The Toronto Raptors are no longer pushovers.
"We have to keep working and not get ahead of ourselves," center Kevin Willis said after Toronto beat the San Antonio Spurs 93-91 on Friday night, "but the league knows Toronto is here."
Vince Carter hit two baskets in the final 64 seconds to lead the Raptors down the stretch and hand the Spurs just their second loss in the last 14 games.
Dee Brown added 23 points for the Raptors, who improved to 13-14. The Raptors are two games behind New York, which has the eighth best record in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
"The object for this team and for this organization is to go to the playoffs," said Carter, who was only 4 of 17 from the field before hitting his last two shots. "I've believed it could happen from the start. Now, it's believable for everyone else."
Carter's 20-footer gave the Raptors a 91-89 lead within 17.2 seconds remaining. The Spurs took time out to set up a baseline jumper by Mario Elie, who missed. Willis rebounded for Toronto, was fouled and hit a free throw with 8.8 seconds remaining.
When the Spurs went back down court, Toronto fouled guard Avery Johnson with 5.7 seconds left. Johnson made both free throws, bringing the Spurs within 92-91. Toronto inbounded and San Antonio fouled Doug Christie, who made one free throw with 4.4 seconds left. The Spurs rushed downcourt and couldn't get off a shot before the buzzer sounded.
"They executed and believed in each other tonight," Toronto coach Butch Carter said. "Each one did their part. They made the best play possible for the team at the time. There was no selfish play tonight."
The Spurs lost a chance to move into a second place tie with Houston in the Midwest Division. San Antonio is 18-10, three games behind division-leading Utah.
"We knew who they were," sid San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. "They not only have talented young guys, but older players who know what to do."
Toronto scored the first basket of the second half for a 48-47 lead and didn't move back ahead until Christie made two free throws with 2:47 remaining for an 83-82 advantage. But Sean Elliott came with a 3-point play for San Antonio, hitting a driving layup and a free throw, giving the Spurs an 85-83 lead.
Toronto moved back ahead, 87-85 with 1:04 remaining, on consecutive jumpers by Charles Oakley and Carter. A 15-foot jumper by Christie, following a free throw by San Antonio' s Tim Duncan, increased Toronto's lead to 89-86 with 40.4 seconds left. Elliott hit a 3-pointer from deep in the right corner with 35.2 seconds left, tying the game, 89-89.
But that just set up the Raptors to put the ball into Carter's hands. Notes: The Spurs won 12 of 13 by improving offensively. In their first 14 games, during which they were 6-8, they shot 42 percent from the floor and 28 percent from 3-point range. In the next 13 games, they shot 49 percent from the floor and 41 percent from 3-point range...With their 18-9 start, the Spurs moved into third place among NBA franchises in all-time winning percentages. They are 1,008-823 (.551), having just passed the Chicago Bulls (1,455-1,195) at .549. The two best all-time percentages belong to the Los Angeles Lakers (.612) and the Boston Celtics (.609)
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