By Lori Ewing
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO _ By the start of the second half Tuesday night, the Toronto Raptors’ bench had dwindled down to just four players _ three of whom rarely play.
But Toronto held on to beat the Dallas Mavericks 103-99 behind 28 points from DeMar DeRozan and a career-high 20 rebounds from Bismack Biyombo, and now the Raptors head into the brief, but much-needed, Christmas break on a win.
“We were a few men down, I think five or six guys down,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Our guys responded. It wasn’t pretty, but they found a way.”
Kyle Lowry had a double-double with 17 points and 10 boards and added seven assists for the Raptors (18-12), who were down to nine players by the second half. Terrence Ross scored 16 points, while Luis Scola chipped in with 15 and Cory Joseph had 12.
Already missing starters Jonas Valanciunas (broken hand) and DeMarre Carroll (knee injury), the Raptors lost another forward when James Johnson sprained his ankle in the pre-game warmup. Patrick Patterson, who was suffering what the team called “flu-like symptoms” didn’t return after halftime.
The absences meant meaningful minutes for Toronto native Anthony Bennett, plus Lucas Nogueira and Delon Wright.
“Super strange,” Lowry said on the depleted roster. “But we’ve got a resilient team and everybody stepped up, and it was a good game for us overall.
“You’re a professional, this is your job, you’ve got to be prepared to play, and I think these guys have done a great job of staying prepared. Our coaching staff does a great job with those guys, keeping them ready, and making sure that they understand that you never know when your number’s called.”
Two nights after their worst first quarter of the season _ a 104-94 loss to Sacramento _ a fired-up Raptors squad rebounded with its best. They ended the first up 32-16, both their largest first-quarter lead this season, and fewest points they’ve allowed.
“We got our (butt) kicked at the beginning of the game,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. “They’re coming off a tough loss, they’re very aggressive by nature. We really knew it, we talked about it, and we didn’t handle it well. Frankly it was embarrassing.”
The Raptors ran into trouble in the second half when the Mavs pulled to within three points, and the Raptors led just 72-67 going into the fourth quarter.
But back-to-back threes by Joseph sparked a Raptors’ 10-0 run that gave them a 16-point advantage with just under six minutes to play.
The Mavs would make a game of it down the stretch, and consecutive three-pointers by former Raptor Charlie Villanueva and J.J. Barea cut Toronto’s lead to just two points with 26 seconds on the clock.
DeRozan muscled his way to the hoop for a tough layup, Jeremy Evans responded at the other end for Dallas. Then Ross iced the victory with a pair of key free throws for Toronto.
Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs (15-13) with 20 points, while Wesley Matthews added 15.
The Raptors dominated the boards 53-34 and shot 47 per cent on the night.
“(The victory) says a lot,” DeRozan said. “Whenever our backs are up against the wall that’s when we play our best. We’ve got to have that mindset when we have everybody (healthy), no matter who we’re playing against. Once we get that on a consistent basis we’re going to be tough to beat every single night.”
DeRozan led the way with 10 points in the first quarter as the Raptors raced out to an 18-point lead.
The Mavericks opened the second with an 11-0 run to pull to within five points, but the Raptors would away to take a 49-36 advantage into the halftime break.
The Mavericks chipped away at Toronto’s lead and when Matthews drilled a three with 1:15 left in the third quarter, it pulled them to within three points.
The Raptors are off until Boxing Day, when they face the Bucks in Milwaukee. They travel to Chicago to face the Bulls before returning home to host Washington on Dec. 30