Raps take down Rockets

Toronto Raptors' Jose Calderon celebrates scoring in front of Houston Rockets' Shane Battier....

Toronto Raptors' Jose Calderon celebrates scoring in front of Houston Rockets' Shane Battier. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:01 PM ET

TORONTO - The Raptors learned their lesson.

Jose Calderon hit a driving layup with 43.4 seconds left, putting the Raptors ahead by six, capping a remarkable turnaround in style that paid huge dividends in the team’s 106-96 victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night at the ACC.

Amir Johnson swatted away a Kyle Lowry layup attempt on the next play and Sonny Weems threw down a monster dunk at the other end making Toronto’s first win in six games against an opponent from the Western Conference.

After not attempting a free throw in the first half — just the second time in team history that has happened — the Raptors made a point of taking it to the Rockets in the final two frames.

The Raptors got to the line 28 times in the second half, six more times than Houston managed to get there all night.

With neither side placing much care at the defensive end of the floor — both teams shot over 50% in the first quarter — the Raptors had a chance to pull away by being aggressive but didn’t and it could have cost them had they not adjusted later.

Instead of driving, the home side fell in love with the jump shot. The Raps drained 53% of them on the way to a 51-43 halftime lead and even though their success provided a pretty good excuse to avoid attacking the rim, it is hard to win a game without getting to the free throw line.

Reggie Evans finally went to the line for the Raptors early in the third quarter, but missed both attempts — the team shot only 20-for-30 from the stripe — but survived.

The Raptors were far more inclined to take the ball inside in the third quarter, making six of nine freebies, but ran into some rotten luck. DeMar DeRozan got three great looks on difficult layup attempts, but the ball rolled out on each of them.

The Rockets turned those misses, plus four Raptors turnovers into a 31-17 third-quarter run, but a late surge by the home side allowed it to hold on to a one-point lead through three.

Guard Leandro Barbosa missed his sixth game in a row for the Raptors due to an injured shoulder. Barbosa was a game-time decision, but was not able to go.

Rockets superstar centre Yao Ming did not make the trip because of a bruised ankle and the team was also without injured starting point guard Aaron Brooks.

The product didn’t suffer much, despite the absences, as the teams played an entertaining, hard-fought game.

Toronto proved once again that it can hang with most NBA clubs, just not for an entire 48 minutes?

There were encouraging signs for this club that continues to punch above its weight class.

Houston was held to 96 points, far below the fourth-overall 105.5 per game the team averaged heading into the night.

Houston, also fourth in the NBA in rebounds per game, was outboarded 44-37 by the gang in white.

After scoring a season-best 30 points on Wednesday night, Andrea Bargnani started 5-for-6 from the field with three rebounds and finished with 26 and six.

Linas Kleiza was effective down low and the point guard tandem of Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon was solid offensively — though less than stellar defensively and Johnson was an effective bundle of energy all evening.

Meanwhile, Weems, despite being hampered by foul trouble, has now hit at least one three-pointer in his past five games. Last season he attempted only 15 shots from long range, making two.

Another test of this squad’s resolve will come Sunday, when the big, bad, bullies wearing Boston Celtics jerseys come to town.

ryan.wolstat@sunmedia.ca


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