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Raptors bounce back behind Valanciunas, Lowry

DeRozan: 'Once we get our rhythm, it's going to be a scary thing'

POSTED: Apr 19, 2016 2:15 AM ET

By Ian Thomsen

BY Ian Thomsen

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Pacers vs. Raptors: Game 2

Jonas Valanciunas scores 23 points and grabs 15 rebounds to help the Raptors beat the Pacers 98-87.

— "It's going to be a fun day,'' Luis Scola had been saying in the late morning Monday.

He was saying this in spite of the seven-game postseason losing streak perpetuated by his Toronto Raptors. He was saying this even though, for much of their breakthrough 98-87 win later Monday night, Game 2 was going to feel less like fun and more like an exorcism.

They were going to lead Indiana throughout the final 45 minutes. Their center Jonas Valanciunas was going to generate a playoff career-high of 19 points to go with 10 rebounds and two blocks -- by halftime. They were going to control the paint while realizing big numbers off the bench from Cory Joseph (16 points on eight shots) and Patrick Patterson (14 on six). And yet ...

"We've got to not have the pressure of the world on our back,'' Toronto coach Dwane Casey was saying afterward. "We've got to just go out and play.''

Kyle Lowry: 18 Points, 9 Assists

Kyle Lowry scores 18 points and dishes 9 assists to help the Raptors beat the Pacers 98-87.

Casey might have been referring to his All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who together shot 29 percent for this game (a combined 9-for-31) and are 17-for-63 in the series. DeRozan, who attempted no free throws after ranking No. 3 this season in attempts, was benched throughout the fourth quarter.

"That shows an All-Star,'' said Lowry of his team's leading regular-season scorer. "Imagine not playing in the fourth: He cheered us on and all he cared about was us getting the win.''

"Once we get our rhythm,'' promised DeRozan, "it's going to be a scary thing.''

There is a chicken-and-egg conundrum to these Raptors, who are seeded No. 2 in the East after a franchise-record 56 wins. Did staving off an 0-2 deficit at home instill the confidence that will lead to a celebration sometime next week? Or is DeRozan's discouraging line -- 10 points on 5-for-18 shooting in Game 2 -- meant to doom them to an opening-round defeat for the third straight year? Their lone postseason victory in 2001, to be followed years later by the banishment of Vince Carter, hovers over the franchise like a poor man's Curse of the Bambino.

For perspective on their Game 2 victory, consider the response of No. 7 Indiana. In spite of finishing a dozen games behind Toronto and then guaranteeing themselves of an opening-weekend split with their 100-90 upset in Game 1 Saturday, the Pacers were still annoyed Monday. "I'm upset about this one because a lot of stuff that we gave up tonight was preventable,'' said Paul George, who has singlehandedly outscored Lowry and DeRozan, 61-53 so far. "This game was set up the same way for us as Game 1 -- to rally back and win. Our focus was lost and we gave up some plays that we shouldn't have.''

George is haunting the Raptors' two All-Stars. He is making the inspiring plays they know they should be making. Over the last three halves he has converted 18 of 28 from the field for 55 points. In the second half Monday he was encircling the Toronto defense as if it were a life raft, each of his shots taking another bite from the home team's advantage. It was as if he could see the Raptors sinking before it happened. So could they.

Paul George scores 28

Paul George scores 28 points, but the Pacers lose to the Raptors 98-87.

The Raptors pulled away in the fourth quarter, but not even a 16-point lead with 4:54 felt safe. It was as if the roles had been reversed -- as if they were the underdogs who needed to manufacture points with high-end effort at the expense of skill. It was to Lowry's credit that he generated 18 points, nine assists and five rebounds on a night when he was missing nine of 13 shots. Lowry's ailing right elbow has limited him to 1-for-12 from the 3-point line, and yet he outwitted the Pacers for six free throws out there. "His numbers didn't say how hard he played,'' said Casey, who was so hoarse after this emotional win that he sounded as if he'd risen from his sickbed to attend the news conference.

Is this effort going to lead to something better for the Raptors? Is it going to lead to joy?

Scola and Joseph, their two most accomplished postseason players, were optimistic of better days to come. They understood the way forward for their teammates -- for Lowry and DeRozan especially -- and yet, like all of the truths of the playoffs, it must be learned the hard way. Everything Joseph knows came from the 2013-14 championship and 41 playoff games he experienced with San Antonio and coach Gregg Popovich.

"Before the playoffs, Pop used to tell us to just stay in tune with everybody here in the organization and on this team right now, take care of our bodies extra, and 'don't read any of that crap,''' said Joseph. "That's what I do.''

The larger point, as Joseph saw it, was to not shut off the outside world so much as to revel in these postseason moments. This ought to be the time of DeRozan's life. "For sure it's fun,'' he said. "You've got to have fun. It's all about fun. That's the type of guy I am. Some of these other players, they like to be isolated. I try to make light of the situation and have fun and just go out there and compete.''

For sure it's fun. You've got to have fun.

– Raptors' Cory Joseph

Joseph was daring and instinctive in Game 2, slaloming through the defense to squirm up layins with either hand. Early in the fourth he could be seen dribbling the perimeter in speculation until he found an entry lane to feed Bismack Biyombo for a crucial three-point dunk. Such are the kinds of happy endings that DeRozan expects of himself. And yet Casey was able to recognize that his star's liberation is going to have to be earned.

"When you've advanced and you believe in the system --- you know it works -- that's when you have gotten over that hump,'' Casey said. "I remember back in the '90s, when the Spurs were trying to get there, there was pressure. The pressure is off of them now. And the pressure for us is to get to that point. The pressure is on us now. What we've got to do is not feel it, and just play basketball.''

For Scola, who has won gold and silver medals with Argentina in addition to his 37 NBA playoff games with the Rockets and Pacers, the plan is to continue to show how it feels to stand on the other side of the pressure. It is like trying to coax his teammates in spirit to move toward the light.

"It is fun,'' he was saying Monday morning, with a big smile that made him seem younger than someone who will turn 36 at the end of the month. "I was thinking exactly that two days ago. It was in the middle of the game and I was thinking, 'This is it. This is what you want. I'm going to really miss this when I don't play no more.'''

To be focused and yet relaxed, to care and yet not care too much, to avoid mistakes without being afraid to make them: These issues were tabled for the next game or two. And that was the point of this win. There is going to be another day.

Ian Thomsen has covered the NBA since 2000. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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