TORONTO - The Toronto Raptors' feel-good story lost a little bit of its lustre Friday night, courtesy of the Dallas Mavericks.
Kyle Lowry scored 13 of his 25 points in a fourth-quarter fightback that fell just short, and the Raptors dropped a 106-102 decision to Dallas — just their second loss this season at the Air Canada Centre.
"I really loved our fight in the fourth quarter, the way we ended the game and kept scrapping," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "I told the guys this a few minutes ago: If we continue to compete like that at a high level, we're going to win a lot of games. (Dallas) is a good team. They're not chopped liver at all. They're going to be in the deep money in the West when it's all over with."
On a night that spelled the end of Toronto's six-game winning streak, the Raptors also lost all-star and leading scorer DeMar DeRozan to a left groin strain
"It's some big shoes to fill, the next guy has to step up and pick up the slack," Casey said. "Hopefully he's not out long, but we'll see."
Five players scored in double figures for Toronto (13-3), with Amir Johnson finishing with 20 points, Lou Williams chipping in with 16, Greivis Vasquez scoring 14 , and Patrick Patterson adding 10. Jonas Valanciunas grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
Monta Ellis topped Dallas (12-5) with 30 points, while Chandler Parsons finished with 16.
The game was billed as a battle between the league's two top-scoring teams, but after the Raptors had raced out to a 10-0 lead, it was the Mavericks who controlled the game for virtually the rest of the night, and led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter.
DeRozan left the game with 8:23 to go in the third after laying on the court for several minutes surrounded by training staff and teammates. He eventually got up and walked gingerly, helped by team staff, to the dressing room. He had left for diagnostic testing by the time the locker-room was opened to reporters post-game.
"It was big. When he goes out, we have to have to step up in his position. It's a tough loss," Johnson said. "All the players have to be ready to step up and they showed that tonight."
Toronto went into the fourth quarter trailing 71-64, and when back-to-back three-point shots by Johnson and Vasquez, then a jumper by Johnson cut the Mavericks' lead to four points with five minutes to play, it infused some energy into the capacity crowd of 19,800 fans at the Air Canada Centre. But Ellis responded with seven straight points in less than 90 seconds and just like that, the Mavericks were back up by 11. Ellis dropped another three to put Dallas up by 14, sending many fans for the exits.
The Raptors fought back with a 7-0 run, capped by a Vasquez three with 1:01 to play, that pulled the home team within six. Lowry was at his fourth-quarter best, scoring 11 straight points to make it a two-point game with nine seconds to play, but Devin Harris drained two free throws to clinch the victory for Dallas.
"That's why we play. Never give up, and fight to the last minute," Johnson said. "Guys did a great job trying to fight back, we just came up short."
Turnovers proved costly for the Raptors, who gave up 22 points on 17 giveaways. Dallas protected the ball well, giving up just four points on eight turnovers.
"We were very uncharacteristic with the amount of turnovers," Casey said. "We have to be better at taking care of the ball against pressure."
The Raptors honoured Jalen Rose with a video tribute during a first-quarter timeout — part of the franchise's 20th anniversary celebrations. The former guard, who played parts of three seasons with Toronto from 2003 to '06, received a standing ovation when he stood and waved to the crowd.
ESPN, in its playoff predictions, had pegged the Raptors' chances this week of winning the NBA championship at a whopping 41 per cent. Casey had scoffed at the predictions when asked about them pre-game.
"They can take that and the paper they write on it…because it's a long season," Casey said. "I've been around this too long, around a lot of good teams in the pros and college.
"The beginning of the season you kind of set the tone for the way you're going to live the rest of the way. By no means does it designate or determine where you're going to be in the end. We just want to keep going, keep improving."
The Raptors now head west for three games. They face the Lakers in Los Angeles on Sunday, the Kings in Sacramento on Tuesday, then wrap up against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.
The Raptors, who were coming off a 126-115 victory at Atlanta on Wednesday, raced out to a quick 10-0 lead. But they couldn't maintain any momentum as the Mavericks used a 20-5 run to go up by five points. The visitors led 26-21 heading into the second quarter.
The Mavericks led by 14 points on a basket by Tyson Chandler with 3:46 to go in the second. The Raptors chipped away over the final minutes, pulling to within 48-43 at the halftime break.
"This is a tough team," Chandler said of Toronto. "They have the best record in the league coming into tonight. They are incredible on their home floor. We knew it was going to be a dog fight and just wanted to stay focused and I thought we did that for the most part."
The Mavs took back control in the third, going up by 15 points on a three by Ellis with 3:11 left in the quarter. Once again, Toronto pushed back, as a pair of free throws from Williams cut the Mavericks' lead to five points before a pull-up jumper by Nowitzki sent Dallas into the fourth up by seven.
NOTES: Casey was part of the coaching staff of the Dallas team that won the 2011 NBA championship. . . The Raptors haven't won seven in a row since a nine-game run in the spring of 2002. . . Toronto won both its meetings with the Mavs last season, overcoming at least 18-point deficits in both.