Raptors rebound to even up series

The Canadian Press
Lori Ewing

TORONTO—If the Toronto Raptors walked onto the Air Canada Centre floor last night under a cloud of question marks, they delivered an emphatic answer.
Jonas Valanciunas scored 23 points and hauled down 15 rebounds as the Raptors bounced back from a horrible Game 1 to throttle the Indiana Pacers 98-87, evening their post-season series at a game apiece.
“It feels good that we’re 1-1, putting ourselves in a great position to turn things around,” Patrick Patterson said.
“It’s good that we tied this thing back up,” he added.
“We took care of business tonight, and the focus now is to go on the road and take care of business there.”
Kyle Lowry had 18 points and nine assists while Cory Joseph finished with 16 points, Patterson chipped in with 14, and DeMar DeRozan, on another rough night, had 10.
Paul George led the Pacers with 28 points.
The victory was a huge sigh of relief for Raptors’ fans after a horrible Game 1 that had Toronto looking nothing like the record-setting team that secured the No. 2 seed during the regular season.
The ugly 100-90 loss conjured memories of last season’s four-game post-season sweep by the Washington Wizards.
The big question yesterday was: how would the Raptors respond?
Backed by another phenomenal performance by Valanciunas, they answered with a solid team victory that saw them cough up an early 18-point lead but battle back with a terrific fourth quarter.
“I’m just doing my stuff; I’m just going out there and battling,” Valanciunas noted.
“Nobody is going to take that away from me,” he added.
“I’m going to put my heart [out there] and battle for every single ball, every possession.”
Leading 74-66 to start the fourth quarter, the Raptors found another gear. And when Lowry threaded a gorgeous pass to Joseph under the basket, the bucket put the Raptors up by 15 points and sent the Air Canada Centre crowd into fits of delirium.
A pair of free throws from Lowry with 4:19 to play put the Raptors up by 19 points, and they cruised to a well-earned victory.
“We’re not the same team as last year,” Patterson stressed. “We have different players, different personnel, different coaching staff, and a different overall mentality. . . .
“We have other weapons on this team.”
Lowry, who had a rough Game 1, was back at his scrappy best—diving all over the floor for loose balls.
And while he shot just 4-for-13 on the night, his passing and defensive effort more than made up for his lousy aim.
“His numbers didn’t say how hard he played,” said coach Dwane Casey.
“He left it all out on the floor, diving on the floor for loose balls, rebounding, got to the free-throw line 10 times.
“He was really playing with force going downhill.
“That’s what this series is going to be about,” Casey added.
“I don’t know if you can look at a guy’s stat line and just tell some of the things he’s contributing.”
The Raptors won virtually without their leading scorer as DeRozan was MIA once again.
The two-time all-star shot just 5-for-18, and looked completely out of sorts most of the night—hanging his head each time he trudged to the bench.
“I don’t know if it’s tightness or what it is,” Casey said of DeRozan. “He only got to the line how many times [zero].
“He was No. 2 or 3 in the league in getting to the free-throw line, so I don’t know if it’s frustration,” he added.
“His teammates picked him up; he’ll come around.”
The Raptors shot a decent 44 percent on the night after hitting just 38 percent of their shots Saturday.
They also protected the ball better—cutting their turnovers down from 20 to 13.
The series now moves to Indianapolis for Game 3 on Thursday and Game 4 on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Dallas nipped Oklahoma City 85-84 to tie their series at 1-1 while Golden State beat Houston 115-106 to lead 2-0.