TORONTO - The opener had everything the Raptors could have hoped for with one huge exception: A favourable result.
Leading the game for almost all of the second half and with that lead as big as 11 at one point, the Raptors had no answer for David West down the stretch as the Pacers forward torched the hosts for 14 points in the final frame, helping Indiana to a 90-88 win.
While West did most of the work to get them there, it was a George Hill floater over Jonas Valanciunas after a video replay on a loose ball out of bounds which gave Indy one more possession that finished the Raptors off.
With 2.2 seconds to go, the Raps ran a play for Andrea Bargnani but fittingly it was West again, this time defensively, getting in Bargnani’s way and altering his shot which fell short.
For West, it was one heck of a fourth quarter.
For the Raptors it was another reminder that they’re not there yet.
Closing out games was a huge bugaboo last year and at least in Game 1 of the regular season, it was again.
The Raptors’ final basket of the night was a Kyle Lowry finger roll with 4:31 left to go. It was all Indiana from that point on.
DeMar DeRozan, a guy who just before game time was rewarded with a four-year contract extension that will pay him $38-million before incentives, had plenty to think about after the game but immediately on his mind was the frustration of once again being unable to put an opponent away in a winnable game.
With about 50 seconds to go in the game and the game tied, DeRozan beat his man cleanly, got to the hoop and then missed the finger roll at the end.
“Oh man, I thought I had it, but I kind of got hit. I wasn’t trying to draw a foul and everything, but there were a couple of things down the stretch that we will be kicking ourselves about. We’ve got to be better next time out. We definitely don’t want to go back to last year when we were giving away leads and wins.”
DeRozan, though, managed to find a positive in the loss.
“Tonight was a good lesson,” he said. “I’m kind of glad it happened now so we understand what we have to do next go-around.”
And as upset as he was with the result, head coach Dwane Casey saw far too many positives for a game like this one to put him in any kind of funk.
“I thought we showed more grit and spunk then we did all of last year,” Casey said. “There are stretches again where we have to learn. Winning time, making winning plays. We had some point-blank shots. I know we will make those shots in the next situation. DeMar had a point-black shot. I think Kyle (Lowry) had one. Jose had a wide-open three he usually makes.
“Yes, it hurts but there are so many positives that I’m looking at against one of the top teams in the NBA. We had some good looks (at the end) but we have to execute in that time frame.”
West came into the final quarter with a quiet 11 points. He scored 14 in the fourth alone, going 7-for-9 from the field.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel and his squad came into the game without leading scorer Danny Granger but the coach was supremely confident he still had the beasts to get the job done — and he was right.
“We came into this season believing we were one of the best teams in the league as opposed to last year. I think we spent the year building that belief and confidence in ourselves,” Vogel said before the game.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the night from a Raptors standpoint was how much the club got out of both point guards.
Lowry came as advertised, pushing the ball every chance he got, getting under the Pacers’ skin. He had a team high eight assists to go with his 21 points.
Lowry only missed five shots all night and contributed on the boards as well with seven rebounds.
Calderon was equally effective coming off the bench. In the fourth quarter alone he had eight points, including two big three-pointers when it looked like the Pacers were about to make a run.
Valanciunas, meanwhile, lived up to all the pre-season hype and then some.
Going up against one of the bigger, stronger centres he will face this year in Roy Hibbert, Valanciunas hung in there on the defensive end battling the more experienced Hibbert with everything he had.
On offence, Valanciunas probably surpassed expectations with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes of work.
It marked just the second double-double by a rookie in his debut in Raptors history. The other? Damon Stoudemire, and he went on to win rookie of the year honours.
Hibbert certainly took the rook to school a few times in the first half but in the third the young Raptors big man showed that ability to adjust on the fly. While he wasn’t in for the full third quarter, Valanciunas was at least part of the reason Hibbert didn’t score at all in the third frame.
It was a step in the right direction for the Raptors — but not a big enough one to come with a tangible payoff.
HIGH PRAISE FOR 'MAN CHILD'
Frank Vogel wasn’t sugar-coating anything.
The Pacers head coach knew exactly why his team left Toronto with a win and he wasn’t worried about giving the man responsible too much credit.
“David (West) put us on his shoulders tonight in the fourth quarter, on both ends of the court, and just carried us. This victory is squarely on his shoulders. He really led us.”
All West did was go off for 14 of the Pacers’ 27 fourth-quarter points while badgering Andrea Bargnani into a two-point final quarter effort.
West isn’t the type to blow his own horn, so it was left to teammate George Hill to do it for him.
“Two words, he is a man child,” Hill said. “Anytime you have a player like that, who can put a whole team on his back and play with that type of physicality, we can’t do anything but follow his lead.”