Pacers’ recent slide continues with loss to shorthanded Raptors
Terrence Ross scored 24 points to lead the short-handed Toronto Raptors 102-94 over the Indiana Pacers on Friday.
Jonas Valanciunas added 22 points and nine rebounds, while DeMar DeRozan scored 20 for the Raptors, who earned their fifth win in six games despite missing starters Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson.
Greivis Vasquez and Nando De Colo each had 10 points, while Patrick Patterson, who started in place of Johnson in only his third game since missing 11 with an elbow injury, had seven rebounds.
Paul George had 26 points to top the Pacers and David West added 21.
There was a postseason vibe to Friday’s Eastern Conference matchup between two teams that could potentially meet in the second round of the playoffs.
The Pacers had led the East all season until a recent slide saw them fall below the Miami Heat. The playoff-bound Raptors entered the night in third.
The Raptors cobbled together an 11-point lead in the third quarter, but it was short-lived as Indiana used a 12-3 run to pull within two points.
There were some heated moments in the third when John Salmons went nose-to-nose with George. The two had to be separated, and both received technicals.
The game was tied 75-75 heading into the fourth. The Pacers went on a quick 7-0 run midway through the quarter to take a three-point lead, but the Raptors responded with a run.
When Valanciunas grabbed his own rebound and finished with a hook shot, it put Toronto up 96-94 with three minutes remaining.
Valanciunas scored the next basket to make it a four-point lead, and the Raptors held fast on the defensive end the rest of the way. When DeRozan stepped to the line to make two free throws with 13 seconds left, the crowd chanted ”M-V-P!”
It was the second straight game without Lowry, who has a bruised kneecap, and Johnson – although Johnson did play three minutes in Wednesday’s 107-103 win over Houston before leaving the game.
”We can’t cave in just because we don’t have two of our soldiers,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said before tipoff.
”The most important thing is keeping guys healthy,” he added. ”We’re still fighting, we’re still scratching to maintain where we are right now.”
The Raptors have six games to go in their quest for the Atlantic Division title, and their hope for a favorable opponent in the postseason. They’re also on pace for their best regular-season record. Their most wins in a season is 47, set in 2000-01 and 2006-07.
Indiana was the Raptors’ last opponent with a plus-.500 record. And of their remaining opponents, they play Milwaukee – the league’s worst team – twice, and Philadelphia (second worst) once.
”(The division title) is important, (but) it’s not worth jeopardizing someone’s health,” Casey said. ”We’ve got players who are nicked up, banged up, we’ve got to make sure they’re healthy and we can’t run them into the ground at the sake of trying to win now.”
Ross shot 4 for 4 for 10 points in an opening quarter that had 10 lead changes and neither team led by more than four. The Pacers took a 28-27 advantage into the second.
The back-and-forth continued into the second before the Raptors took control with a 15-5 run, capped by a Valanciunas layup, to send Toronto into the dressing room with a 54-46 halftime lead.
A three-point play by Valanciunas gave the Raptors their biggest lead of the game – 11 points – midway through the third, but Indiana buckled down on defense and it was all tied up with 12 minutes to play.
NOTES: The Raptors are at Milwaukee on Saturday then get a three-day break before hosting Philadelphia on Wednesday.