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Rockets' 17 Game Win Streak Snapped in Loss to Raptors; James Harden Drops 40

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMarch 10, 2018

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 9:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets reacts after being fouled during the first half of an NBA game against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre on March 9, 2018 in Toronto, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors ended the Houston Rockets' 17-game winning streak with a 108-105 victory at the Air Canada Centre on Friday night.      

Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, the Raptors wasted no time getting their fans into the action with a 16-point lead after the first quarter. Houston responded by outscoring Toronto in the final three frames, but it still fell short of erasing that big early deficit. 

James Harden finished with a game-high 40 points, but he missed his final three-point attempt at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime. 

Kyle Lowry put on a show with 30 points for Toronto. The Raptors shot 48.2 percent overall and held Houston to just 9-of-27 from three-point range. 

Prior to Friday, Houston's last loss came against the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 26. 

On the other side of things, the Raptors have quietly ascended to the top of the Eastern Conference and are virtually unstoppable at home with a 28-5 record. 

Sandro Rubin of Raptors Rapture noted what some analysts were saying about Toronto prior to the start of the 2017-18 season:

Sandro Rubin @Insider6ix

This the same @Raptors team that ESPN projected to finish 6th — a team that people called boring and unskilled. This “boring” team is up 58-43 at half, on the verge of ending Rockets 17-game win streak.

Lowry made sure the Rockets weren't going to be comfortable in their trip north of the border. His seven three-pointers were the second-most he's had in a game this season. 

NBA @NBA

"It's Kyle's night!" 🔥🔥 The @Raptors point guard is 6 of 8 from downtown! #WeTheNorth 76 | #Rockets 67 in Q3. 📺: League Pass - https://t.co/2pt5MyD8rh https://t.co/6JqgBDkYJr

Joining Lowry in leading Toronto's offense was DeMar DeRozan, who had 23 points despite shooting a pedestrian 8-of-19 from the field. 

The first half was especially strong for the Raptors' backcourt duo, per TSN Sports' Josh Lewenberg:

Josh Lewenberg @JLew1050

Lowry/DeRozan through 21 minutes: 28 points on 13 shots. Rockets starters: 30 points on 24 shots.

Coming into the game, DeRozan told reporters he thought Harden is a lock to be the NBA MVP. 

"He earned it," he said, per ESPN's Tim MacMahon. "The things that he's been doing all year are incredible. I think he's a lock for it. He deserves it."

Harden lived up to that lofty billing in defeat, but his supporting cast didn't play to its potential. 

The Raptors seemed geared toward stopping Chris Paul, who made five of his 13 shots and scored 14 points with just three assists. 

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star had fun with one defensive stand against Paul in the fourth quarter:

Bruce Arthur @bruce_arthur

Fred VanVleet and the bench just pressed Chris Paul and forced him into a turnover and went the other way. They should all get T-shirts made

If that moment wasn't enough to get Fred VanVleet his own T-shirt, he made one of the biggest shots in the game with a step-back three midway through the fourth quarter after Houston cut the deficit to 90-84. 

It's been a big week for VanVleet, who hit the game-winning jumper with 1.1 seconds remaining in Wednesday's 121-119 victory over the Detroit Pistons, which made Toronto the first team to clinch a playoff berth. 

One key difference for the Raptors this season is three-point shooting. Their overall percentage from behind the arc (35.4) ranks 21st in the NBA, but their average of 11.6 threes made per game ranks seventh. 

Last year, for comparison, Toronto tied for 21st in the Association with 8.8 three-pointers per game. 

The Raptors' evolution this season has caught the eye of Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor:

Chris Fedor @ChrisFedor

The Raptors man...I know the past playoff history is tough to get over. But this team is different. Much more formidable.

The Rockets and Raptors are facing similar questions heading into the postseason. Their run of regular-season success has brought them attention, but their playoff shortcomings in recent years will lead to natural skepticism about what they can do under the NBA's brightest spotlight. 

Houston has been rolling over the competition for more than one month and is tied with the Golden State Warriors for the league's best record (51-14). The streak had to end at some point, so losing to the best team in the Eastern Conference is no great shame. 

It will look to improve its record and possibly take the lead in the Western Conference in Sunday's game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.

The Raptors, meanwhile, are doing everything in their power to put the past behind them. They have swept the regular-season series against Houston, and while they still have a lot of work to do, there's no doubt they are trending in the right direction. 

The team next takes the floor Sunday against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

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