Raptors fade late in exciting opening loss to Pacers
Lowry leads Toronto in scoring, Fields held pointless
From the rookie who earned a double-double in his NBA debut, to the team's hardscrabble new point guard, to a jam-packed crowd at Air Canada Centre, the Raptors season-opener had all the makings of a positive vibe not felt by Toronto sports fans in quite a while.
It had everything, that is, except a victory.
David West scored 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter Wednesday as the Indiana Pacers edged Toronto 90-88, spoiling what had been a thrilling opener for the revamped Raptors.
Kyle Lowry scored 21 points, while Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 10 rebounds in his NBA debut for the new-look Raptors in a game that should leave fans feeling optimistic about the season ahead.
Optimism summed up Toronto coach Dwane Casey's feelings after the game.
"I'm proud of our team, I thought we showed more grit and spunk than we showed all last year," Casey said. "Yes it hurts but there are so many positives I'm looking at against one of the top teams in the NBA."
Five Raptors scored in double figures as Andrea Bargnani added 16, Jose Calderon finished with 15, and DeMar DeRozan, who earlier in day agreed to terms on a four-year contract extension worth $38 million US, finished with 10.
"It was a fun game overall, just being out there, the first time in a while, just get a feel for playing a game especially against a top-notch team in the Indiana Pacers," DeRozan said. "It would have been that much better if we had won."
The Raptors played with three new starters in Valanciunas, Lowry and Landry Fields.
Valanciunas endeared himself to fans immediately, and had recorded his first double-double in just 17 minutes on the floor.
"I did double-double?" Valanciunas said, eyebrows raised in surprise. "I'm not looking how I play, it's important whether our team wins or not. Today the team lose, so it was not enough, double-double.
"Maybe I need to have triple-double, and then team is going to win."
The 20-year-old Lithuanian looked completely unfazed by the fact he was matched up against an NBA all-star in Roy Hibbert. He blocked a shot in the game's opening minute, grabbed an offensive rebound for a layup less than two minutes later, and scraped and clawed under the basket all night.
His rim-hanging dunk in the third quarter brought the crowd to its feet.
Lowry, meanwhile, came exactly as advertised — hustle and hard work, dripping sweat all game long, jawing at officials, and grinning like a kid at the coaching staff when he drained a three-pointer.
"He's a hound," DeRozan said of his new starting point guard. "He can pick up the scoring, he can pick up the defence, whatever we may need."
The Raptors led by as much as 11 points in the third quarter before taking a 71-63 lead into the fourth of nailbiting see-saw battle that featured 16 lead changes.
Calderon — leading the Raptors' second unit that was virtually Toronto's starting unit last season — came up big in the fourth quarter, draining a pair of three-pointers less than two minutes apart, bringing the sold-out crowd of 19,800 to its feet. His second with six minutes to play gave the Raptors a 10-point lead.
But some major defensive lapses left a wide-open West to drain shot after shot in the final few minutes. His basket with 1:20 left pulled the visitors to within 88-87. The Raptors, on the other hand, didn't score a field goal in the final 4:31.
After a George Hill free throw evened the score, Indiana was given possession of the ball after a video review and Hill drained a runner that sealed the Pacers' victory with 2.1 seconds left. Bargnani missed on a last-second shot.
"Davis [West]) put us on his shoulders tonight in the fourth quarter, on both ends of the court, and just carried us," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. "This victory is squarely on his shoulders."
Hibbert and Paul George finished with 14 points apiece for the Pacers.
Despite the fact Indiana was missing Danny Granger, who's out indefinitely with a knee injury, the Pacers were considered a stiff test for Toronto. Indiana has been picked by some basketball experts to finish second in the East this season behind the Miami Heat.
The Raptors shot just 36 per cent on the night however, while the Pacers were good on 47 per cent of their shots from the floor.
The feeling in the darkened pre-game arena was electric, with fans waving purple glow sticks as a gospel choir sang. Images of Raptors in action were flashed across the floor. The largest cheer went up for Calderon.
"The fans were amazing, I want to say thank you to them, they did a great job," Valanciunas said.
DeRozan took centre court prior to tipoff and thanked fans for their support on a big night for the 23-year-old swingman.
15 of 22 games on the road to start
"We're definitely going to work hard on the court and in the community," DeRozan said. "Enjoy the game."
How long the positive vibe lasts remains to be seen. The Raptors face a gruelling early-season schedule, with 15 of 22 games coming on the road.
"Our growth may not show until after the first 22 games," Casey, whose team went 10-23 on the road last season, said prior to the game. "But it's the NBA, nobody's feeling sorry for you, the schedule is what it is."
Bargnani scored 11 points in a first quarter that saw the lead change hands eight times. The Pacers led 27-25 after one.
The teams closely paced each other through the second, with Indiana taking a five-point lead with just under two minutes to play. The Raptors scored the final five points of the half and the teams went into the dressing room knotted at 48-48.
The Raptors used a 12-2 run capped by a DeRozan jumper to take a 64-53 lead midway through the third. The Pacers battled back to cut Toronto's advantage to 71-63 with a quarter left to play.
The Raptors are in Brooklyn to face the Nets on Saturday and back at ACC to host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.