MIAMI -- Vince Carter breathed life into the Raptors last night just as Toronto's snakebitten team nearly succumbed to the Heat. With Carter back from an ankle injury and his game in mid-season form, his presence carried the Raptors to a much-needed 89-86 win over Miami, snapping Toronto's ugly nine-game losing streak and keeping Toronto very much alive in a playoff race that is quickly turning into a crawl.
"It's just a big win,'' Carter said after scoring a game-high 27 points in 41 minutes played. "Hopefully we've turned things around. Winning cures a lot and everyone in the organization, from the front office down, was getting frustrated. We've got a good team but we've had injuries to key players. Hats off to everyone because the wheels didn't fall off."
But they sure wobbled. At times defenceless when Carter was creating and the Raptors were sharing the ball, Toronto and Miami combined for an NBA-record low 19 points in the final quarter.
MEANS SO MUCH
Carter means so much to the Raptors and even he admitted as much in the glow of last night's victory, which wasn't without controversy as Eddie Jones appeared to have been fouled by Chris Bosh on the final possession with Jones attempting his shot from beyond the three-point line.
Of course, the Raptors were due for a break.
"I could see why Stan would be (upset),'' Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill said of his counterpart, Stan Van Gundy.
With Carter in rhythm, the Raptors were the better team in snapping their six-game losing streak against the Heat.
Donyell Marshall got some great looks with Carter on the floor and netted 24 for Toronto. Carter was credited with a game-high eight assists but he initiated so much of Toronto's offence.
His left ankle is still tender and Carter said he isn't sure about his status for tonight's game in Washington.
Carter's presence provided a dimension that has gone missing for quite some time: Someone who commands double teams on virtually every touch.
And with the Heat coming with double and at times triple teams, Carter initiated each set for the Raptors, who overcame a horrible first quarter to take a 52-50 lead when Carter, who had 15 second-quarter points, found an open Morris Peterson behind the three-point line with 54 seconds left in the half.
The Raptors rallied because they defended, made shots and did not turn the ball over in the second quarter. With Carter on the bench and the Raptors nursing a two-point lead, Toronto turned the ball over on three successive possessions and trailed 54-52 at the break.
Peterson, who has been unable to elevate his game, may have played his way out of the starting lineup.
He began last night by not locking up on Jones, who nearly outscored the Raptors in the opening period by himself, and was replaced by Dion Glover in the starting rotation when the second half began.