TORONTO -- Playing at maximum effort for three quarters, the Toronto Raptors managed to put themselves in position to upset the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.
With their starters barely getting a rest, they hustled, they banged bodies in the paint and made shots. But while they were going all out, the NBA's best team was simply coasting, making sure control of the game didn't slip too far away.
Then, once the Spurs locked into gear, there was never any doubt about the outcome as San Antonio earned a 111-100 victory.
"In the fourth quarter we knew they were going to crank it up," Raptors head coach Jay Triano said. "They had strategically rested their guys and they came back in the fourth and made it difficult for us to score.
"We played extended minutes in the third quarter to get back in it and keep the lead. I thought for three quarters of basketball, we were pretty good."
Of course it was in the fourth quarter where the differences between two teams at opposite ends of the NBA spectrum really came to light.
The Raptors took a three-point edge into the fourth but a Manu Ginobli dunk started San Antonio's rally, the first points in a 15-4 run that opened up a 96-88 edge.
DeJuan Blair, who scored 16 of his career-high tying 28 points in the fourth, put the Spurs up 87-86 at 1:14 of the fourth, Matt Bonner followed with a three-pointer to extend the lead and the Spurs went on to methodically out-execute their hosts from there.
The only reward for another strong effort by the Raptors was a respectable scoreline, which is a cold comfort.
"It's been happening a lot, we always come up a bit short against these kind of teams," said point guard Jose Calderon, who had 11 assists. "That's why it's a little bit frustrating."
George Hill added 20 points while Tony Parker and Tim Duncan each chipped in 16 points for the Spurs (44-8), who have won four straight and 15 of their last 17. They grinded out a similar victory Tuesday, beating Detroit 100-89.
"We just knew we were down and had to make a move," Blair said of the rally against Toronto. "We knew we had to go out there and jump on them and we did a great job of that."
Andrea Bargnani had 29 points and DeMar DeRozan added 25 points to lead the way for the Raptors (14-39), who lost for the 15th time in 16 outings.
Starting a stretch of eight of nine games at home ahead of a trip to London for a pair of contests against New Jersey, the Raptors played much better than they did in Tuesday's 92-74 loss at Milwaukee. But ultimately they settled for another case of close but no cigar.
"The only thing that's positive is we can say we stayed in (the first three quarters," said Sonny Weems, who had eight points. "We came away with a loss and I don't think you can take too much pride in that."
The Raptors led 84-81 after three quarters, rallying strong after falling behind 70-62 midway through the stanza. Weems pulled Toronto to within two on an alley-oop and Bargnani put his team ahead 73-72 on a three-pointer with four minutes left in the quarter.
Leandro Barbosa capped an 18-5 run with another three-pointer for an 80-75 Raptors lead, and after the Spurs tied it up 81-81, a DeRozan layup and foul shot on a subsequent possession electrified the crowd.
San Antonio also lost forward Tiago Splitter during the quarter to a strained left hamstring. He fell hard in a collision with Calderon.
The Spurs took a 60-56 advantage into the second half despite leading by as many as nine points in the second quarter. The Raptors picked away at that lead and pulled to within two on back-to-back Barbosa baskets, but a Parker layup with 4.9 seconds left gave the Spurs some extra breathing room.
DeRozan provided the fans with a little flash during the quarter with a brilliant reverse jam from under the basket after charging in from the wing.
The Spurs held a 31-29 edge after a back-and-forth first in which neither team was up by more than four points. Bargnani led the Raptors with 13 points while Parker had 10 for the Spurs.
Amir Johnson briefly left the game during the period while trying to block a DeJuan Blair shot. He was called for goaltending after coming down awkwardly and spraining his right ankle. He returned early in the second and finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Notes: Jerryd Bayless (sprained right knee) and Alexis Ajinca (sore left foot) were out for Toronto. . . Through the season's first 52 games, Raptors players missed 156 games due to injury and illness. San Antonio won the other meeting between the teams 104-95 on Jan. 19 in San Antonio. . . Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins of Chatham, Ont., sat courtside while 2011 inductee Roberto Alomar took in the proceedings from a suite.