 27, 2013