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Lewenberg: Pride fuels Raptors unlikely OT win

Josh Lewenberg
12/21/2013 2:35:03 AM
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DALLAS - Irate after another botched defensive assignment and an easy lay-in for the Mavericks, Dwane Casey called a timeout less than two minutes into the second quarter.

At the time Dallas held a 15-point advantage, they would lead by as many as 19 early in the frame.

So what was said in that timeout?

"This is a PG-rated show, so I can't really say it," Casey joked after the game.

Whatever it was, it worked.

Casey challenged their pride. So too did the Mavericks, who had knocked them down, both literally and figuratively.

As three Raptor players went to the ground, scrambling for the rebound as time expired in overtime - following a missed floater from Monta Ellis - it became clear, they had taken the challenge personally, and prevailed.

"We were sleepwalking, kind of emotionally [hung over] from our close loss the other night I thought, maybe feeling sorry for ourselves," Casey said after his team's 109-108 victory, two days following a heartbreaking OT defeat to Charlotte at home. "I had to get their attention."

"Guys responded. They came out swinging. We were down 19, they hit us with a haymaker and I'm proud of the way our guys fought back. That's what the NBA is all about."

The Raptors gave the home team a 16-minute head start before closing out the first half on a 27-11 run. Once they showed up, tightened some screws on defence and matched Dallas' physicality, they showed a lot of character.

"We just held ourselves accountable," said Amir Johnson, who blanketed Dirk Nowitzki on the final play of regulation and contested Ellis' runner as time expired in OT. "We took it as a team, like look, we're not going to win this game if we don't get defensive stops."

Looking at the box score it seems strange to say the Raptors won this game on the defensive end. The Mavs shot 51 per cent from the floor, 10-of-21 from three-point range, outscored Toronto 60-40 in the paint and recorded 31 assists on 26 field goals. But the Raptors' defence was timely. They got big stops when they needed them the most, working hard for each one. It was a gritty effort on an unforgiving stage -- the Mavs had the second best home record in the West at 11-2.

It was also another page in the book of DeMar DeRozan's continued evolution into star-player status. Evident early on, DeRozan was going to have a tough time getting his shot to fall against this Mavericks defence. Without Rudy Gay around to attract attention, opponents have been zeroing in on the Raptors' guard and the Mavs - using elite, veteran defender Shawn Marion, among others - were no different. Instead, DeRozan embraced the attention, matching a career-high with nine assists.

Most importantly, he came through when it mattered most. DeRozan was 3-for-14 before hitting the game-tying jumper at the end of regulation and going 2-of-3 in OT.

"I understand a lot of teams, mostly all the teams, are going to key into me so I used that to my advantage and just tried to get my teammates going," said DeRozan, who finished with 15 points. "They help me get easy baskets once they knock down shots and put me in the best situation at the end of games to get a bucket when we need one."

Kyle Lowry led the team with 20 points, also adding six assists while Jonas Valanciunas bounced back from a tough outing in the loss to Charlotte with a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Defensively, the heroes were Johnson and newcomer John Salmons, who were assigned to the red-hot Nowitzki and Ellis down the stretch.

With Johnson draped all over him, Nowitzki missed a 13-foot step back jumper - a shot he might as well have patented - at the end of the fourth quarter. When Ellis caught the ball with 10 seconds remaining in OT, the plan for Casey's club was to commit the foul they still had left to give. As the Mavs' guard put the ball on the floor, Johnson - who switched onto Ellis - opted to play it out.

"I just took it in my own hands to just try to play him straight up, man-to-man," Johnson said. "It was a great decision I guess because he missed the shot."

Jose Calderon led the Mavs in scoring with 23 points, adding nine assists with just one turnover against his former team. Calderon shot 7-for-10 from three-point range, where he's shooting a career-high 47 per cent this season, his first in Dallas.

The 32-year-old point guard greeted his old teammates and coaches with hugs following the Mavs' shoot around Friday morning but was all business once the ball was tossed up.

"That's just Jose, man," said DeRozan, who played with Calderon for four-plus seasons in Toronto. "It seems like every time the ball leaves his hand it's going in. He's, in my opinion, one of the best shooters in the league, without a doubt. So it's not surprising to me."

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