TORONTO — With 11.6 seconds left, Vince Carter picked up his fifth foul and was subbed out of the game to a loud and long standing ovation.
Ending what was likely Carter’s final appearance on the Air Canada Centre court, it was the highlight of an otherwise hum-drum 108-93 victory for the Toronto Raptors over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.
"I hope not," Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said, on the possibility that Carter played his last game here. "He’s a guy I’ve always looked up to, respected, someone that has earned the right to have his jersey retired in the Raptors’ arena. What can you say? Tip the hat to the guy that pretty much changed the game of basketball for a whole country."
DeMar DeRozan scored 21 points, while Jonas Valanciunas had 13 points and a season-high 16 rebounds to lead the Raptors to their ninth consecutive home victory.
Six Raptors scored in double figures, as Lowry finished with 16, Norm Powell had 14, OG Anunoby had 11, and C.J. Miles chipped in with 10.
The Raptors (20-8) improved their NBA-best record at the Air Canada Centre to 11-1.
Carter had just four points in 25 minutes, but showed a couple of flashes of vintage Vince, such as first-half block (he would finish with three) on Valanciunas. The 40-year-old, who was a five-time all-star in his six-and-a-bit seasons in Toronto, signed a one-year, US$8-million deal with the Kings last off-season, for his 20th NBA season.
The Raptors reportedly were interested in him last summer, and Carter, who inspired a generation of young Canadian players in his days as a superstar in Toronto, sounded Sunday like he would welcome a return engagement.
"I heard about it, it didn’t happen. It’s just one of those things, it’ll happen, for sure," Carter said. "Somehow, whether it’s one day or something, it’ll happen. It’s supposed to happen, I think. I can say that now. I’ve had a lot of people say it’s supposed to happen, so now I guess I have to believe."
A far cry from the days he was serenaded by a chorus of boos in Toronto, the crowd cheered Carter during team introductions, and each time he checked in.
"Nothing changes. I still love being here, whether it’s 10, 12 years ago, or today," he said. "There’s nothing like it. I’ve been on two different sides of it… but, it’s still a place that’s near and dear to me. Every time I walk in here, 10, 12 years ago or 10, 12 minutes ago, still see the same people, still greet the same people, see the old faces."
Garrett Temple and Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Kings (9-20) with 18 points apiece.
The Raptors had beaten the Kings 102-87 in Sacramento on Dec. 10, but Sunday’s game was a see-saw battle that saw nine lead changes through the first three quarters. Toronto took an 83-77 advantage into the fourth in front a subdued crowd of 19,800, before back-to-back threes from Powell and Delon Wright give the Raptors a 12-point lead less than two minutes into the final frame.
The Kings would cut the lead to eight, but a buzzer-beater by Fred VanVleet had Toronto back up by 11 with 1:38 to play. Lowry drilled a three after the ensuing timeout for a 14-point lead, all but sealing the victory.
Kings coach Dave Joerger said he’d hoped it wasn’t going to take a clear path foul to sub Carter out for the ovation.
"But whatever it takes to get him out, I was just yelling for a foul," Joerger said. "For what Vince has done in the league in general, the number of people’s lives he has changed that play in this league, and all the people that have worked with him… also I know how special it is for him here.
"Hopefully it is not the last time, hopefully he’ll play for another 10 years."
Carter said he’s still waffling on retirement.
"You catch me on the right day, I’ll probably tell you it’s over this year, you catch me on another day, I can probably tell you in a couple of years," he said. "I just enjoy playing, I enjoy being around the guys in this atmosphere. It’s tough to say. You’re asking today, so I can tell you, I have one more in me."
Neither team led by more than four points in a back-and-forth first quarter until Powell’s cutting layup with 1:05 left, and the Raptors went into the second quarter with a 35-30 lead.
Toronto stretched its advantage to seven in the second, but the Kings closed the half with a 16-7 run, capped by a 46-foot buzzer-beater from George Hill.
The Raptors are in Charlotte on Wednesday, and Philadelphia on Thursday before heading home to host the 76ers on Dec. 23.