TORONTO (AP) Down a trio of stars on Tuesday night, many NBA teams would struggle to get the job done.
Not the San Antonio Spurs.
“One thing about being here is it’s more about the system,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “They’ve been good over the years of plugging guys into the system. . We try to have players here who we can plug in and get the job done.”
The Spurs improved to 36-9, their third-best record through 45 games, behind only the 38-7 records of the 2010-11 and 2015-16 squads. On top of that, they improved to 20-4 on the road, the eighth team in NBA history to win 20 of their first 24 games, according to NBA Stats.
“There’s a couple times we’ve had some guys out and in the past we’ve always had a next-man-up mentality and guys always performed and got it done,” said Danny Green. “I think we’re just now getting that chemistry, guys are getting confident and starting to pick up that slack.”
In a back-and-forth fourth quarter that saw eight lead changes – after just two in the preceding 36 minutes – the Spurs finally took control on a floating jump shot from rookie Dejounte Murray with 1:29 to play.
Terrence Ross shot an airball on a 3-pointer on the Raptors’ next possession, and after four consecutive scoreless possessions between the teams, Aldridge had a chance to establish a four-point lead with 11.3 seconds left on a pair of free throws, but he missed his second shot.
Norman Powell cut the lead to one with a dunk with 6.2 seconds remaining, and after Aldridge split another pair of free throws with 5.1 seconds to go, Powell missed a 3-pointer as time expired.
“Down the stretch, very honestly, it just went away,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “We didn’t do anything special to deserve it other than playing hard just like they did, so we’re thrilled with the win.”
The mood around the Raptors’ locker room was somewhat less jubilant after they lost four in a row for the first time since March 4-10, 2015. With Eastern Conference All-Star starter DeMar DeRozan sidelined with a sprained ankle, Kyle Lowry had 30 points and Ross added 21 off the bench.
After falling behind by as many as 13 points, Toronto didn’t take its first lead of the game until 1:19 to go in the third quarter, and ultimately fell just short in the see-saw fourth.
“I was really proud of the way they played,” coach Dwane Casey said. “It comes back to the will thing. It’s not the 3-point shots or the fancy plays, it’s the fundamentals: box out, free throws, layups tonight in the second half.”
Despite registering his fifth 30-point game of the season, and putting in a game-high 41:45 of court time, ultimately Lowry chose to place the blame on himself for his team’s current woes.
“I’m just going out there, do whatever my job is, and right now it’s to go out there and try and win games, and unfortunately I’m not doing a good job of that right now,” he said. “Got to figure it out, got it figure it out no matter what.”
Spurs: Leonard (left hand) and F Jonathon Simmons (right wrist) sat out. … Green tied his season high with four blocked shots. He had four against Boston on Nov. 25. … San Antonio scored 100 or more points for the 22nd consecutive game.
Raptors: DeRozan (right ankle) was inactive for the game. Following the sprain he suffered in Sunday’s loss to Phoenix, the Raptors said that he will also miss Wednesday’s game in Memphis before they re-evaluate the injury. … F Jared Sullinger made his first start since April 13, 2016, when he was still with Boston. … After missing the last six games with a sore left knee, Patterson returned to action on Tuesday.
THE HUNGER FOR VICTORY
“You make adjustments, make substitutions, get certain groups on the court, call timeouts, yell and scream and beg and love and be crazy and then you win or you lose and then what happens? You get to go to dinner, which is sometimes the best part of the evening, with a nice glass (of wine).” – Popovich, on the ups and downs of the game of basketball.
MOVING ON UP
With his 1,126th win Tuesday night, Popovich is now one from tying Jerry Sloan for most career wins with one NBA franchise. Casey had described Popovich as the best coach in all of sports earlier in the day, but before the game, Popovich politely disagreed.
“That’s very flattering but obviously untrue,” he said. “I’ve been around a long time and we’ve won some games, and if you’ve forgotten, I got to coach Tim Duncan. That made me look pretty good.”
Spurs: Visit New Orleans on Friday looking for a sixth straight win over the Pelicans.
Raptors: Visit Memphis on Wednesday, looking to snap a four-game losing streak.