TORONTO, Nov. 27 (Ticker) -- Allan Houston overcame his second-half struggles to help the New York Knicks avoid another late collapse.

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Houston scored 22 of his 30 points after halftime as the Knicks spoiled Vince Carter's return with an 87-81 victory of the Toronto Raptors.

Houston had been taking criticism for his lack of production down the stretch, scoring just nine points in the second half of his last two games combined. But he made big shots and free throws in the final minutes against Toronto and led New York to its first road win in five tries.

"I think sometimes when you lose your poise, you make things harder on yourself," Houston said. "That is what we have been doing and we have to continue to learn from our mistakes."

Carter played for the first time since suffering a strained quadriceps tendon in his left knee on Nov. 2. He scored 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench.

"Everybody is worried about the knee. I'm just going to do whatever they want from me," he said. "It is hard for me to get a rhythm, I can admit that."

"I thought he played very well," Toronto coach Lenny Wilkens said. "He had energy, he went to the basket well and didn't try and force it. I thought he was a little anxious at first but after that he settled."

The Raptors rallied from a 14-point third-quarter deficit and took a 76-74 lead on Carter's jumper with 2:06 remaining.

New York's Kurt Thomas tied it with a turnaround jumper, and Houston gave the Knicks the lead for good on a 20-foot jumper with 65 seconds to go.

Houston added a 15-footer at 30 seconds for an 80-76 cushion. After Toronto's Antonio Davis made two free throws, Houston made 1-of-2 from the line with 25 seconds left.

Carter missed a free throw and baseline jumper in the final 23 seconds, and New York made six consecutive free throws in the final 18.5 seconds to seal the victory.

"We've gradually been improving in the fourth quarter," Knicks coach Don Chaney said. "(The Knicks) are starting to get over the hump in terms of believing in themselves. It's all about executing late in the game."

"We finally executed down the stretch," said New York's Latrell Sprewell, who was held six points on 2-of-13 shooting. "Allan stepped up for us."

Thomas scored 18 points and Lee Nailon added 15 for the Knicks, who have won the last five regular season meetings with the Raptors.

Both teams shot just 40 percent (31-of-78) from the floor, but the Knicks made 9-of-17 shots and 11-of-12 free throws in the fourth quarter.

Davis had 20 points and eight rebounds and Alvin Williams scored 14 points for the Raptors, who have lost six consecutive games for the first time since last season's franchise-record 13-game slide.

The Knicks had their largest lead at 52-38 on a three-pointer by Howard Eisley with 7:51 left in the third quarter. But the Raptors responded with a 18-3 run led by Davis, who scored 12 points in the period.

Davis scored 10 points during the burst, capping it with three consecutive free throws to give Toronto its first lead since the first quarter at 56-55 with 95 seconds to go.

Carter, who did not start the second half, entered with 7:28 left and turned in his best play of the night 28 seconds later when he drove past Shandon Anderson for a reverse dunk.