It was appropriate that on Boxing Day the Raptors emerged battered and bruised after facing the high-flying Phoenix Suns. Victoria's Steve Nash took no pity on the only NBA team remaining in his homeland. Nash, who could run for mayor in this desert town and probably win in a landslide, shot the lights out against Toronto, scoring 18 points while adding 13 assists -- two more than the entire Raptors team -- as the Suns scorched the Raptors 106-94 at the America West Arena.
Nash tied a franchise record by posting double-digit assists in 11 consecutive games. The 11 assists recorded by Toronto was a season low.
Toronto looked dead in the water early, trailing by as many as 20 points. But thanks to the strong play of Jalen Rose off the bench, the visiting team charged back, outscoring Phoenix 30-19 in the third while setting up a nail-biter in the closing minutes.
Indeed, with 8:36 remaining in the game the Raptors tied it 80-80 on a Matt Bonner 16-foot jump shot. But then the Suns found another gear and responded with a 12-0 run over a span of 2:48 and the comeback was thwarted.
"We always play hard when we get down by 20," frustrated Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell said. "You can't keep getting down 20. You have to play like you're being embarrassed at the start."
The win improved Phoenix's record to a league-leading 24-3, the best start in franchise history. Toronto dropped to 10-19. The Suns have won 11 in a row.
Mitchell wanted an ugly game and he got it. But not the way he envisioned. He wanted smothering defence, his point guards walking the ball up the court, taking away from the Suns' deadly, uptempo offence. Instead, the Raptors were caught flat-footed in the first quarter .
"When you're down 20, that plan goes out the window," Mitchell said. "It's time for plan A, B and C."
The Suns' three big guns -- Nash, centre Amare Stoudemire and power forward Shawn Marion -- all had huge nights. Stoudemire, who was a monster in the paint, posted a game-high 33 points, including a huge slam over Bonner late, while Marion had a double-double with 18 boards and 18 points.
Rose led the Raptors with 19 points. In fact, other than Chris Bosh, who had 18 points and eight boards, the best players for Toronto came off the bench. Lamond Murray had 14 while Bonner chipped in 13 and five boards. Morris Peterson, who has started at small forward since the Vince Carter trade on Dec. 17, struggled, shooting 2-for-10.
Toronto guard Rafer Alston said there was no moral victory in the loss last night.
"Nobody's going to shake your hand or pat you on the back for losing close," he said. "You have to win. What we did in the third is what we should do for 48 minutes."
The Suns charged to a 32-14 lead after one quarter -- the fewest points by Toronto in the first quarter this season.