Up and coming young centers Jonas Valanciunas and Nikola Vucevic went head-to-head as the Raptors battled with the Magic in Orlando on Sunday evening, Toronto escaping with their 20th road victory of the season 98-93 after a dramatic second half comeback by the Magic fell short.
“(Valanciunas) did a good job offensively,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey. “Vucevic also had 22 (points) and that’s going to be a battle you are going to see for years. Those are two really good young players that are coming up in the league, so you are going to see those guys a lot going at each other.”
Valanciunas scored 20 points on 6-8 shooting to go with 9 boards and Vucevic had 22 points on 10-13 from the field and 10 rebounds. Neither player was very effective stopping the other, but both were a deterrent of sorts defensively.
“Maybe I should be quicker on defense to defend (Vucevic),” Valanciunas said. “He is their team’s best scorer, their team’s main guy. It’s not easy to defend a main guy. He can score. He knows how to play on the low post. He’s got some moves. He’s hard to defend because he knows how to play.
“I am trying to win. My first priority is the team, to win the war, not a battle.”
The Raptors got out to a first quarter lead, but it was their second unit that turned up the pressure and gave Toronto a lead they used to coast through the rest of the game. Nando De Colo ran the reserves very effectively after Greivis Vasquez took an elbow to the cheek that required stitches and Landry Fields came in to provide some high energy defense and an impressive slam that caught more than a few people off guard – how soon we forget – Fields is an athlete.
Toronto outscored Orlando 30-16 in the second quarter to take a 57-38 lead into the half.
The Raptors starters came out slow in the third quarter and let Orlando climb back into this game, getting outscored 26-16 and letting Jameer Nelson go off for 12 of his 16 points on the night. The subpar effort continued into the fourth quarter as the Magic tied the game at 76, 78 and 80 points each before the Raptors went on a 7-0 run and held on for the victory.
After a quiet night, Lowry led the Raptors with 9 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. Similarly, rookie Victor Oladipo scored 12 of his 16 points in the final frame.
DeMar DeRozan led all scorers with 28 points, 15 of them from the free throw line.
Casey had reason to complain about his starters blowing a 21 point lead and this was the second game in a row the Raptors had given up better than 50 percent shooting from the field to their opposition in a win. Somehow winning the game softens the rhetoric.
This was the Raptors 20th road win of the season and the last time Toronto did this well away from home was under Head Coach Lenny Wilkens in 2000-2001. The Raptors have never won over half of their games on the road in a season and they’ll get a chance in Miami on Monday against the HEAT. If that opportunity passes them by, Toronto will get chances against the Bucks, Pistons and the Knicks before the season ends.
The Magic visits Cleveland on Wednesday where the Cavaliers are suddenly just two losses back of New York for ninth place in the Eastern Conference and have a shot at stealing a playoff spot if the sliding Hawks continue to lose.
A Toronto Raptors Road Record Is In Sight
The table is set for Casey and the Raptors to have a winning record on the road. Toronto did their heavy lifting earlier in the season and has one of the softest road schedules possible left.
Raptors Greivis Vasquez Loves This City, This Team
“I just love this team. I just love playing for this city. I am committed to this because I want to win like everyone else in the locker room. At the end of games, I am ready to go. Whether it’s scoring, rebounding, passing the ball or cheering, I want to win,” Vasquez said.