TORONTO â€” A fourth-quarter collapse, for the second consecutive night.
The Toronto Raptors dropped a 129-122 decision to James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Sunday, after the figurative wheels fell off in a horrific scoreless stretch to start the fourth quarter.
But in the moments after yet another late-game meltdown, DeMar DeRozan insisted it “won’t be a trend.”
“It just sucks in the moment, especially two nights in a row,” DeRozan said. “We’ve just got to lock in. We can make a million excuses, but it’s not about that, it’s just about us understanding key moments in the game where we’ve got to pick it up and realize we’ve got to play much harder as a team and keep fighting, no matter who we’re playing.”
The Raptors were playing 22 hours after a late collapse cost them in a 123-118 loss in Chicago, and were making their first appearance at home after playing their previous eight of 10 games on the road.
“I don’t know if itâ€™s the schedule catching up with us, whatever it is, that stretch right there (start of fourth) broke our back,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey.
Harden had 40 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds â€” plus 10 turnovers â€” for his 10th triple-double of the season, to power the Rockets to their eighth consecutive win.
The Raptors’ loss spoiled strong performances from DeRozan, who had 36 points, and DeMarre Carroll, who had a career-high six three-pointers en route to 26 points.
Kyle Lowry chipped in with 12 points, while Norman Powell and Cory Joseph had 10 apiece for the Raptors (24-13).
Moments after their second meltdown in as many nights, DeRozan said a little mid-season adversity can be a good thing.
“Adversity is always beneficial in my eyes,” said DeRozan, whose 30-plus performance was a career-high 18th in a season that isn’t even half over. “It kind of knocks you down, shows you what you need to work on, how hard you need to work on it and it keeps you humble, and in a humble position in understanding you can’t let up no matter what position you’re in.”
The Rockets had rolled to their seventh straight win on Friday night in Orlando, and had won 18 of their previous 20 games before tipping off in Toronto after a night of rest.
The Raptors showed no early signs of fatigue in racing out to a 13-point lead. The Raptors would maintain a double-digit lead for much of the second and third quarters, but a Harden three-pointer at the buzzer to end the third was part of an 18-0 run that put the visitors up by 12.
“When you’re playing against a team like that, most teams are going to keep fighting,” Lowry said. “We’ve got to find a way to be more assertive and keep going and keep going and never settle, get it up to 12, 15, 18, 20 (points).”
Four consecutive buckets from DeRozan brought the Raptors back to within five points with 5:39 to play, and breathed some life back into the Air Canada Centre crowd that included Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez. But the Rockets seemingly couldn’t miss, and were back up by 10 after five quick points from Harden.
A Harden three with 1:08 to play put the Rockets up by 11, and sent Raptors fans pouring out the exits.
The Rockets, who lead the league in three-point attempts, shot 11-for-38 from long range, while the Raptors hit 11 of their 25 three-point attempts. The Raptors shot 54 per cent on the night, while the Rockets shot 52 per cent.
Montrezl Harrell had 28 points on 12-for-13 shooting for Houston (30-9).
Carroll’s night was particularly outstanding considering his minutes had been limited while he rebounded from injuries, and until recently, when the team was playing on consecutive nights, would have to sit one of two games. Carroll had played in Chicago.
The Raptors had beaten the Rockets 115-102 on Nov. 23 for their first victory in Houston since 2007.
Toronto took control early, going up by 13 points on a layup by Lucas Nogueira with 30 seconds left in the first quarter. The Rockets chucked up eight three-point misses before Eric Gordon finally hit one with 10 seconds left in the first quarter, cutting Toronto’s lead to 37-27 heading into the second.
The Raptors led by 12 late in the second but the Rockets ended the quarter with a 12-2 run, punctuated by a three-point running jumper at the buzzer that sent the Raptors into halftime leading just 63-61.
The Raptors led by 13 points several times in the third, but the Rockets ended the frame on a 13-6 run, capped by another buzzer-beating three, from Harden.
Toronto hosts the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, and the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, then caps this homestand on Sunday against the New York Knicks.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press