TORONTO â€” DeMar DeRozan was at it again on Friday.
DeRozan scored 40 points for the seventh time this season to help the Toronto Raptors keep up with the congested race for the top of the Eastern Conference while dealing a blow to the Indiana Pacers’ post-season hopes with a 111-100 win.
The Raptors have now won seven of their last eight games despite the absence of star Kyle Lowry and sit three games back of Boston for first in the East. But as DeRozan explained after the game, the cerebral point guard’s influence still looms large.
“With Kyle out there, we need him for a lot â€” he thinks for us a lot of times and makes the game come easier for all of us,” DeRozan said of Lowry, who’s out after right wrist surgery. “Without him, I try to do the same as if I was Kyle â€” try to think for everybody and try to get easy things going.”
Serge Ibaka added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Raptors (46-30), while Jonas Valanciunas dominated just as he did in Toronto’s seven-game win over Indiana in the first round of last year’s playoffs, finishing with 16 points and 17 rebounds.
Versatile swingman Paul George amassed 28 points and nine rebounds but couldn’t halt the recent downward slide of the Pacers (37-39), who have now lost five of their last six as they jostle for one of the last two playoff spots in the East with Miami, Chicago and Detroit.
Despite that desperation, there wasn’t much urgency from either side in the first half, with the Pacers holding a two-point lead after a less-than-pretty 24 minutes that saw the Raptors shoot 37 per cent while looking discombobulated at both ends.
Their focus intensified in the third.
DeRozan, again almost impossible to stop offensively, scored nine of the team’s first 11 points in the quarter – including a pair of three-pointers – to help the Raptors re-take the lead.
Then Valanciunas went to work, ultimately producing a 12-point, 13-rebound quarter including a picturesque baseline dunk over Rakeem Christmas’s outstretched hands. Apparently encouraged, Valanciunas two possessions later decided to pump-fake a three-pointer before driving from 23-feet out and trying to dunk over George, who mercifully fouled the hulking Lithuanian as the bemused crowd cheered.
After that, the Pacers couldn’t manage to draw close again as the teams traded baskets in the fourth. Two free throws from Indiana’s Jeff Teague cut the Raptors’ lead to 104-97 with 1:15 left. On the next play, Ibaka swung the ball to DeRozan, who swished a high-arching three-pointer from 27 feet out to deflate the Pacers.
If DeRozan’s excellence has become almost routine lately, the Raptors were grateful for a buoyant boost from second-year guard Delon Wright, who posted 11 points and six rebounds while proving a vexing disruption on the defensive end.
“I thought Delon did an excellent job running the show,” head coach Dwane Casey said.
Added DeRozan of the “extremely crafty” youngster: “He’s smooth, man.”
The Raptors locker-room, meanwhile, was perhaps somewhat less complimentary of Valanciunas’s aborted three-point attempt.
“Terrible,” teased DeRozan after the game. “And he went for the pump-fake â€” that’s a hell of a pump-fake.
“He gotta come right out of the game after that.”
NOTES: Casey sounded an optimistic note on Lowry, who’s been out since the all-star break. “Hopefully we can get him in for a couple games before the playoffs start,” Casey said. â€¦ By some scheduling quirk, the Pacers and Raptors play all three of their games this season in a span of less than three weeks. Toronto won the first matchup 116-91. They play again Tuesday in Indianapolis. â€¦ Toronto next plays Sunday against the woeful Philadelphia 76ers.
Nick Patch, The Canadian Press