By Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press on December 5, 2018.
TORONTO – The Philadelphia 76ers might be a different team. But it was a similar result for the Toronto Raptors.
Kawhi Leonard scored 36 points to lift the league-leading Raptors to a 113-102 victory over Jimmy Butler and the new-look Sixers on Wednesday, Toronto’s 13th consecutive win over Philadelphia at home.
Jonas Valanciunas scored a season-high 26 points, while Serge Ibaka had 18 for the Raptors (21-5).
Leonard connected on a season-high 5-for-6 from three-point range.
Butler had 38 points to lead Philly (17-9), while JJ Redick added 25.
The Raptors roared past Philly 129-112 on Oct. 30 in Toronto, but less than two weeks later the Sixers upped the ante, acquiring Butler from Minnesota in a deal that drastically altered the Eastern Conference landscape.
“It’s very different,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of his new-look team. “But the fact is we haven’t won up here. It’s a combination of them being very good, and us sort of growing our program. . . I think the last game we played them, this year, this team, as it sits, is very different.”
The Sixers led for most of the first half, in part because of Toronto’s horrible shooting – going 3-for-12 from three-point range – and looking lackadaisical on the defensive end.
The Raptors finally found some energy in the third quarter and took a 78-77 lead into the fourth. A 9-0 run put the Raptors up by nine points over their Eastern Conference rival, and when Valanciunas took a short pass from C.J. Miles and threw down a huge dunk, it put the Raptors up by 11 with 7:53 to play.
Leonard put an exclamation mark on Toronto’s late-game surge when he grabbed a rebound and sprinted coast to coast to throw down a dunk. The emphatic play gave the Raptors a 15-point lead. Butler scored nine straight points for the Sixers, but it barely made a dent in the Raptors’ lead.
The Raptors beat the Sixers 28-12 on fast break points, and their bench outscored Philadelphia’s 41-18.
Earlier in the day, social media was buzzing about ESPN’s interview with Kyle Lowry, who didn’t beat around the bush about the DeMar DeRozan trade and his relationship with team president Masai Ujiri.
“I felt betrayed because he felt betrayed because that’s my guy. That’s my best friend,” Lowry said.
When asked about Ujiri, he said “He’s the president of the basketball operation and that’s it. For me, I come here and do my job.”
Ujiri laughed off the comment in an afternoon interview saying “Kyle Lowry is always mad at me.”
The night, dubbed “Mandela 100,” celebrated Nelson Mandela, who would have turned 100 this year. Former Raptors all-star Chris Bosh, Blue Jays legend Joe Carter, and former Chelsea star Didier Drogba were in attendance as part of the festivities and received a loud ovation.
The Raptors, who were coming off a 106-103 loss to Denver, were once again plagued by poor shooting. Leonard connected on Toronto’s only three-pointer in the first quarter, and the Sixers took an early nine-point lead.
Toronto connected on just two of nine three-point attempts as the Raptors’ struggles continued into the second. A three-pointer by Leonard with 37 seconds left in the half capped a 13-0 run that gave Toronto a seven-point lead. The Raptors took a 53-49 advantage into the halftime break.
The Raptors’ tough schedule continues through the next eight games, which are all against opponents with winning records. Toronto is in Brooklyn on Friday, then back home to host conference rival Milwaukee on Sunday.
The Raptors face the Sixers again on Dec. 22 at Philadelphia.
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