It took the Toronto Raptors a little while to get going in their first game since the NBA all-star break. Guard Kyle Lowry eventually provided a jump start.
Lowry had 24 points and 10 assists as the Raptors broke open a close game in the third quarter and held on for a 103-93 win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.
"He took the game over in the middle of the third quarter and willed us to a win," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said.
Leading by six points at halftime, the Atlantic Division leading Raptors pushed the lead to 17 points as DeMar DeRozan's driving layup started a 15-2 run midway through the third quarter.
Lowry scored nine of the 15 points with a variety of shots, including a driving layup, a short fallaway jumper and a corner three-pointer that made it 78-61 late in the period. He played the entire 12 minutes and scored 14 points in the quarter.
"I just was getting more looks, trying to attack a little more" said Lowry, who wasn't named an all-star, but came in averaging 16.7 points 7.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.
"That first game out of the break is always tough and I didn't want to let that be an excuse for us to lose the game."
Five Raptors joined Lowry in double figures, including Amir Johnson, who returned after missing two games with a sore right ankle. He scored 14 points.
The Raptors, who have won three straight, also got 14 from Greivis Vasquez and DeRozan, who addressed the team before the game.
"Just [told] everybody to be focused," DeRozan said. "Each and every single game matters from here on out, especially if we want to do something special.
"We can't take any nights off. These 30 games are going to be big and we have to start tonight."
The Raptors led by as many as 20 midway through the fourth quarter, before being held without a field goal for the final 7:36. The Wizards pulled to within 99-90 on a 3-pointer by Martell Webster with 2:04 left.
Following a steal, Nene's layup made it 99-92. After John Wall collected a steal, Nene made one of two free throws with 1:32 left, but Lowry hit a pair of free throws, however, to make it 101-93 with 1:02 left.
Toronto shot 57 per cent from the field (42-74) for the game, and finished with 60 points inside.
"We had trouble guarding off the dribble tonight," Wizards head coach Randy Wittman said. "We defended pretty much a lot of their sets and then it gets down to seven, eight seconds on the shot clock and they break you down off the dribble.
"That's how they get 60 points in the paint."
Wall led the Wizards with 22 points, but went 0-7 from the field in the second half. Marcin Gortat added 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Washington has lost three straight and five of six. The Wizards are 0-3 against Toronto, and fell to 13-14 at home this season.
"They stayed with it," Wittman said of the fourth quarter rally.
"We got the floor spread, made some shots. Uncharacteristically, [we] turned some shots down tonight.
"I thought we weren't as aggressive from our perimeters with Brad [Beal], Trevor [Ariza] and Martell.
Beal played nearly 37 minutes and went 2-10 from the field, finishing with nine points, while Webster finished with seven and Ariza six.
"I was just taking what they were giving me," Beal said. "I found my teammates open.
"We just didn't make shots and that's all it was. Did I have a few?
"Maybe. But I'm the one who's taking them and feeling comfortable and I didn't feel comfortable taking them."
The game paired the teams currently in third place (Toronto) and sixth (Washington) in the Eastern Conference when play began.
The score was tied after one, but reserves Tyler Hansbrough and Vasquez (four points each) manufactured an 8-2 Toronto run early in the second quarter.
The Raptors scored 38 of their 55 first-half points in the paint on 19 of 26 shooting.
Wall, coming off a win in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest and 12 points in his first all-star Game, kept the Wizards close. After scoring 10 points in the opening quarter, he added nine more in the second, hitting nine of 12 field goals in the half.