SALT LAKE CITY (CP) – Jonas Valanciunas was “juiced” from the moment he batted the opening tip into the backcourt.
The improving big man from Lithuania set the tone and then DeMar DeRozan sealed the deal.
“I was really excited to play Enes (Kanter). He’s a good buddy of mine and we’ve played since I was 15 years old. We talked all the game,” said Valanciunas, who had 18 points and nine rebounds to help the Toronto Raptors turn back the Utah Jazz 94-79 on Monday night for their fourth win in the last five games.
“We juiced him up a little bit this morning, teasing him about how Kanter got after him in the Euroleague. So he came out and played, really muscled,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said after the second-year centre scored the Raptors’ first six points.
DeRozan scored 23 points as Toronto continued to surprise away from home.
“Honestly, I think there is no pressure on the road,” DeRozan said.
DeRozan looked to get his teammates involved in the first half but once Kyle Lowry left with a knee injury, the new All-Star took matters into his own hands with nine points in the fourth quarter to quell a Jazz comeback. The Raptors scored 13 of the game’s final 16 points.
“I just pick and choose. I try and be aggressive. Try and rebound, try to pass to my teammates. I don’t just try and go out there to score every time down,” DeRozan said.
Valanciunas and Amir Johnson, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds, exposed the Jazz interior defence without Derrick Favours (hip).
“Everyone gets along together. We all just kind of click. You usually don’t find that,” Johnson said.
Marvin Williams scored 23 points and Alec Burks had 20 off the bench but it wasn’t enough to keep the Jazz from their third straight loss, their worst span since a four-game skid from Dec. 4-9.
Greivis Vasquez, who had 12 points, opened the fourth quarter with a floater to give the Raptors a 73-62 lead.
Burks made back-to-back driving layups to power an 8-0 run to get the Jazz within four points for the first time since early in the second quarter. But the Raptors used their own 11-2 surge to clinch the victory. DeRozan had seven straight for the Raptors in the stretch.
But the Raptors used their own 11-2 surge to clinch the victory. DeRozan had seven straight for the Raptors in the stretch.
“We’re playing for each other. Each of us want the best for the others on the team. We care about each other and have great chemistry,” Vasquez said.
The Raptors had dropped seven of eight at Utah by an average of 14.9 points, but controlled this one almost all the way. Toronto’s last win here since 2006 was a 111-106 double-overtime victory on Jan. 25, 2012.
DeRozan has been effective no matter where he plays, especially in games in the States, averaging 27 points over his last seven on the road.
Valanciunas also continued his upward trend with another strong game on the interior, with four offensive rebounds and many more plays where he kept the ball alive for Johnson.
“That’s the challenge that he’s got to take to be a big-time player in this league,” Casey said.
The Jazz hoped to awaken Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke from their slumps but the pair, which has been shooting less than 30 per cent, combined to make just 7 of 25 shots and commit seven turnovers.
“I thought we had great shots. We missed some really good looks we have been making,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said after his team had a season-low 10 assists.
Lowry had two points on 1-of-8 shooting before leaving to the locker room for good in the third quarter with right knee pain. He will be evaluated on Tuesday to see if he can play either of the final two games of this five-game Western Conference road trip.
The Raptors (14-12) have as many road wins as any team in the Eastern Conference, tied with Miami and Indiana. They have never finished a season above .500 away from home.
Favours’ injured hip prevented him from playing and without their starting centre, the Jazz have lost all six contests this year.
Kanter had 10 points for Utah but was pulled after missing a defensive assignment and played just 20 minutes. The Jazz are 1-21 with the big man from Turkey in the starting lineup.
Notes: The Raptors are 18-10 after the seven-player trade with Sacramento on Dec. 7. … Toronto used a 31-17 second quarter to take control of the game. … DeRozan and Valanciunas were both poked in the eye during the course of the game. … The Jazz were 3 of 17 from behind the 3-point line. . Jeremy Evans missed the game for Utah with a bruised tailbone and elbow.