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Raptors wake up in second half against Hawks

The SportsXchange

TORONTO -- Coach Dwane Casey entered the Toronto Raptors' locker room at halftime yelling at his players for not being prepared for Sunday's early start.

Casey's reaction inspired the Raptors. Led by guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Toronto erased a 49-42 first-half deficit and went on to post a 96-86 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

Lowry scored a game-high 25 points, including a personal 7-0 run to close the fourth quarter, and Toronto (39-30) improved to 16-6 on its home court this season. DeRozan added 21 points.

"Coach came in and yelled at us a little bit for not being prepared to play at one o'clock," Lowry said. "No matter what time we play, we should be prepared to play."

DeRozan said, "Once Casey's yelling, it means you got to do your job or you're going to hear him yelling after the game. We understood as soon as he came in here and told us what we were doing (wrong).

"We were playing terrible that first half. We knew what we had to do."

Center Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points and guard Greivis Vasquez had 12 off the bench for the Raptors.

"Solid, he did a good job on a tough matchup for JV," Casey said of Valanciunas. "Both their bigs are inside and out. You go from a game where you're guarding the paint (against Oklahoma City) to where your whole focus is guarding the 3-point line and that's very difficult. He did a very good job."

Hawks forwards Paul Millsap and and DeMarre Carroll each had 17 points. Atlanta (31-37) has now lost 11 of 13 road games.

Toronto is 32-7 this season when holding an opponent below 100 points. The teams split the season series, with each winning twice at home.

"We just weren't able to make enough plays down the stretch," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I think we had an eight-point lead or something like that and our execution wasn't good enough. They made more plays. It's a credit to them."

The Raptors took their first lead of the half after DeRozan hit a jumper to make it 85-84 lead with two minutes remaining.

Toronto used a 9-0 surge to erase a 14-point deficit and trailed 74-69 with 8:32 remaining.

Then with the Raptors down 74-70, DeRozan hit a 3-pointer, pulling Toronto to one with 7:30 left.

The Raptors tied it at 79 after center Amir Johnson tipped in a missed free throw by guard Terrence Ross.

"It's good, but we can't rely on it every night because we could find ourselves in a deep hole, running out of time and not having the opportunity to put ourselves in the position to win," DeRozan said of the fourth-quarter comeback. "We've got to make a conscious effort of that. Understand we've got to come out the gate and play the same way for four quarters."

Toronto outscored Atlanta 36-15 in the fourth quarter, going 12 of 20 from the field while holding the Hawks to 6-of-22 shooting.

"You could tell they were pressing, pressing to score and pressing to get a bucket," DeRozan said. "We kind of knew we had them. We were making every shot tough for them and once we got to that point, we understood we were in a good position."

Toronto opened the second half on an 8-3 run to close the gap to 52-50. Lowry led the way with six of the eight points. Atlanta weathered the storm and added a 9-1 run to lead 71-60 after three quarters.

The Hawks led 49-42 at halftime.

Carroll scored 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field in the first half. Millsap had 13 points and six rebounds.

"We had the momentum and then we just kind of crumbled at the end," Carroll said. "We have to just keep pushing."

Millsap said, "We just lost focus. Lost focus and they hit a few shots. We dropped our heads a little bit, but we have to be more mentally tough."

Lowry played just five minutes in the first quarter and started the second quarter on the bench. He missed extended stretches throughout the game as Casey attempts to keep his stars fresh for the playoffs.

"We just talked with the medical people and as an organization we are going to try and keep his minutes down as much as possible," Casey said. "It's hard believe me, as a coach and for him as a competitor. It looks like we're going at each other but we both understand the situation."

Lowry said, "Just managing minutes, Coach wanted to get my minutes and DeMar's down. For now, it's my turn and I'm sure DeMar's turn will come too."

NOTES: Hawks G Kyle Korver (back spasms) did not travel to Toronto with the team and missed his second straight game. G Shelvin Mack replaced Korver in Atlanta's starting lineup. ... Atlanta entered Sunday is 1-4 without Korver in the lineup this season. ... The Hawks entered Sunday with a three-game lead on the surging ninth-place New York Nicks in the Eastern Conference. ... Toronto holds a 1 1/2-game lead on the Brooklyn Nets, who are 9-2 in March entering Sunday, for the Atlantic Division lead. ... Toronto FC goalkeeper and Brazilian international Julio Cesar was courtside for the game. ... Raptors F Patrick Patterson (elbow) missed his ninth game of the season.

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