TORONTO (CP) — In the span of a minute Friday, Terrence Ross scored on an alley-oop, a three-pointer and a massive running dunk, taking off from near the top of the key.
The 22-year-old started his second game in place of the departed Rudy Gay, and made the most of it, scoring 24 points — including a key three in the dying minutes — to lift the revamped Toronto Raptors to a 108-100 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.
“The main thing is staying focused so I can play at this level, I’m really trying to just know my job, know my role and just make sure we have the chemistry going and keep winning,” Ross said afterward.
DeMar DeRozan poured in a game-high 27 points for Toronto (8-13) on what was a good night to be a Raptors swingman.
“Talk about bouncy athletes,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown. “You go with Ross and DeRozan, you take the athleticism plus they can come off screens and shoot like they do. They’re hard guards, they’re really difficult people to defend. Those two guys had fantastic games throughout.”
Amir Johnson had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Jonas Valanciunas finished with 12 points to go with 13 boards, and Kyle Lowry doled out a season-high 11 assists and added six points.
Tony Wroten topped the Sixers (7-17) with 23 points. Evan Turner had 21 points, while Thaddeus Young finished with 18.
The game marked the first action for Raptors newcomers Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons since they were acquired in Monday’s trade that sent Gay, plus Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to Sacramento.
Vasquez scored 12 points, while Patterson had five points and five boards and showed flashes of nice interior defence.
“They’re learning the system, learning to play with each other,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “Learning where guys want the ball is huge. I thought they were a little tight playing tonight for the first time which is understandable, but I like what I saw. I think they’re going to mix in quite well.”
The Raptors almost coughed up an early 15-point lead several times during the game against their Atlantic Division rivals, but took an 83-76 lead into the fourth quarter in front of a crowd of 17,133 at Air Canada Centre.
Johnson and Vasquez drained consecutive three-pointers to put Toronto up by 14 with just over seven minutes to go and the Raptors looked poised for an easy victory. But the Sixers battled back and a three by Turner with 2:10 to go pulled them within 100-96.
A couple of nice passes on the Raptors’ next possession found Ross open in the corner, and he drained a three to give Toronto some breathing room, the basket pulling him to within two points of his career high.
“That stopped the flow a little bit,” Casey said. “His big three in the corner was huge.”
Casey said the challenge for Ross is to maintain a high level of play — easier said than done for a young player.
“He’s got to stay hungry, stay driven, stay consistent,” the coach said. “He’s a talented young man but he’s fighting consistency.”
DeRozan is doing his part to help Ross.
“You’ve seen it, Terrence definitely works hard,” DeRozan said. “Every time we practise against each other in practice, I always go at him just to try to give him a lesson, give him the extra confidence when he’s out there on the court.”
Lowry, meanwhile, played amid rumours he wasn’t long for Toronto, with the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets believed to be the frontrunners to acquire the Raptors’ starting point guard.
Lowry spoke candidly about the rumours after Friday morning’s shootaround.
“You see it every day, you see it whenever they update it and everyone talks about it,” Lowry told reporters. “We joke about it a little bit, we make it more of a lighter type thing, don’t make it a heavy hearted thing, make it a joke.
“‘Hey, man, you still here?’ Make it a little bit lighter on the players in that situation.”
Lowry, who’s in the final year of a contract that will pay him about US$6.2 million this year, admitted the speculation weighed on him.
“Nobody can say it doesn’t but at the same time, you have to know that this is a business, you have to know the situation that you’re in, the situation that you’re going to be in,” he said.
“You can’t let it affect you too much because you still have to go out there and do a job and try to win for the team that you’re playing for.”
Starting in place of the departed Gay, Ross scored 12 first-quarter points including a three that put the Raptors up by 11 less than three minutes into the game. Toronto closed out the quarter up 36-21.
The three new Raptors started the second and the chemistry clearly wasn’t there, as the Sixers opened the quarter with a 10-0 run. A pair of Wroten free throws pulled the visitors even with three-and-a-half minutes left in the half. The Raptors made just six field goals in the quarter, but held on to lead 56-48 at halftime.
The Sixers chipped away at Toronto’s lead and pulled to within 76-74 with 1:35 to go.
But Lowry grabbed a rebound and found a sprinting DeRozan with a court-long pass for a layup. The play seemed to inject some life into a sagging home team.
On the Raptors’ final possession, Lowry grabbed his own rebound for a nice tip shot at the buzzer that gave Toronto an 83-76 lead heading into the fourth.
NOTES: Chuck Hayes, also acquired from Sacramento in the trade, didn’t dress as he was required to undergo baseline cardiac testing. . .The Raptors are in Chicago to face the Bulls on Saturday, then return home to host the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday.