TORONTO — Midway through the fourth quarter Sunday night, Vince Carter plowed through Cory Joseph, knocking the Raptors guard hard onto his backside.
Carter was quick to help Joseph up, and in the dressing room after Toronto’s 98-85 victory over Memphis, Joseph was asked — in jest — whether it was a special moment for the Toronto native.
"I watched Vince growing up," Joseph said. "I know he’s not trying to hurt me or anything, it was just a hard foul."
DeMar DeRozan poured in 21 points to lift the Raptors to victory in their first game back home in Toronto in three weeks. The win lifted DeRozan into a tie with Morris Peterson and Chris Bosh for the Raptors’ record for wins with 232.
"I’ve got to beat both of them," DeRozan said, laughing. "It’s a cool thing honestly, just being able to be in the record books… when I look back on how long I’ve been here, through tough times."
Kyle Lowry added 18 points, while Joseph had 14 off the bench, and Jonas Valanciunas added 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds for Toronto (36-18).
Carter, who played the better part of seven seasons for the Raptors before they traded him to New Jersey in 2004, added 16 points in his first double-digit game in Toronto since 2011.
Carter, who’s 39 now, his beard flecked with grey, is credited with inspiring a generation of Toronto kids. Joseph said he was one of the them.
"He was a big inspiration to me growing up, playing basketball, watching him, ‘Air Canada,’ I was in a lot of situations where I was out on the driveway trying to do the things he was doing back then," Joseph said. "It’s a great moment for me, being able to play against him now, to see how far I’ve come, great that he’s still here."
For years after Carter was traded, Raptors fans welcomed him back to the ACC with a chorus of boos. It seems they’ve changed their tune — the eight-time all-stars was cheered warmly when he checked into Sunday’s game.
DeRozan said he enjoys facing Carter.
"Always, always," DeRozan said. "I grew up watching him play, he turned me into a Raptors fan. When you get to go against a guy like that, and have a relationship with him, it’s definitely cool."
Zach Randolph led Memphis (32-23) with 18 points.
The Raptors had won 14 of 15 games before a pair of road losses that bookended the all-star break.
Looking to make up for the two losses that left them four-and-a-half games back of Cleveland for second in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors led by double digits for much of the evening and took a 74-64 advantage into the fourth quarter.
On a less-than-thrilling night, one of the few highlights that brought fans out of their seats in a soldout ACC was a fourth-quarter putback dunk by Bismack Biyombo, who muscled his way to the basket. That put the Raptors up by 12 points.
The Grizzlies would fight back, and a Carter free throw had them within five points with 2:27 on the clock. The Raptors pulled away over the last two minutes, and when Joseph launched a three-pointer — earning a fierce chest bump from Lowry — the long bomb put Toronto ahead by 10 points with 1:09 to play.
"He is playing with confidence, he is pushing the ball, and he is attacking the paint and knocking down his threes," coach Dwane Casey said of Joseph. "Cory is still a growing player and we forget that."
The game wasn’t pretty offensively. The Raptors shot just 41 per cent, but held Memphis to 37 per cent. The Grizzlies shot just 3-for-20 from three-point range.
The Raptors led 22-20 after one quarter, then pulled away in the second. When Terrence Ross drilled a three with 5:24 to play, it put the Raptors up by 12 points. The Grizzlies didn’t back down, and Carter’s three free throws with 1.6 seconds on the clock cut Toronto’s lead to 46-43 at the break.
DeRozan led the way with eight points in the third.
The Raptors play the Knicks in New York on Monday.