Raptors 116, Rockets 98

BY foxsports • March 8, 2012

Dwane Casey spent the early portion of the fourth quarter shouting at his players while they squandered a 17-point lead against the weary Houston Rockets.

Whatever the message was for his Toronto Raptors was received just in time.

DeMar DeRozan scored 23 points as the Raptors used sizzling first-half shooting and a pivotal fourth-quarter surge to upend the struggling Rockets 116-98.

Toronto set season highs in points and shooting percentage (59.2), but needed more than 3 1/2 quarters to put away a Rockets team that looked worn down following an overtime loss in Boston a night earlier.

The victory came with plenty of blemishes, but what mattered most to Casey was that his players were able to fend off surging Houston and take control of a game that appeared to be slipping away.

''I thought they had us where they wanted us,'' Casey said. ''A team like that, a veteran team, you never relax in those situations ... but I was happy the way our guys bounced back, made a run, got back into it defensively and got out in the open floor, ran and made good decisions.''

Casey was apoplectic at times on the sidelines, screaming and throwing up his hands as he watched Houston whittle a 71-54 deficit down to four points with just over seven minutes remaining.

Toronto responded with a 15-2 run capped by a Leandro Barbosa three-point play after he finished off a 3-on-1 break with a strong drive to the hoop. Toronto cruised from there to finish 2-2 on its four-game homestand while sending Houston to its fifth straight loss.

Casey said he was concerned with how the Raptors were moving the ball down the stretch.

''I got up on our guys a little bit at the end because we kind of threw it around when we should have been playing smart, milking it, executing more,'' he said. ''Win, lose or draw, we have to learn each and every time we walk on the floor, and that's what I was imploring our guys to do.''

Saddled with one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, the Raptors have seen their share of fourth-quarter leads evaporate. Jose Calderon, who had 17 points and 12 assists in the win, said he and his teammates approached crunch time with a different attitude against the Rockets.

''We kept our composure, and relaxed and (were) confident,'' he said. ''We've made mistakes with those leads, so today we were a little bit more calm ... we executed a little bit better.''

One area of concern for Casey was the Rockets' parade to the foul line. Houston went 37 for 44 on free throws, and six players had five or more attempts.

''We put them on the free-throw line too many times,'' Casey said. ''We were playing more with our hands instead of our feet.''

That was about the only thing that went right for the Rockets, who allowed the Raptors to set season highs in first-half points (58) and field-goal percentage (64.9) and couldn't recover despite their best efforts.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale refused to use the schedule as an excuse.

''We're playing basketball. We're not doing an eight-hour shift or 12-hour shift in the mine,'' McHale said. ''We just looked a half step slow. There were loose balls, we didn't get any of them. That just caught up with us.''

Notes: Raptors F-C Andrea Bargnani (calf) missed his 20th straight game Wednesday, but will likely be back this weekend. Casey said Bargnani will need to get in at least two practices, but expects the 7-footer to be back in the lineup Sunday against visiting Milwaukee. ... Houston came in with the second-worst road record among NBA teams presently above .500. Only the L.A. Lakers (6-13) entered Wednesday with a worse mark away from home. ... Rockets C Samuel Dalembert, a Montreal resident and a fixture of the men's national team, had 14 points and six rebounds in 34 minutes.