The Toronto Raptors saw the kind of effort it takes to make the NBA's playoffs on Friday — the Indiana Pacers showed them how it's done.
Paul George's 22 points and 10 rebounds helped the Pacers pull away from the Raptors as Indiana downed Toronto 93-81.
The Pacers ratcheted up the tempo offensively in the second half and clamped down on the defensive end as they put the game almost out of reach with a quarter left to play.
"That's the level we've got to get ready for," said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, whose team had a tough time against one of the best defending teams in the league. "If we go anywhere we need to develop that mentality when we go against the hitting, grabbing, holding. That's playoff basketball. We've got to get ready for that."
'If we go anywhere we need to develop that mentality when we go against the hitting, grabbing, holding. That's playoff basketball. We've got to get ready for that.'—Raptors head coach Dwane Casey
George led all scorers and helped the Pacers (37-22) recovered from a 99-91 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers the night before. Roy Hibbert scored 18 and David West chipped in with 15 points.
The Pacers are currently in third place in the Eastern Conference.
"We are in a tough playoff race so we understand that our defensive play is going to give us a chance," said West. "Tonight we were a little tired but we just came in with the effort and the energy on the defensive end, slowed them down and made enough plays to win."
Rudy Gay led Toronto (23-36) with 21 points and DeMar DeRozan had nine, while Alan Anderson added 14. The Raptors have lost three games in a row. They now start a four-game road trip.
Gay's played through back spasms that he started to feel in the first half.
"I tried to play through it because right now isn't the time to sit out so I'm trying to play through it and do what I can for the team," said Gay, who said this was the first time in his career he'd ever felt back spasms but admitted they're minor and shouldn't keep him out of the lineup at all.
It was the first time in four meetings between the two clubs this season where the winning margin was more than two points.
Already up 64-51 after three quarters, George had a pair of three-pointers during an 8-2 Pacers run to start the fourth. His second three-pointer with 9:56 remaining in the fourth put Indiana up by 19.
Indiana's success came in slowing down the Raptors' passing through physical play. Toronto managed to keep it close through the first half but they wore down as the game went on.
"We had 12 assists and against good defensive teams you're not going to get a lot done with that," said Casey. "It's not that our guys aren't competing and trying. It's just understanding how we've got to do it."
Despite hitting just three field goals in the first quarter on 17 attempts for 17.6 percent shooting, Toronto only trailed 17-13 largely thanks to going seven of eight from the free throw line.
It was an even second quarter that was punctuated with an emphatic right-handed DeRozan dunk to end the period. Indiana led 39-34 at half.
The teams traded baskets early in the third quarter and just past the halfway mark of the third quarter, Hibbert and George each hit a pair of free throws to put Indiana up by 10.
Toronto kept things close early in the third but Indiana quarter on an 11-4 run that George ended with another three-point shot.
The Raptors' road trip starts in Milwaukee on Saturday against the Bucks. It's the team Toronto's chasing for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA's Eastern Conference. The Raptors trail the Bucks by six and a half games.
"We've got no other choice but to come out and best our best basketball [Saturday]," said DeRozan. "We've got three tough games and we've been struggling so we've got to come back out and bounce back tomorrow."