TORONTO — Pairing Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez down the stretch proved to be a winning combination for the Toronto Raptors.
Jonas Valanciunas scored a season-high 23 points, Lowry had 22 points and 12 assists against his former team and the Raptors won for the 11th time in 14 games, beating the Memphis Grizzlies 99-86 on Friday night.
"Me and Kyle playing together, it’s great chemistry," Vasquez said. "We have two guys who can pass and make everybody else better, and Kyle is really scoring at a high rate. It’s fun playing with a guy who’s as hot as he is right now."
Vasquez scored 17 points against the team that drafted him, DeMar DeRozan had 16 and Amir Johnson 12 as the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors snapped a four-game home losing streak against the Grizzlies and improved to 16-0 at home this season when leading after three quarters.
After playing the entire fourth quarter, giving Lowry an invaluable break from ballhandling duties, Vasquez was campaigning for his partnership with Lowry to persist.
"I think we should do it more often, if you ask me, but I’m not the head coach," Vasquez said.
Lowry sounded equally enthusiastic about being paired with Vasquez.
"It’s easy for me because he’s a guy who’s going to look for me and make the play," Lowry said. "It gives me a chance to rest and hang out and shoot open 3’s. When he’s playing like that, we’re a pretty good team."
Ten of DeRozan’s points came in the fourth quarter, helping Toronto win back-to-back games against the Grizzlies after losing eight of the previous nine meetings. The Raptors won for the 17th time in 23 home games and improved to 31-7 when holding opponents below 100 points.
"We play physical," Vasquez said. "We punch teams and let them know that it’s not going to be easy for any team to come to our house and beat us."
Zach Randolph scored 16 points, only six after the first, and Courtney Lee had 12 as Memphis saw its four-game winning streak snapped. The Grizzlies had won six of seven coming in. "It is disappointing," Memphis guard Mike Conley said. "We’ve been playing very good basketball, we’ve been executing very well."
Nick Calathes scored 11 points, while Conley and Tony Allen each had 10 for the Grizzlies, whose past six losses have all come on the road. Memphis had won two straight away from home — at Chicago and New Orleans — before visiting Toronto.
Vasquez predicted that the Grizzlies, who came in as the seventh seed in the West, will make some noise in the playoffs.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if that team goes all the way to the Western Conference finals," he said.
Memphis tied it at 80 on a free throw by Mike Miller with 6:24 left, but Vasquez answered with a 3, then stole a pass from Calathes and scored on a driving layup. Vasquez was fouled by Calathes on the play, but failed to convert his free throw.
After a missed jumper by Conley, Lowry fed Valanciunas for a two-handed slam dunk, as the second-year center broke the 20-point barrier for the first time this season.
Lowry praised Valanciunas for his performance against a Grizzlies team whose starting frontcourt of Gasol and Randolph ranks as one of the toughest in the NBA.
"JV earned some respect tonight," Lowry said. "The way he played tonight, he battled, he played great defense on Zach."
Conley missed another shot and Allen turned the ball over with a bad pass before DeRozan connected on a corner 3 at 3:14, giving Toronto its biggest lead of the game at 90-80.
Allen was left blaming himself after making three of his game-high five turnovers in the final quarter.
"I kind of put this one on me simply because I made boneheaded mistakes down the stretch," Allen said. Memphis
Valanciunas scored 10 of Toronto’s final 11 points of the opening quarter, but Randolph had 10 for the Grizzlies in the first as Memphis led 24-19 after one.
Vasquez scored 12 points in the second to lead the Raptors back, and a buzzer-beating dunk from Valanciunas gave Toronto a 47-44 edge at halftime.
Lowry had eight points in the third while Terrence Ross, who didn’t score in the first half, added seven as Toronto took a 71-67 lead into the fourth.