TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors had dug themselves a 30-point hole and looked headed for their worst game of the season. The mood in the huddle, said coach Nick Nurse, was "really bad." His team had a flight to catch to Indiana later that night, and another game to play less than 24 hours later.
The Raptors could have called it a night early. Instead, led by a remarkable fourth-quarter performance by Kyle Lowry, the Raptors recorded their greatest comeback in franchise history Sunday in a 110-107 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
"We have always been a team that fights," Nurse said. "In my time here, we hardly ever mail it in. It’s a good characteristic to have."
Lowry scored 20 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, and the Raptors roared back from a 30-point third-quarter deficit.
"I think that was a one-off game, but you could see how hard we played, and that’s something you take from and you continue to build on," Lowry said. "That’s the part of that game you take and say ‘Yeah, that’s a hard-playing team right there,’ no matter what, we were down whatever we were, it didn’t even feel like it, we just went out there and played."
The all-star point guard added 10 assists and eight rebounds and, with a couple of minutes to play, the capacity crowd of 19,800 fans Scotiabank Arena broke into chants of "Low-ry! Low-ry!"
"He was unbelievable, right?" Nurse said. "And he really didn’t have that good a game going until that point, too. Then he started firing and making and driving and and-one-ing — he was doing it all. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it."
Montreal’s Chris Boucher scored a career-high 21 points, including a huge dunk in the dying seconds. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 18 points for the undermanned Raptors (21-8), who were playing without Pascal Siakam (groin), Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Norman Powell (shoulder).
Jalen Brunson had 21 points for the Mavericks (19-10), who were missing star guard Luka Doncic for the fourth consecutive game (ankle). Toronto native Dwight Powell added 17 points.
Toronto’s largest comeback before Sunday came when it erased a 25-point deficit to beat the Detroit Pistons 120-116 on Dec. 11, 2010.
It’s also the first 30-point comeback in the league since Dec. 21, 2009, when the Sacramento Kings overcame a 35-point hole to beat the Chicago Bulls 102-98.
Dallas has been one of the best road teams this season, arriving in Toronto with an 11-2 away record. The Raptors played the gracious host for most of the afternoon. The Raptors had an early 12-point lead, but without any sustained energy on either side of the court, saw that quickly evaporate. When Powell slashed to the rim for a layup late in the third quarter, the Mavericks went ahead by 30.
Trailing 86-63 to start the fourth, the Raptors finally showed some life. They chipped away at the deficit and when Lowry drilled a three-pointer with 8:05 to play, glancing over at the Dallas bench as the ball dropped, the Raptors were within 10 points.
"All (Lowry) said was ‘keep pushing,"’ Boucher said. "He led us the right way, put us in great spots. Kyle does that every time. Even when people don’t see it. Kyle’s a great leader."
Lowry’s heroics continued, and when he dropped a shoulder and drove to the hoop for a layup with 5:59 to play, it was a two-point game. Back-to-back Lowry three-pointers had the Raptors up by five with 3:05 to play. It was Lowry again with a layup with 1:18 to play to give Toronto a four-point cushion.
Dallas took a one-point lead on a pair of Kristaps Porzingis free throws, but Lowry handed off to Boucher for an emphatic dunk with 19 seconds to play to put the Raptors back on top.
"I’m surprised (Lowry) saw me," Boucher said. "I was just running for the offensive rebound and he saw me coming through. I missed a couple of layups today so I made sure I was going to hit that one and finish strong."
Bunson’s shot with two seconds left bounced off the rim, then Boucher headed to the line for a pair of free throws, the icing on the Raptors’ 47-point quarter.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle took "full responsibility" for his team’s loss.
"Very disappointing loss," he said. "We got to a point where we lost our aggression. When you get hit with that kind of force, you’ve got to respond with equal or greater force, and we just didn’t do it soon enough."
Tim Hardaway Jr., who had 16 points on the night, said it was a great lesson for Dallas.
"They were just taking it to us. Before you knew it, they cut the lead to 10 and then cut the lead to five," he said. "It shows that whenever you’re up that much, you can’t let up, you can’t back down from the competition, you can’t ease yourself into the win because the game isn’t even over yet."
The Raptors, who lost 110-102 in Dallas on Nov. 16, raced out to an early 12-point lead, thanks largely to the Mavericks’ poor shooting in the quarter — 21.7 per cent. But the Mavs started to find their shooting groove toward the end of the frame, and pulled to within 20-17 heading into the second.
Toronto struggled mightily in the second quarter, connecting on just one of seven shots from behind the arc. Porzingis’s three with just under four minutes left in the half capped a 16-2 Mavericks run that put the visitors up by eight points.
The Mavs had possession for just 4.1 seconds to end the half, but Porzingis still managed to launch a 30-footer at the buzzer, and Dallas headed into halftime with a 51-42 lead.
The Raptors are in Indianapolis against the Pacers on Monday, then return home to host the Boston Celtics on Christmas day.