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Career night by Valanciunas lifts Raptors past Suns

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TORONTO — It seems like it is a different player every game who steps up for the Toronto Raptors.

This time it was center Jonas Valanciunas who scored a career-best 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Raptors held on to defeat the Phoenix Suns 104-100 despite blowing a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter.

It was the fifth win in a row for the Raptors who are off to a franchise-best 12-2 start. It snapped a four-game winning streak, all on the road, by the Suns who are 9-6.

“Each night is going to be a different story,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “And each night there is going to be a different star of the story, of the play. And tonight it was J.V. (Valanciunas).”

“He gave us trouble early, he got them going,” said Suns forward P.J. Tucker who scored 11 points and had eight rebounds.

Valanciunas was 10-of-11 from the field and helped the Raptors to a 52-36 advantage in the paint. After the biggest game of his career, he downplayed the performance.

“I’m telling that every time I talk with you guys, I was just doing my job,” Valanciunas said. “I was rebounding the ball, trying to get open, setting good screens, that’s my game.”

“He was a big part of their win tonight,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said.

The Suns won four of the six games on their trip that ended on Monday.

“It’s decent,” Hornacek said. “We went on the road and we played above 500, that’s pretty good. We’ve got a lot of road games in the first half of the year. If we can play consistently on the road it should be big for us in the second half.”

The Raptors led by as many as 17 points early in the fourth quarter but Phoenix took a 95-94 lead 95-94 with 3:04 to play when guard Eric Bledsoe hit both free throws after Tucker’s steal.

“We’re one of the few teams in the league, we can be down 20 points in the fourth quarter and can still win,” Tucker said. “There’s no such thing as putting us away. We have so many shooters, so many guys who can score in bunches. That’s why we kept saying, keep doing what we’re doing, they’re going to get tired and we’re going to keep firing and that’s what we did. Some costly turnovers at the end but we were right here where we wanted to be.”

Three consecutive 3-pointers by guard Isaiah Thomas helped get the Suns back into the game in the fourth. Thomas finished with 16 points, going 4-for-6 from 3-point range.

After Bledsoe gave Phoenix the lead, the Raptors regained the lead on a jumper by guard DeMar DeRozan and a layup by guard Kyle Lowry but Bledsoe tied it when he hit the foul shot to complete a 3-point play.

The game was tied at 98 when Suns forward Gerald Green was called for an offensive foul with 1:16 to play. After Lowry missed a layup, DeRozan grabbed the rebound to keep the Raptors in possession.

Forward Patrick Patterson was fouled and made both free throws for a 100-98 lead with 34.6 seconds to play. Lowry then made a steal with 23 seconds left that proved to be crucial.

“It was huge,” Casey said. “He just found a way to get it.”

“I just made a basketball play,” Lowry said. “I got my hand on it, and that’s about it.”

DeRozan made two free throws to put the Raptors ahead by four. Bledsoe hit both his free throws to cut the lead to two. DeRozan returned to the line at the other end and hit his two free throws to seal the game.

DeRozan finished with 23 points for the Raptors, guard Lou Williams scored 17 off the bench, Lowry had 14 points with eight assists and seven rebounds while forward Terrence Ross had 13.

Bledsoe led Phoenix with 25 points and forward Markieff Morris added 17 and Green had 13.

“They made some shots and we just toughed it out,” Lowry said. “You see what they did in the fourth quarter. That is an extremely talented offensive team. They came back and played extremely well.”

NOTES: Toronto F James Johnson (right ankle sprain) returned after missing three games, but the Raptors were without F Tyler Hansbrough (right shoulder sprain) for the third straight game. ….The Suns completed a six-game road trip over 10 days with the game against the Raptors. …The last time the Suns won five straight road games was Feb. 7-28, 2011. …The Raptors play their next game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on Wednesday. The Raptors are 3-1 in their first four away games this season. …Raptors guard Lou Williams was named Eastern Conference player of the week after averaging 23.7 points off the bench, including a career-best 36 points in the win at Cleveland on Saturday that completed Toronto’s 3-0 week. … The Suns’ next game is Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets at U.S. Airways Center.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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