TORONTO — There was almost no hoopla to celebrate the historic moment when the final buzzer sounded, just a loud announcement over the public address system to the fans at the Air Canada Centre.
But coach Dwane Casey and his players say there’s little time to pause and celebrate. This a team hungry for more. They have bigger goals in mind.
"Happy? I don’t know what ‘happy’ is, you’ll have to describe that," Casey said afterward. "Satisfied? No. We haven’t done anything. We’ve won 10 in a row, we’ve got to keep going, keep grinding. Happy? I’m happy for the guys, they’ve stuck with the plan, and working defensively. But not satisfied is a better way to put it."
Toronto’s all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan scored 26 points apiece to lead the Raptors (31-15), who are two games back of Cleveland for first in the East.
Lowry, whose sore wrist had him questionable to play right up until the players took the court for warmup, added 10 assists and six rebounds on the night. DeRozan’s solid performance came just hours after he was named an NBA all-star reserve.
"We are a good team, man. It’s our team. It’s 15 deep. It’s not just me and DeMar," said Lowry, who then proceeded to list off almost the entire roster. "We’re a good team and we all really want to win games and be a successful group."
Jonas Valanciunas had a double-double with 11 points and 18 rebounds for Toronto (31-15), while Cory Joseph had 11 points and Patrick Patterson chipped in with 10.
The Raptors’ previous win streak was back in the spring of 2002, March 22-April 3. This historic hot stretch — the longest active win streak in the NBA — began Jan. 6 in Brooklyn. And then, one by one, they racked up the wins: Washington twice, Philadelphia, Orlando, Brooklyn again, Boston, Miami, and the L.A. Clippers.
"It’s really tough (to win 10 straight) but the good teams do it," Lowry said. "They find ways to win games and I believe the way we are doing it is the way other teams do it — we are just taking it one game at a time. You can’t focus on anything but that."
Thursday night, the Raptors led by as much as 14 points against a pesky Knicks team that was missing starting point guard and former Raptor Jose Calderon (groin), Carmelo Anthony (knee), and rookie Kristaps Porzingis (upper respiratory illness).
They led by double digits for most of the fourth quarter in front of a capacity crowd of 19,800 fans at the Air Canada Centre, before the Knicks made a final push. A fadeaway jumper from Derrick Williams pulled the Knicks to within eight points with 3:10 to play, but Lowry lit it up with eight straight points to put the Raptors safely ahead for good with 1:45 to play.
Arron Afflalo scored 20 points to top the Knicks (22-26).
DeRozan credited Casey for never wavering from his defence-first approach.
"Casey’s one of those guys, he never changed since Day 1, same standards, principles, everything about him is exactly the same," DeRozan said.
"It’s big, look at us now, we just beat some record today," he added, laughing. "The last couple of years has been great, but he’s still on us about the post-season and using this season to really understand how to win, how to hold wins, how to win games, how to come back, how to sustain leads, everything that we’re going to need once we get into the post-season."
The Raptors honoured DeRozan for his all-star selection with a video tribute during a timeout midway through the first quarter. When play resumed, and with the Raptors trailing by six, DeRozan cut to the hoop for a dunk that sparked a 16-6 run, and Toronto went into the second quarter leading 27-21.
Lowry drilled a three-pointer four minutes before halftime that stretched Toronto’s advantage to 14 points. They led 53-43 at the break.
The Knicks pulled to within a point midway through the third, but coach Dwane Casey went to his bench to halt their momentum. It worked, as the Raptors pulled away to lead 73-63 with one quarter left.
The Raptors host Detroit on Saturday.