Raptors beat Rockets to win second straight
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TORONTO - Jose Calderon was holding court with a couple dozen reporters in the post-game locker-room when Kyle Lowry walked by and said "Good game Amigo."
Calderon had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists — his second career triple-double — to lead the short-handed Raptors to a 103-96 victory over the Houston Rockets, marking the first time Toronto has won consecutive games in eight long months.
"Let me tell you one thing about Jose, you play with him and he gives you the utmost confidence," said DeMar DeRozan. "Since I've been here I've probably seen Jose upset once. He's kind of like the Tim Tebow of the team, he's just a good dude. You're with him and everything is just fine, nothing's wrong.
"I love Jose, he's a good dude."
Alan Anderson had 24 points while DeRozan added 19 points for the Raptors (6-19), who hadn't won consecutive games since April 13 (Boston) and 15 (Atlanta) of last season. Ed Davis added 13 points for the home team, while Amir Johnson had five blocks to go with eight rebounds and eight points.
Calderon started for the third straight game in place of the injured Lowry, who has a tear in his right tricep.
The 31-year-old Spaniard, who's the longest serving Raptor, has played perennial backup for his seven-and-a-bit seasons in Toronto, and found himself behind Lowry in the Raptors rotation this season after the guard was acquired in the summer.
He's performed admirably in that role and Sunday there was plenty of love from his teammates and the Air Canada Centre crowd of 17,863 fans when he grabbed a rebound and was fouled on the last play of the game, sinking one of two free throws.
"I'm feeling really nice," Calderon said. "With all these teammates, I know they respect me a lot. I made up my mind, I want to be the most professional player in the NBA, 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, this is what I've been doing for eight years now, and that's what I do. I know my teammates know that, there's the trust behind it, it's really comfortable to play with these guys."
Calderon's triple-double was his second this season. He also held Rockets guard Jeremy Lin to just seven points and two assists.
"Huge," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of Calderon's game. "He's a solid pro. I love him, he's going to win a lot of basketball games for you. Defensively, he did a solid job on Lin. I just can't say enough about Jose."
James Harden scored a game-high 28 points for the Rockets (11-12), while Marcus Morris added 19.
The Raptors led by as much as 12 points early on Sunday, but could have coughed up the game at several different points as the lead changed hands six times.
But Casey has been preaching a return to the basics all week, and his team seems to have taken his words to heart. The Raptors' defence kept them in the game as it did in Friday's 95-74 rout of Dallas that snapped a six-game skid.
Casey praised Johnson and Davis for the job they did holding down Harden, last season's winner of "Sixth Man" award for Oklahoma City.
"When Harden comes off that pick and roll, he's coming at you 100 miles an hour, it looks like a train coming at you," Casey said. "Amir and Eddie did a heck of a job in the pick and roll situations."
The Raptors took a 77-71 lead into the fourth quarter, and stretched their advantage to nine points. But Houston made for some tense moments late in the game, and when former Raptors sharp-shooter Carlos Delfino drained his second consecutive baskets with 25 second left, it pulled the Rockets to within two points.
The teams traded free throws from that point on until Anderson scored on a driving reverse layup with 11 seconds to go to seal the victory for Toronto.
The Rockets have now lost seven straight on the road, a stretch that goes back to Nov. 2. It's their worst road losing streak since they dropped eight straight in 2001.
"It was a disappointing one," Lin said. "We obviously didn't get the win and I don't think we played particularly well. Not the best feeling."
Lin, who had plenty of fans in the Air Canada Centre crowd cheering him on, was held to just seven points and two assists.
Lin was in the midst of "Linsanity" and the NBA's biggest story when the New York Knicks came to Toronto last February, draining a three at the buzzer to lead the Knicks to a victory.
"If you go on anybody's career and look at it, they're going to have a period where, man, you put up ridiculous numbers," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said before the game. "I think he had one of those periods last year where everybody was, well, jeez, that's what Jeremy Lin is.
"No-one in our league is a 27-point, 11-assist guy, even LeBron (James) doesn't do that. He's figuring himself out as a young player, he really is just a young player, this is the first time he's come in and started from training camp on. Jeremy's fine, he's just going to continue to improve."
The Raptors raced out to a 12-point lead midway through the first quarter. But the Rockets flipped the switch and finished on a 20-6 run to lead 28-26 going into the second.
Toronto battled back to take an eight-point lead in the second, but once again let it slip away, outscoring the Raptors 12-4 to pull even 49-49 at halftime.
The Raptors shot 62 per cent in the third to go up by eight points twice. Harden drained two free throws to cut Toronto's lead to 77-71 with a quarter left.
NOTES: The Raptors were without Andrea Bargnani (elbow) for the third straight game. . . The Rockets beat Toronto 117-101 last month. . . The Rockets wore a green stripe on their jerseys in memory of McHale's daughter Sasha, who died last month of lupus at the age of 23. Green was her favourite colour. . . Raptors rookie Jonas Valanciunas was presented with the Lithuanian player of the year award from Lithuanian legend Arvydas Sabonis before tipoff. . . The Raptors are in Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Tuesday. They return home to host Detroit on Wednesday and Orlando on Friday.