Amir Johnson found a sliver of an opening in the paint and it was more than enough for Jose Calderon to spot his teammate and thread him a pass that led to an easy layup in the third quarter.
A bit later on, the Spanish veteran faked a shot from the outside that drew in the defence of the Houston Rockets and provided some freedom in the middle for Ed Davis.
Once again, Calderon delivered the ball on the spot and Davis finished with a crowd-pleasing dunk and the Toronto Raptors were on their way.
Calderon was Mr. Everything for the Raptors on Sunday, delivering on offence and providing blanket coverage defensively on Jeremy Lin, the National Basketball Association’s poster boy from a year ago.
With Calderon chipping in with a triple-double (18 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds) the Raptors (6-19) responded with a 103-96 victory over the Rockets (11-12) in a solid outing before 17,863 at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday.
In doing so, the Raptors have now won back-to-back games for the first time this season and suddenly are playing with the kind of drive and determination that has been shockingly absent for most of the season.
“We’re getting back to the way we want to play as a team,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said.
Alan Anderson had a huge game offensively for Toronto, contributing a team-high 24 points in just his second game back after missing 17 with an injury.
But the triumph was perhaps most gratifying for Calderon, 32, who was not too happy at the beginning of the season after losing his starting point job position to Kyle Lowry, who was obtained by the Raptors in an off-season trade.
But Calderon sucked it up and made the most of coming off the bench, recording just the second triple-double of his career, both coming this season.
And now, with the brittle Lowry lost to the team for the next couple of weeks with a partially torn right triceps, Calderon has been thrust back into a starting role he believes he deserves.
Not that he would ever admit in so many words.
“I want to be the most professional player in the NBA,” Calderon said after Sunday’s win. “I don’t know if I’m going to be on the court or not but I want this team to win. This is my team and this is what I’ve been doing for eight years now and that’s what I do.
“I know my teammates know that and that’s the trust that’s behind me and it’s so really comfortable to play with these players.”
The Raptors came out flying in the first quarter and would lead by as many 12 points, 20-8, after about eight minutes.
Many of those in attendance were there to see Lin, the American-born point guard who was born to Taiwanese parents whose rise to prominence with the New York Knicks was the story du jour of last season.
Lin signed with the Rockets as a free agent for this season and was kept under tight reign by Calderon on Sunday, finishing with seven points and one assist while coughing up three turnovers.
“Defensively he did a solid job on Lin, staying with the schemes, quarterbacking,” Casey said. “Just can’t say enough about him.”
The Rockets, startled by Toronto’s fast start, woke from their lethargy and finished the first quarter on an 18-8 run that lifted them in front 28-26 heading into the second.
The score was knotted at 49-49 heading into the third quarter, where the Raptors played their best
Davis, who is becoming more of an offensive presence with increased playing time in light of numerous Toronto injuries, scored all of his 13 points in the frame.
That allowed Toronto to head into the fourth with a 77-71 lead that they hung on to tenaciously even though Houston whittled the advantage down to 97-95 with 17 seconds left to play.
The Raptors were leading 99-96 when DeMar DeRozan made a nice in-bounds feed to Anderson who plowed along the baseline and finished with a reverse layup to cinch the win for Toronto.