If the electrifying fourth-quarter comeback attempt Wednesday is any indication, the Toronto Raptors could be a team to watch this NBA season.
The Raptors, who had a 22-60 record last year, hung around until the dying moments against the impressive Indiana Pacers (2-0), who spoiled Toronto’s 2011-12 home opener with a 90-85 road win.
It was an undesirable ending to a raucous night at the Air Canada Centre for the boisterous towel-waving crowd of 19,800. Earlier, Canadian veteran Jamaal Magloire addressed the fans via a microphone, promising them the lockout had made the Raptors more hungry; Andrea Bargnani opened Toronto’s scoring with a monster dunk; and teen heartthrob Justin Bieber cheered it all on from the front row.
Bargnani, who sat much of the first half with foul trouble, rang up 21 points on the night. But it was DeMar DeRozan who led the charge for Toronto. After being held scoreless in the first half thanks to stringent defence from the Pacers wings, DeRozan scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter.
“Tonight, he came alive,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He got us back single-handedly in the game offensively. I thought everyone was hesitant and tight in the first half.”
DeRozan was largely being guarded by 6-foot-8 small forward Paul George and made nine of his 16 attempts from the field. He also contributed four rebounds.
“I missed a few shots and thought I got fouled on a few in the first quarter, but I had to adjust and that’s all it took,” DeRozan said. “I just picked by spots in the fourth quarter. I tried to elevate and use my athleticism to get over him and take the shots I knew I could make.”
But turnovers, poor free-throw shooting and foul trouble lead to the Raptors’ demise.
The towering Pacers got balanced scoring from all their starters. Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert, Darren Collison and George all scored double digits. Granger led with 21.
Toronto (1-1), which shot just 45.6 per cent from the field, was unable to follow up last Monday’s victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
THE OFFENCE WILL FOLLOW
Casey felt his team used great energy on defence, holding the physical Pacers to 39.5-per-cent shooting, 43.8 per cent from beyond the three-point line. However, Toronto stumbled with 19 turnovers. “Our whole goal was to improve defensively, and we did it maybe at the expense of our offensive execution,” the coach said. “But we continue to grow from the first game in Cleveland defensively, and our offence will come.”
FOULS ADD UP
The Raptors had 25 personal fouls to Indiana’s 16, and the Pacers made 19 of 22 free throws. Bargnani and Amir Johnson had two fouls apiece halfway through the first quarter, and Casey sat them a while. Johnson finished with four fouls on the night and contributed two points, but was Toronto’s leading rebounder with 10.
BIG HELP FROM THE BENCH
The Raptors bench contributed 30 points in the game, led by Jerryd Bayless, with 13. The reserves also added 18 of the Raptors’ 29 rebounds. James Johnson was Toronto’s second-leading rebounder, grabbing seven of his eight off the defensive glass.
Backup centre Aaron Gray was cleared by doctors to play Wednesday, after being kept out of last Monday’s season opener as a precaution after he experienced a rapid heart rate. However, while Gray was on the active list, he did not play.