TORONTO - The game was billed as the best in the east versus the best in the west. But, thanks to a vicious stomach bug that ripped through the Memphis Grizzlies roster, it was more of healthy versus sick.
The Raptors, luckily, were on the healthy side of the ledger.
DeMar DeRozan poured in 21 points and Terrence Ross scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as the Raptors beat the depleted Grizzlies 96-92 on Wednesday, to maintain their first place spot in the Eastern Conference.
"No matter the start, it's all about the finish," Kyle Lowry said of Toronto's blistering early-season 9-2 record.
Lowry added 18 points while Lou Williams finished with 13 and Jonas Valanciunas added 10 points.
Marc Gasol had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who were missing five players. Zach Randolph added 18 points and a game-high 18 boards, who boast the NBA's best record (10-2).
"I am really proud of our guys, they gutted it out, played for each other, and encouraged each other," said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger.
The Grizzlies were missing Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer and Beno Udrih. The five were treated in hospital for dehydration, and flew back to Memphis on a special charter flight.
To fill out their roster, the Grizzlies signed guard Kalin Lucas and centre Hassan Whiteside from Iowa of the D-League.
Vince Carter finished with seven points on a night the Raptors honoured the former Toronto superstar with a video tribute during a first-quarter timeout.
For the first time since he departed nearly 10 years ago, leaving Raptors fans angry in his wake, the capacity crowd of 19,800 stood and warmly applauded him.
"It was unbelievable," Lowry said on the tribute. "I think the city is still grateful for what he did. He put Toronto on the basketball map."
Carter was visibly moved by the gesture, wiping tears from his eyes. He touched a hand to his heart, and gave the fans several thumbs-up signs.
"It's just an amazing feeling," said Carter, who had seven points on the night. "Amazing just to be in the moment and to see it, and to kind of relive it as it was happening.
"I couldn't write it any better. I decided to live in the moment and enjoy it, have your moment, It was great. I'm extremely thankful for it."
Despite their depleted roster, the Grizzlies led by as many as 10 points, and took a 75-69 advantage into the fourth.
"It was crazy, but that's what we do, we go through adversity together," said Mike Conley, who had 19 points and 10 boards for Memphis. "We learn from it, and tonight was a good challenge for us."
Ross, who had just two points on 1-for-7 shooting heading into the fourth, lit it up in the final 12 minutes, and his three-pointer with 3:38 left pulled the Raptors to within two points.
The final moments were virtually all Lowry, who scored on a driving layup to tie the game 90-90, then scored on a driving finger roll to put the home team up by two. Then with 8.2 seconds left, having dribbled down the shot clock, the Raptors point guard pulled up and drained a fadeaway jumper that had the capacity crowd of 19,800 at the Air Canada Centre roaring.
"I think my teammates always count on me and my coaches, they want me to make the plays at the end," Lowry said. "The first one DeMar made a helluva pass and I got to the lane. The second one I just made a shot."
The Raptors' victory came despite being outplayed in the paint. The Grizzlies outrebounded Toronto 50-35 and outscored the Raptors 46-38 in the paint.
Ross and DeRozan both said the tribute to Carter was well-deserved.
"It's almost like a dream," Ross said of playing against the 38-year-old. "You see Vince in his Raptor days, in college, you see him lined up on the other side, it's something you only dream about.
"I was watching the highlight tape. . . You don't see anybody doing what he did, today, or any time soon. So he just changed the game for everybody."
Ross and DeRozan chatted with Carter several times during timeouts.
"He was saying thank you for the tribute," Ross said. "I was just telling him thanks, growing up watching him, one of the most incredible players to ever watch play the game, so I really honoured him."
DeRozan called Carter "one of my favourite players of all time."
"He deserved it, he deserved everything honestly. . . you have to give him his credit for everything he brought to the city. He made me a fan at an early age," DeRozan said. "It was just a great moment."
The Raptors raced out to a nine-point lead two-and-a-half minutes into the game on a Johnson hook shot, but Memphis rebounded with an 8-0 run to go up by three. A three-pointer by Greivis Vasquez gave the Raptors a 22-20 lead going into the second quarter.
Carter led the way with seven points in a second quarter that saw the Grizzlies outscore Toronto 28-20. Memphis went into the dressing room at halftime with a 48-42 lead.
The visitors stretched their lead to 10 points midway through the third, but six points from Williams were part of a quick 9-0 run that pulled Toronto to within a point. The Grizzlies pulled away once again and took a six-point lead into the fourth.
NOTES: James Johnson didn't play. The forward injured his ankle on Saturday when he stepped on a cameraman. . . Actor Lou Gossett Jr. had a courtside seat.