Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points as the Toronto Raptors bounced back from their first loss of the season to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in a hard-fought Eastern Conference duel on Tuesday.
Leonard (pictured, AFP), who had been rested in Toronto’s defeat against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, also had seven rebounds and four assists after the Raptors saw off a late charge from the Sixers to seal a 129-112 win.
The victory saw Toronto improve to 7-1 while the Sixers are 4-4 after another uneven performance from Brett Brown’s side.
Jonas Valanciunas scored 23 points, while Kyle Lowry added 20 for the Raptors, who built up a comfortable 35-26 lead in the first quarter to take control of the contest thereafter.
“Good bounce back, good win,” Lowry said afterward. “We were very active tonight. We were all over the place. It was a very scrappy night defensively and our guys played really great on defence.”
Toronto led 67-53 at half-time and looked to be cruising to victory until a fightback from the Sixers late in the fourth.
A 3-pointer from Joel Embiid got the Sixers back to within striking distance at 117-111 with 3min 30sec left in the fourth quarter before Toronto went on a 12-0 run to clinch the game.
Cameroon star Embiid led the scoring for the Sixers with 31 points while Robert Covington had 15 points. JJ Redick had 13 off the bench.
In Boston, Kyrie Irving scored 31 points to lead the Celtics to a 108-105 win over the Detroit Pistons.
Blake Griffin had another solid outing for the Pistons with 24 points, but the Celtics subdued a fourth quarter Pistons rally to improve to 5-2 and move up to third in the Eastern Conference table.
In Houston, the Rockets’ sluggish start to the season suffered another setback with a defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic each scored 22 points as the Blazers completed a 104-85 win over the Rockets, who have won just one game in six outings. Chris Paul led the scoring for the Rockets with 17 points.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers got their first win of the season, two days after firing head coach Tyronn Lue.
The Cavs have made a disastrous start to the post-LeBron James era, losing all six of their opening matches and prompting team owners to hand Lue his marching orders on Sunday.
But the Cavs, under interim coach Larry Drew, finally found their scoring touch against the Atlanta Hawks, winning by a score of 136-114.