TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors will have to wait for the playoff redemption they’re seeking.
Paul George poured in 33 points to lift the Indiana Pacers to a 100-90 win over the Raptors in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series on Saturday.
Cory Joseph had 18 points off the bench to lead a Raptors squad that saw all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan struggle mightily.
DeRozan had just 14 points while Lowry finished with 11.
Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and a game-high 19 rebounds before fouling out.
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The Raptors have never won a Game 1 in a first-round playoff series in eight appearances. Their lone playoff series victory came against New York in 2001.
The day couldn’t have gone more wrong for a Raptors squad who’d waited a year to rewrite their playoff story after a humiliating four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards last spring.
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On paper at least, Toronto is the undisputed favourite in the series after winning a franchise-record 56 games in the regular-season and cementing a first-ever No. 2 seed in the East.
They were 3-1 against the Pacers in the regular season.
But it was the Raptors who looked out of sorts all afternoon, most noticeably Lowry and DeRozan, who lacked their normal aggressiveness and shot a combined 8-for-32.
The Raptors never led by more than eight points and headed into the fourth quarter trailing by three. The Raptors pulled even a couple of times in the fourth, but George’s pullup jumper with 2:36 to play was the punctuation mark on a 6-1 Pacers run that put the visitors up by eight points.
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The Pacers just twisted the knife from that point on, and a three by Monta Ellis with just under two minutes to play gave the visitors a 13-point lead and had fans heckling Toronto coach Dwane Casey.
The Raptors shot just 38 per cent on the day and were 21 per cent from three-point range. The Pacers shot 43 per cent and were 52 per cent from beyond the arc.
The capacity Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800 was one of the bright spots on the day, painting a camo backdrop of red, white, black and grey T-shirts from pre-game giveaways. Outside, a few thousand fans watched the game on the giant screen in a sun-soaked Maple Leaf Square.
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Valanciunas got off to a solid start, scoring eight points and grabbing a whopping nine boards in a first quarter that saw the Raptors take a seven-point lead. Toronto went into the second quarter up 24-19.
Joseph, who won an NBA title with San Antonio, showed his playoff poise with eight points in the second quarter. And despite a shaky first half for Lowry and DeRozan – they were a combined 4-for-17 the Raptors held a narrow 45-43 lead at halftime.
George had 16 points in the third to lift Indiana to its first lead of the game and the Pacers took a 70-67 advantage into the fourth.
Game 2 is Monday night. The series moves to Indianapolis for Game 3 on Thursday and Game 4 on Saturday.