TORONTO (CP) – Kyle Lowry sat at his locker nursing a headache in the moments after the Toronto Raptors’ loss on Sunday, the product of a misplaced knee.
The Raptors were thoroughly dismantled by a speedy Phoenix Suns team in a 121-113 loss, but Lowry and coach Dwane Casey insisted there would be no lingering pain after a rare defeat at home.
“It’s not a systemic problem, it’s one game, we knew we weren’t going to go undefeated the rest of the way,” Casey said. “That team right there, they’re fighting for their playoff lives like we are, and they’re a quality team in the west.
“It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”
Lowry scored 19 of his 28 points in the third quarter against the run-and-gun Suns, but his standout effort wasn’t enough as the Raptors (37-28) lost at Air Canada Centre for just the fifth time in the last 16 games.
There were some scary moments with about a minute-and-a-half to go when Lowry went down in a scramble for a loose ball, and was ploughed in the head by first one of PJ Tucker’s knees and then the other.
“I’ve got a headache … These (TV camera) lights are killing me right now,” Lowry said, shrugging off any suggestion of a concussion.
“PJ’s not a dirty guy, I’ve known him for a while. He even apologized after the game … He’s a strong dude, so it hurt.”
Terrence Ross finished with 22 points while Amir Johnson had 20, DeMar DeRozan finished with 17, and Jonas Valanciunas chipped in with 15.
Gerald Green scored 13 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to top the Suns (38-27), while Goran Dragic added 19, and Markieff Morris had 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
The Raptors had been red-hot the past several weeks, positioning themselves for their first playoff appearance in six seasons. They’d gone an Eastern Conference-best 11-3 since Feb. 10 heading into Sunday’s game and sat first place in the Atlantic Division.
But the hungry Suns also have the playoffs in their sights. They went into Sunday trailing Memphis by a game-and-a-half for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
“That’s a helluva team right there,” DeRozan said. “(We can) just learn from it. We battled, a lot of stuff didn’t go our way … It was just a tough night overall.
The Suns outran the Raptors all afternoon, and led by as much as 14 points before taking a 96-90 advantage into the fourth in front of a crowd of 18,717 energetic fans at Air Canada Centre.
The visitors pulled ahead by 15 a couple of times in the final 12 minutes before a basket and free throw by Lowry made it a seven-point deficit with 4:08 to play. But on the Suns’ next trip down the floor, Morris grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to put the game virtually out of reach.
“They’re up and down,” Lowry said. “They got out … 121 (points), that’s their type of game. We don’t want to have a type of game like that, we want to hold teams under 100, under 90 preferably.”
Rebounding proved problematic for the Raptors all afternoon, with Suns owning a whopping 45-26 advantage on the boards.
“Again, no time to panic,” Casey said. “I don’t think we’re going to see that type of speed and quickness – at least I hope not – the rest of the way.”
The Raptors’ frustration showed at times. Casey was slapped with a technical for arguing a call, then DeRozan collected a tech when he kicked the ball in anger.
“It was just tough when you’re going out there playing hard and sometimes you don’t get a call that you’re fighting or dying for and that we may need at a critical time,” DeRozan said.
Both teams shot well, the Suns going 50.7 per cent from the field to Toronto’s 49.4.
There was plenty of energy from both teams in a first-quarter shootout. The Raptors and Suns combined for 10-for-14 from three-point range. The Raptors led by as much as nine, but Marcus Morris drained two consecutive threes to put the Suns up 37-35 going into the second.
“The guys seemed really focused tonight,” said Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek. “They came out right from the start, they had the energy. Maybe it was the one o’clock game that we’re not used to playing; they thought it was a great opportunity. I thought we’re on ESPN or something.”
The Raptors went 0-for-8 to open the second quarter until a John Salmons pull-up jumper more than five minutes in. The Raptors ended the quarter with a 10-2 run and when Ross drained a three, and pumped one fist in the air, it pulled Toronto to within two points. The Suns led 61-59 at halftime.
The Raptors fell behind by 14 points with just under six minutes to play in the third, when Lowry almost single-handedly got them back in the game. He scored 10 points in the final 3:38 of the quarter and the Raptors went into the fourth trailing 96-90.
NOTES: Raptors forward Patrick Patterson missed his fifth game with an elbow injury. Casey said he will be evaluated again Monday. … The Raptors are on the road for two games – Tuesday at Atlanta and Wednesday at New Orleans – before returning home to host Oklahoma City next Friday. … The Raptors had won three in a row against the Suns before a 106-97 loss in Phoenix on Dec. 6.