Raptors back on track with dominating win over Pacers
Pacers forward Rakeem Christmas (right) collects a foul as Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas (left) sinks a basket during second half NBA action in Toronto on Friday, March 31, 2017. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Short of Kyle Lowry jumping off the bench and joining his teammates for his first action since February 15th, this one had almost everything the Raptors could have asked for as they cruised to a 111-100 win over the Indiana Pacers.
DeMar DeRozan was a driving force all night finishing with a game-high 40 points including a season-high tying three from behind the arc. He also got to the line a season-high 20 times, or one shy of the combined attempts of every member of the Pacers.
Jonas Valanciunas set a franchise record for rebounds in a quarter with 13 in the third, the same quarter he almost brought the house down with a dunk over Paul George, that had he completed it (only the rim rejected him) would have easily led all the highlight shows.
Valanciunas finished up with 16 points and 17 rebounds, his team high 28th double-double of the year. His past two games have been reminiscent of his dominant level early in last year’s playoff run when he kept the Raptors afloat.
“I don’t know. I just hope it’s going to continue like that. I’m just playing with energy. Something’s giving me extra energy, extra focus. I just gotta keep it,” Valanciunas said afterward.
Confidence is high right now on this team.
“You are feeling good about yourself and basketball is a lot about confidence and want to and I feel if you have a good mental state and your confidence is high, you are only going to keep playing better,” DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s what I feel we are doing right now. We are playing at a high level. We had a little slip-up against Charlotte (on Wednesday) but at the end of the day I think we have won eight of the last nine (actually seven of eight).”
Either way the Raptors are rolling and fine-tuning at exactly the point you would want them to find their groove.
As impressive as DeRozan’s seventh 40-point night of the year was (and 30th 30-point effort, tying Vince Carter’s franchise record), the real move of late has come from Valanciunas who has scored 30 points and has pulled down 32 rebounds in the past two games combined.
“I thought J.V. did an excellent job again,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “That’s the second game in a row he came with a lot of force, purpose in the paint, moving bodies around, screening and rolling, catching and finishing. He did an excellent job ... “I think JV’s playing at a high level the last couple of games in the interior, with his physicality, rebounding, screening, doing all the things you need to do as a big man in this league.”
Still a work in progress is a full-team offensive rhythm, something Casey said before the game he would like to see his team work on through the final six games remaining on the schedule.
As a team, the Raptors only shot a mediocre 45% for the night, but were bailed out by a solid night from behind the arc where they shot an impressive 52% on 14-of-27 shooting.
Coming off a disappointing loss to Charlotte two nights earlier this was a very nice response as the Raptors held Indy just under 42% shooting defensively and got big contributions from DeRozan, Valanciunas and Ibaka, three guys they are going to lean on heavily if the playoff run is to be another long one.
If there was a complaint, it was at the free throw line where the Raptors — and they seem to do this periodically — failed to take advantage making just 23-of-35 from the charity stripe for a woeful 65.7%.
DeRozan came out with a level of physicality of which even an old-school guard would be proud.
DeRozan was attacking the opposition repeatedly. Initially that aggressiveness was not rewarded but eventually even the officials had to recognize his superior effort.
Through the first quarter alone he already had 14 points.
That level of attack proved to be contagious for Valanciunas.
It wasn’t a perfect game, but at a time of year when all the Raptors are looking for is improvement from the game before, this one had more than enough to make everyone happy.