If the Toronto Raptors can play at home the way they’ve been playing on the road, they might just remain atop the Atlantic Division for a while.
Kyle Lowry scored 22 points, making a pair of clinching free throws with 9.8 seconds left, and the Raptors handed the Oklahoma City Thunder their first home loss with a 104-98 victory on Sunday night.
The Raptors outscored Oklahoma City 6-0 in the final 1:25, all on free throws, and ended the Thunder’s nine-game winning streak. Oklahoma City had been 13-0 at home, the NBA’s longest unbeaten stretch to open a season since the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first 23 home games during the 2007-08 season.
Amir Johnson had 17 points and 13 assists for Toronto, which won its fourth straight road game, its longest such streak since March-April 2002. Oklahoma City lost for the first time since Dec. 4 at Portland.
Toronto coach Dwane Casey called the win, which moved the Raptors past Boston into first place in the Atlantic, his team’s biggest of the season. Toronto’s road streak began with a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 8 and the Raptors added wins at Chicago and Dallas before beating the Thunder.
"It’s one of those mysteries we have, of our focus on the road," Casey said. "We’re a different team. I see it in our eyes before the game."
Russell Westbrook scored 27 points and Kevin Durant added 24 for Oklahoma City, which missed its final four shots.
Veteran forward John Salmons, who scored 14 points and hit the go-ahead free throws for Toronto, said winning on the road "just shows our mental toughness as a unit. . Sometimes it’s fun to play on the road, because it’s just us against everybody else."
Toronto will play at San Antonio on Monday.
Oklahoma City surged ahead with a 24-4 run during the third quarter that gave the Thunder an 82-71 lead. Toronto regained the lead in the fourth before a 3-pointer by Durant tied the game, but Salmons hit two free throws with 1:25 left to put Toronto up 100-98.
The Thunder’s next two possessions ended in a missed 3-point attempt by Reggie Jackson and a block by Valanciunas on a layup attempt by Westbrook, with Toronto winning the scramble for the loose ball.
Johnson hit two free throws with 14.5 seconds left to extend Toronto’s lead to 102-98. Durant missed a 3-point attempt and Lowry rebounded before hitting the Raptors’ final two free throws.
"It’s the NBA," Casey said. "It happens. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the league. We knew they were going to come out in the third quarter with their best effort, which they did. We sustained it and took the punch."
Oklahoma City, which entered the game second in the NBA in free throw shooting at 81.8 percent, went 35 of 36 (97.2 percent). But the Thunder shot 37 percent from the field and scored a season-low 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Durant finished 5 of 16 from the field and committed six of the Thunder’s 19 turnovers.
"Losses happen in this league," Durant said. "They beat us fair and square, you know? We missed some shots, too. I think our defense was good. They got some shots late in the fourth quarter that helped them a little bit but I think our defense was good. We were swarming them and they hit some tough ones, too, but we missed some good looks."
The Thunder, who have won 17 of their last 19 games, were coming off a win at San Antonio on Saturday night. Asked if the Thunder lacked energy down the stretch, Durant answered, "Nah."
Toronto went 7 of 14 from 3-point range and scored on its final nine possessions of the first half, turning a five-point deficit into a 62-56 halftime lead. The 62 points were the second-most surrendered in the first half this season by Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City clamped down on defense in the third quarter, allowing the Raptors only 13 points, matching their season low for a quarter.
DeMar DeRozan added 17 points for Toronto and Valanciunas had 13.
Notes: Durant was called for a technical foul, his third of the season, while on the bench in the second quarter. Durant protested after a scramble for a loose ball between Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison and Toronto’s Valanciunas. Ironically, Valanciunas was called for a personal foul on the play that Durant protested . Toronto is 7-6 on the road. It’s been since Feb. 25, 2008, that the Raptors have been above .500 on the road this late in the season . Thunder C Steven Adams picked up three fouls during a two-minute stint in the first quarter.