TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors' early lead was nothing out of the ordinary. The victory at the end of the night, however, was.
Fred VanVleet scored 28 points and the Raptors beat the New York Knicks 125-116 on Sunday, finally hanging on to a win after building a large early lead.
"You can't really concentrate on the leads, it's the NBA," VanVleet said. "You watch enough games, you'll understand it's up and down. I think just closing the game so we can do that a little bit better … we've been playing pretty good basketball. Not great, not championship calibre by any stretch, but we're getting better and we got to continue to grow as a group, stay positive and … optimistic going forward."
Gary Trent Jr. matched his season-high with six three-pointers for a 24-point night before fouling out in the dying minutes. Pascal Siakam also finished with 24 points, Scottie Barnes chipped in with 19, Chris Boucher scored 14, and Precious Achiuwa had 12 and 11 rebounds for the Raptors (21-27), in only their second victory in six games.
RJ Barrett, a 22-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., topped the Knicks (25-23) with 30 points while Julius Randle had 23 points and 17 rebounds.
The Raptors had coughed up double-digit leads in their previous two games, losing to Minnesota after leading by 18 and then losing 106-104 to Boston on Saturday after being up 11.
Sunday's game looked headed that way after Toronto saw its early 17-point lead disappear in the third quarter. New York outscored Toronto by nine points in the frame and took a three-point lead with a minute left in the quarter. The score was 86-86 to start the fourth.
But Toronto opened the final period with a 13-3 run, and when Barnes hurled a long pass to Trent for a dunk with 8:50 to play, the basket brought the delighted Scotiabank Arena fans to their feet and put Toronto up by 11.
"It was great," coach Nick Nurse said of his team's hot fourth-quarter start. "That was a long stretch for those guys and I think they were working really hard. They did a great job on the glass at both ends. Lots of offensive rebounds, no offensive rebounds for them. And hey we're in a really good groove.
"Gary was providing offence, Scottie was providing offence, like those two guys should. Chris and Precious were cleaning up any misses. It was a heck of a long stretch for those guys."
A Trent three-pointer and then rebound and basket from Boucher restored a 16-point lead with 4:45 left, all but extinguishing any Knicks' hopes for a comeback.
"We fouled, we gave up offensive rebounds, and we turned the ball over. That's usually a recipe to get you beat," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Barnes' basket with 46 seconds left gave Toronto a 121-109 lead and sent hundreds of fans to the exits — this time because the victory was secure.
Led by Trent's perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range, the Raptors shot 63.6 per cent from behind the arc in the first quarter. VanVleet's pull-up three with 31 seconds left in the quarter saw the Raptors take a 17-point lead. They led 37-22 to start the second.
The Knicks chipped away at the difference in the second quarter, and Randle's three-pointer capped a 21-10 Knicks run that cut Toronto's lead to just five points. The Raptors went into the halftime break up 62-53.
Anunoby sat out the game with an ankle injury suffered in Saturday's loss to Boston.
"O.G. is day-to-day," Nurse said. "We're still waiting on the MRI result he had earlier today. But day-to-day."
Nurse, who's also the head coach of Canada's men's team, had kind words for national team standout Barrett.
"I think RJ, from my experiences with him, is a really good teammate. He's a real pro. He leads by example. He practises hard. He's a guy whose teammates kind of gravitate to even though he's still pretty young. That's the biggest thing," Nurse said.
"He gives us a big wing presence. He can do multiple things on both sides of the ball. Can't have enough of those, really."
The Raptors tip off a season-long seven-game road trip on Wednesday at Sacramento. The Raptors will travel to Golden State, Portland, Phoenix, Utah, Houston and Memphis before returning home.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2023.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press