The Toronto Raptors finally have their first victory of the season, putting an end to their worst start in 15 years.
Fred VanVleet had 25 points, while Kyle Lowry had 20 and the Raptors pulled away to beat the New York Knicks 100-83 on Thursday.
On a night coach Nick Nurse benched all-star Pascal Siakam reportedly for disciplinary reasons, Norman Powell started in his place to finish with 17 points and Alex Len had 11 off the bench.
Julius Randle and Kevin Knox had 16 points apiece to top the Knicks. RJ Barrett, one of 18 Canadians on NBA opening-night rosters, had a tough night. The sophomore from Mississauga, Ont., who's averaging 16.3 points a night, had 12 and eight rebounds.
The Raptors went winless in their first three games -- collapsing down the stretch in each loss to the angst of Raptors fans -- going 0-3 for just the second time in franchise history. They pointed to the new look roster and the shortened pre-season as causes.
But on Thursday, the Raptors --finally -- played with the confidence and late-game toughness that they've made their cornerstone the past few seasons, to pull away and win, ending 2020 on a high note.
Toronto saw an early 11-point lead disappear at Amalie Arena, but battled back in the third and when VanVleet connected on a pair of free throws late in the frame, the Raptors went back up by eight. A three-pointer by Len sent the Raptors into the fourth up 71-64.
Lowry found Chris Boucher under the net for a dunk, then VanVleet nailed a three-pointer to cap an 11-0 run and the Raptors were up by 11 with 5:27 to play. A Raptors steal led to a VanVleet bucket with 2:58 to go, and Nurse subbed in five bench players to close out the win.
Siakam, who watched the game in street clothes, was reportedly benched for his unsportsmanlike behaviour at the end of the Tuesday's loss at Philadelphia. Siakam fouled out in the dying seconds, and angrily made a beeline for the locker-room. After a solid start to the game, he fizzled in the second half -- an issue in all three of his games this season.
Siakam wasn't the only Raptor that had been feeling frustration.
"It's definitely tension in the locker-room," Len said after the morning shootaround. "Nobody likes losing. Right now, we're trying to figure it out, get in the right direction, trying to swing the momentum."
Powell got the start in Siakam's place and set an energetic tone early. He scored on a driving layup a minute into the game and had seven points in the first quarter. The Raptors led by as many as 11 points and took a 22-18 lead into the second quarter.
Barrett dribbled around Aron Baynes and Terence Davis to slice the Raptors' lead to a point midway through the second. A fadeaway jumper from Julius Randle gave the Knicks the lead, but OG Anunoby's put back dunk tied the 42-42 at the halftime break.
The Raptors are at New Orleans on Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2020.