Raptors slip with ugly loss to Magic

The Canadian Press
Lori Ewing

TORONTO–Sitting hunched over at his locker, Kyle Lowry scanned the scoring report from last night’s loss, then brusquely tossed it aside.
The game definitely was one to forget.
Terrence Ross, who once famously scored 51 points in a Raptors’ jersey, poured in 28 points to lead the Orlando Magic to a 113-98 victory over a sluggish Toronto team missing Kawhi Leonard.
Lowry called his former teammate’s performance “terrible for us tonight.”
Lowry had 19 points and 10 assists to top the Raptors (44-17), who saw their seven-game winning streak come to an end.
Marc Gasol added 16 points while Serge Ibaka finished with 14.
Danny Green, Pascal Siakam, and Jodie Meeks had 10 apiece.
Leonard sat out the game for load management.
Ross, who was shipped to Orlando in the deal that brought Ibaka to Toronto in February of 2017, came off the bench to score three three-pointers and shoot 9-for-21.
And when the Magic headed for the tunnel after the final whistle, the former Raptor was heard telling a teammate: “That was one of my favourite wins of my career.”
He said the team wasn’t particularly motivated by Leonard’s absence.
“We have a job to do,” Ross stressed. “It didn’t matter if they had Vince Carter, Kawhi, DeMar [DeRozan].
“We had to go and do what we had to do.”
Nikola Vucevic added 23 points for the Magic (28-33), who had their way with Toronto from the opening whistle.
The victory wasn’t Toronto’s worst of the season–but close. The Magic clobbered the Raptors 116-87 in Orlando back on Dec. 28.
Yesterday’s ugly game was in stark contrast to Toronto’s entertaining and emotional 120-117 victory over the San Antonio Spurs two nights earlier in DeMar DeRozan’s much-anticipated return to Toronto.
The Raptors shot a pitiful 26 percent in the first quarter yesterday, and elicited groans from a justifiably cranky Scotiabank Arena crowd when they ended the frame trailing 25-15 to an Orlando team that is 10th in the East and trying to climb into a playoff position.
“It just never really got in a rhythm,” said Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse. “I actually thought at the half things were OK. We kind of didn’t play very well and hung in there pretty well. . . .
“And then [second half] started the same as it started the first half, and it was just a little rough,” he added.
“We could never really get a rhythm, and they made some big shots every time we thought we were right where we needed to be, and we didn’t make very big plays.”
Toronto managed to tie it up at 63-63 midway through the third quarter but the team’s burst of energy was short-lived. There was no comeback in the cards because six minutes later, Orlando was back up by 11.
The Raptors trailed 80-71 heading into the fourth, and when Ross calmly drilled a pair of free throws four minutes into the frame, Orlando took a 14-point lead.
Back-to-back “threes” by Vucevic and Jonathan Isaac stretched the Magic’s lead to an insurmountable 16 points with 5:21 to play, sending angry Raptors’ fans streaming to the exits.
“We didn’t play hard enough,” Lowry said. “Not we didn’t play hard but we just didn’t execute.
“They made a lot of shots, and we took the ball out under the basket a whole lot,” he added. “They played well.”
Nurse emptied his bench in the dying minutes of the losing cause. Some fans booed at the final buzzer.
The Raptors, who are 13-4 without Leonard, sat their star for load management, believing the Orlando game–sandwiched between San Antonio and an upcoming battle against Boston on Tuesday–was a good opportunity to get their star some rest, according to Nurse.
“I think the intensity of the last one [against San Antonio] and the intensity of possibly the next one [versus Boston],” he reasoned.
“”We just feel we’re in a really good place right now with him. And we just want to make sure we stay there.”
While Leonard is averaging 26.9 points and 7.6 rebounds a night, his defensive intensity was sorely missed. The Raptors had none yesterday.
It was glaringly obvious when Ross waltzed in for a dunk early in the fourth quarter.
“He’s been so consistent in that role,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said of Ross. “And again, people are loaded up to him and he’s still finding a way to go to his spots, and he’s making shots.”
The Raptors host Boston tomorrow, then cap their six-game homestand against Portland on Friday before heading to Detroit on Sunday to face the Pistons and former coach Dwane Casey.
Elsewhere in the NBA, Denver dumped the L.A. Clippers 123-96 and New York topped San Antonio 130-118.

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