WASHINGTON: Paul George scored 33 points to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 100-90 victory over the second-seeded Raptors in Toronto on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) in the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs.
It was a dispiriting start to the post-season for the Raptors, who notched a franchise-record 56 regular season victories to win a third straight Atlantic Division title — achievements that will count for little if they can’t win a seven-game playoff series for the first time in club history.
Their only playoff series win was in a best-of-five first-round set in 2001.
Toronto’s All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both struggled, Lowry connecting on just three of 13 attempts from the field while DeRozan made five of 19 shots.
DeRozan insisted the Raptors were “not panicking”.
“We understand, we just had a bad game,” DeRozan said. “We shot 38 percent, turned the ball over and missed 12 free throws. They took advantage of it, got hot in the second half.”
Toronto led by two points at halftime, but the Pacers were up by three going into the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to 17 points from George in the third.
George said he watched video at halftime, trying to come up with a better approach.
“I knew I was going to be able to get some good looks and I just had to be smarter about how I took them,” he said.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel called George “The biggest reason we won”.
“Paul’s shot-making at the end of the game was spectacular,” Vogel said.
With 2:36 to play George’s pull-up jump shot — after a turnover by Lowry — gave the Pacers an eight-point lead. A three-pointer by guard Monta Ellis made it 95-82 for Indiana with 1:49 remaining.
Ellis finished with 15 points for the Pacers, who hadn’t won at Air Canada Centre since March of 2013.
The second game of the best-of-seven series will be on Monday in Toronto.
The winner of the series will play either Miami or Charlotte, who open their set on Sunday, when Eastern Conference top seeds Cleveland host Detroit.
Later Saturday, the Hawks host the Boston Celtics in Atlanta. After earning the top seed in the East last season the Hawks are seeded fourth this year, and face a tough matchup with the fifth-seeded Celtics.