Behind a 24-point performance from sharp-shooting Serge Ibaka – his highest since he was traded to Toronto – the Raptors downed the Philadelphia 76ers 113-105 Sunday night.
The Raptors were able to ease the minute load for Ibaka, and for DeMar DeRozan, too, who had 17 points and matched a season high with nine assists. The Raptors, 47-30, grabbed their eighth win in their past nine outings, as they get set for the final five-game stretch of the regular season.
The Raptors were closing out a four-game home stand Sunday, holding the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and having already secured home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
The 76ers, 28-49, are already eliminated from the postseason. The developing squad was without many of its exciting young talents – including both Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor – but the Raptors hadn't forgotten about that night in Philly back in January when the young Sixers beat them 94-89.
Still the visitors stormed out to an early 29-28 lead to end the first quarter, largely thanks to the hot shooting of French rookie Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot.
The Raptors finally pulled ahead halfway through the second quarter, as Ibaka rumbled for 10 second-quarter points and DeRozan went into the locker room with eight assists on the sheet. Toronto led 59-49 at halftime.
The Raptors built on that lead in the second half, up by as much as 14 for much of the way. DeRozan, played just 31 minutes Sunday (compared to his average 35.5), while Ibaka played 28 (compared to 31).
"Serge Ibaka got in there and got us going a little bit, and we fought through that mental block you get this time of year sometimes," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. "DeMar was getting trapped and he was kicking the ball out and doing an excellent job of finding people. Everybody moved the basketball to create shots and that's the way we have to play. As long as DeMar is kicking it out and finding people, I feel like it's contagious."
Jonas Valanciunas contributed 14 points and eight rebounds. But it was the Raps' youngsters who took the load to hold the lead late. Even as Philly inched to within six in the final minute, Toronto kept its youth on the floor. Austrian rookie big man Jakob Poeltl added a career-high 12 points and five rebounds, while second-year guard Norman Powell had 10 points and four assists.
Luwawu-Cabarrot led Philadelphia with 23 points, Dario Saric had 16, and Toronto native Nik Stauskas had 14.
Toronto was missing forward P.J. Tucker, sidelined for the night because of a sore left knee.
For the 20th successive game, during which the Raptors went 14-6, Toronto was without star point guard Kyle Lowry, as he continues to recover from wrist surgery. Casey maintained Sunday that the plan is for Lowry to return before the regular season is over, and that he's comfortable putting the all-star point guard into a game even if he can't get in a full practice first. The team has precious little practice time remaining in the regular season with its final five games packed into an eight-day span.
"No problem at all," Casey said. "He knows exactly what we're doing. He's been in our meetings. He knows what new sets we've put in and whatever we've done. It would just be up to the medical group and the team to feel comfortable putting him out there."
The Raptors play four of their last five on the road with the lone home game coming Friday against the Miami Heat. All five of those opponents have sub-.500 records.