ORLANDO, Fla. – After a slow start this season, the Toronto Raptors finally have things rolling.
Now if they can only keep it going longer. Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh had 18 points apiece, and the Raptors nearly blew an 18-point fourth quarter lead before holding off the Orlando Magic for a 108-103 victory Wednesday night.
“I think everybody knows everybody else better now,” said Hedo Turkoglu, who came to Toronto in a sign-and-trade deal from Orlando in the off-season. “We’re kind of getting comfortable with each other, and it’s starting to show.”
Turkoglu added 17 points to help the Raptors win for the seventh time in their last eight games. They also got a boost with five points from Jose Calderon in his return from a hip strain.
Vince Carter’s dunk with 43.4 seconds remaining trimmed Toronto’s lead to two. But J.J. Redick missed a three-pointer in the final seconds that could have tied the score.
Redick finished with 22 points, and Dwight Howard had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Magic, who have lost three straight for the first time this season.
The reigning Eastern Conference champions are in such a rut that Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said his team was “lifeless” during the latest defeat. Forward Brandon Bass even told the team at halftime that it looked “shell-shocked” because it couldn’t believe what was happening to it.
“My point is it’s not happening to us. Some things happen to you. Those things are out of your control. We’re the ones doing this. We’re the actors,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve got to change this around. It’s us and we’ve got to do it. It’s not going to happen because we miraculously do it. It’s going to happen because we make it happen.”
Toronto made this one sting.
After trailing by 18 points heading into the fourth quarter, Bass made two consecutive shots to cut Toronto’s lead to 90-80. Then the Raptors again went ahead big.
But again, the Magic rallied.
Redick’s free throws capped 11 straight points by the Magic to cut the deficit to a mere two points with 1:17 left. They just couldn’t get one more stop – or rebound.
A missed three-pointer by Turkoglu went out of bounds on Orlando. Only a missed free throw by Jarrett Jack allowed Redick the chance to tie the game.
“It felt good off my hands. It was lined up. Everything looked good,” Redick said. “It just went short.”
It was the first time the Magic lost three straight regular-season games since April 10-13, when they rested starters preparing for the playoffs. All three of their latest defeats – to Chicago, Indiana and Toronto – were to teams that had losing records.
Mired in frustration, many Magic players – including Carter, Rashard Lewis, Matt Barnes and Jason Williams – left the locker-room without speaking to reporters, rare for the usually calm veterans. But those who stayed said nobody is pointing fingers.
“I think that the problem is everybody,” Redick said, bluntly.
Toronto got a quick slap in the face – literally – and never looked back.
Barnes extended his left arm on a layup attempt in the first quarter, inadvertently swatting Bosh in the nose and mouth. Bosh left the game briefly with a bloody nose, and Barnes was called for a foul.
The Raptors didn’t bleed much after that.
They smothered Orlando defensively in the second quarter, with things getting so bad that Vince Carter’s jumper hit the side of the backboard. Toronto scored 11 straight points late in the half, capped by a three-pointer by Jack that helped it go ahead 56-45.
But they were just beginning.
The Raptors slowly pulled away to take an 86-68 lead at the end of the third quarter on a jumper by Sonny Weems. Some Magic fans covered their face, and a chorus of boos were hit against the home team for one of the few times in Orlando, giving Toronto reason all the more reason to smile.
“I think we are just figuring out how to play together,” Bosh said. “We are finally getting it on defence and rebounding a lot better. Everything right now is clicking for us. We just have to keep it rolling.”
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NOTES: Magic reserve PG Anthony Johnson has a groin strain and is day to day, the team said. … In response to Gilbert Arenas being suspended by the NBA after the Washington Wizards guard admitted bringing guns to the locker-room, Van Gundy said before the game he doesn’t think any of his players would ever bring weapons to the arena. “I’m glad they don’t because I’m sure I’d be the one they’d be bringing it in for,” he joked.