TAMPA, Fla. — Trailing by 17 points with less than two minutes to play, and a game in Miami looming the next day, the Toronto Raptors could have called it a night.
The Raptors went on to lose 109-102 to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, but a big positive was how hard they fought down the stretch.
"It says a lot," coach Nick Nurse said. "I think we're getting to that point though where, I've always said when you flip on a Raptors game that you’ve got some sense of pride in the way these guys play. I think we're there now, playing hard, we don't give in, we don't give up, we'll fight back from deficits we'll try to find a way."
Tobias Harris poured in 23 points to top the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers (21-11).
Norman Powell had 24 points while Pascal Siakam added 22 to lead the Raptors (16-16), who saw their four-game win streak end in the loss. Fred VanVleet finished with 12 points, Aron Baynes had 11 and OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher chipped in with 10 points apiece.
Kyle Lowry sat out his fourth consecutive game with a left thumb injury, but Nurse said there's a "good chance" he will play Wednesday against the Heat.
Two nights after a 110-103 win over the Sixers, the Raptors struggled from the opening whistle. They gave up 37 points in the first quarter and trailed by 21 in the second quarter.
"And then after that we looked good," Nurse said.
Down 79-65 to start the fourth, the Raptors clawed back and a driving dunk from Siakam and three-pointer from Boucher made it a six-point game with 5:07 to play. But, despite a couple of long three-pointers from VanVleet, the Sixers fought back and when Joel Embiid knocked down two free throws with 1:48 to play, they were back up by 17 points.
But the battling Raptors didn't let the game go easily. A pair of Sixers turnovers led to consecutive Toronto dunks -- by Powell and Siakam, respectively -- and it was a six-point game with 21.6 seconds to play.
"It's good. It's good," VanVleet said on Toronto's refusal to give up. "It's a positive to take away from tonight. I think obviously we've been trending in the right direction given the way that the game started. Given the way that we looked at times. We could've easily caved and let them run away with it. But we kept fighting"
Sixers free throws in the final few seconds clinched the game for Philly.
Tuesday marked the final two-game mini-series for Toronto in the first half of the season. The Raptors swept Charlotte and Milwaukee but split games with Miami and Indiana, losing the second games in both series.
Nurse predicted Game 2 against Philly would be a challenge.
"This one feels like it's gonna be tougher tonight," Nurse said in his pre-game media availability.
The NBA implemented the mini-series format this season to limit travel amid COVID-19. Nurse was non-committal when asked if he likes it.
"I mean, listen, going to Milwaukee and getting that first one, I woulda just as soon got out of town and forgot about them for a while, and probably be the same the other night, getting Philly and just as soon move on to the next team," he said.
Furkan Korkmaz, a 30 per cent shooter from distance this season, had four three-pointers and 16 points in the first quarter and his shot from behind the arc with 7.8 seconds left in the quarter had the Sixers up 37-17 to start the second.
Philly built a 21-point lead in the second, but the Raptors replied with a 13-3 run to slice the difference to 11. Toronto trailed 55-42 at the halftime break.
Powell's driving floater capped a 9-0 Raptors run that pulled them to within six, but the Sixers responded with a quick 7-0 run and led by 14 with one quarter to play.
The Raptors have no time for rest. After facing the Heat in Miami on Wednesday,, they are back "home" to host Houston at Amalie Arena on Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021.
The Canadian Press