On a frigid mid-December Sunday afternoon, the Toronto Raptors' home record remained red hot.
The Raptors toppled the Sacramento Kings 108-93 to earn a third successive victory, their ninth in a row at home. Now 11-1 at Air Canada Centre, the Raps hold the best home record in the NBA.
Six Raptors scored in double digits, led by 21 points from DeMar DeRozan, 16 from Kyle Lowry and a 13-point, 16-rebound performance from Jonas Valanciunas.
The Raps were without Serge Ibaka, who was sidelined with a sore left knee. C.J. Miles started in his place, returning to the lineup after missing Friday's game with shoulder soreness. Miles hit his first 3-point attempt of the day, but it was much tougher going for the sniper after that.
The Raptors led 35-30 after the first quarter, having allowed the Kings, late in that first stanza, to shoot more than 78 per cent.
A 40-year-old Vince Carter returned to the ACC with the 9-19 Kings, his lengthy and open-ended farewell tour winding through the city where he had played seven memorable seasons at the height of Vinsanity.
The veteran of 20 NBA seasons is a bit player for the young and struggling Sacramento squad. But in what could possibly be his last game in Toronto, the eight-time all-star – who had once been half-man, half-amazing as a Raptor – made his first start for the Kings.
He got hardy applause – and no boos – when he was introduced and each time he entered the game. He also received a standing ovation from the crowd when he left for the day with four points on 2-of-5 shooting, two assists and a rebound over 25 minutes. Any resentment Toronto fans once felt toward him has abated in recent years, particularly since the Raptors gave him a video tribute, which brought him to tears, in the club's 20th season.
After the game, Carter said he's not yet sure when he'll retire. The smiling NBA star spoke at length about his warm feelings for Toronto, pointing out familiar ACC staffers or local reporters he still enjoys catching up with when he plays in Canada.
"I still love being here, whether it was 10-12 years ago or today," Carter said. "There's nothing like it, I tell all the young guys that. It's near and dear to me every time I walk in here."
The game remained very close in the second quarter, with the Raptors leading for all but the last 10 seconds, when the Kings finally pulled ahead for the first time since the game's opening minute.
Garrett Temple, Bogdan Bogdanovic and George Hill were all rolling for the league's lowest-scoring team. Sacramento took a 63-61 lead into the locker room after a half in which Toronto shot just 50 per cent to Sacramento's 61 per cent.
It was halfway through the third quarter before Miles made another three-pointer for Toronto – his seventh attempt of the day.
The Raptors' Norman Powell, who had struggled in recent weeks, was quietly having a bounce-back game. Powell made all five of the field goals he attempted on Sunday and finished with 14 points.
By outscoring the Kings 22-14 in the third quarter, the Raptors eased back into control, then stretched that lead further in the fourth.
Miles finished with 10 points, and O.G. Anunoby had 11. Temple and Bogdanovich each finished with 18 for Sacramento, while Hill had 16.
Toronto head coach Dwane Casey was happy with the play from his bench unit – which struggled recently – and the team's second-half defence. But the first-half defence concerned him.
"Any team in this league, you let them shoot 61 per cent, it's way too high," Casey said. "We held them to 31 per cent in the second half, which is admirable, but we can't play with fire."
Toronto improved to 20-8 and remained third in the Eastern Conference. Is is 11-4 against Western Conference opponents.
The Raptors now head out for games in Charlotte and Philadelphia, before returning home next Saturday.