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Al Jefferson's 22 points, 19 rebounds help Bobcats hold off Raptors 100-95

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Al Jefferson sat at his locker pondering how the Charlotte Bobcats nearly surrendered a 30-point lead they held late in the third quarter.

"Of course we had to make it a game," Jefferson said with a grin. "We couldn't enjoy an easy win, right?"

It never seems that easy for the Bobcats.

Despite the big lead, Jefferson and Bobcats didn't breathe a sigh of relief until Ramon Sessions knocked down two free throws with 1.6 seconds left to secure a 100-95 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday.

Jefferson became the first Bobcats player to record a double-double in the first quarter and finished with 22 points, 19 rebounds and a season-high seven assists and the Bobcats defeated the Raptors for the seventh straight time in Charlotte.

"The important thing is we came out of it with a win," Jefferson said after the Bobcats withstood a furious Toronto rally that included several 3-pointers.

It was Charlotte's first game without point guard Kemba Walker, whose streak of 190 straight games played — the second-longest in franchise history — was snapped. Walker sprained his ankle in a loss Saturday night to the Miami Heat.

But the Bobcats got more than enough from their two reserve point guards as Sessions and the seldom-used Jannero Pargo combined for 40 points on 10 of 17 shooting. Sessions started and had 23 points in 34 minutes and was 10 of 11 from the line.

"We knew they were going to make a run sooner or later, especially with how good they've been playing," Sessions said. "We didn't expect it to be that big of a run."

DeMar DeRozan had 25 points and Kyle Lowry had 21 for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors, who fell to .500 after their fourth straight road loss.

The Raptors were down 71-41 with 4:37 left in the third quarter when they started to find some energy.

They outscored the Bobcats 28-0 on second-chance points, but it still wasn't enough. Toronto twice had chances to tie the game in the final two minutes, but Lowry missed a free throw and Greivis Vasquez couldn't connect on a long 3-pointer.

"To be a championship team or even think about the playoffs, you've got to play back-to-back, you have to play nicked up, you've got to play a little fatigued," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.

"Right now, we have a bunch of guys who are giving into fatigue and nicked up. It's a long season, but, again, you tell a lot about who you are in these situations.

"This was a gut-check game. In the fourth quarter, we turned it around. But it's about what we did in the first three quarters that was disappointing."

Despite nearly surrendering a huge lead, Bobcats coach Steve Clifford called it a "big win" for his team with Walker out of the lineup.

Jefferson, who came in averaging 27.8 points and 11.5 rebounds for his previous four games, had 14 points and 12 rebounds in the first half as the Bobcats went up 55-36.

But the Raptors began double teaming Jefferson in the third quarter with Chuck Hayes the primary defender.

"Chuck and I are great friends, but I hate him as a defender," Jefferson said. "He's one of those guys that's very smart and you can't move him."

Things got hairy for the Bobcats when DeRozan stripped Jefferson and went the length of the floor for an uncontested layup to trim the lead to three with 2:33 left.

With 26 seconds left, Lowry drove the lane, scored and drew a foul on Jefferson to cut the lead to one. But he missed the free throw that would have tied the game.

Sessions hit two free throws to push the lead back to three. Vasquez, who finished with 15 points and nine assists in his best game as a Raptor, got an open look from the right corner on the next possession but missed a 3-pointer from the right corner.

Walker is expected to miss about two weeks after spraining his ankle in Saturday night's loss to Miami. He had 29 points against the Raptors on Dec. 18, including a buzzer beater in a 104-102 victory.

But Sessions and Pargo provided a great spark.

Sessions had nine points in the first quarter and Pargo came off the bench to hit his first three shots, including two 3-pointers, in his first four minutes of play in the second quarter.

NOTES: The 36 points in the first half were the fewest allowed by the Bobcats all season — they held the Raptors to 33 per cent shooting. ... Jefferson posted his third straight game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. .. .Charlotte has won nine of its past 14 against Toronto. .. Toronto attempted 29 3-pointers. They made 10.

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