Scotiabank Arena experienced two extremes over the weekend – total embarrassment from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, followed by total domination from the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
The Raptors’ wildly tilted 127-81 victory over the visiting Indiana Pacers featured was the team’s largest margin of victory in franchise history. It was in sharp contrast to the 6-3 Leafs’ loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, who called in a 42-year-old emergency goalie.
It was the second consecutive win for the NBA reigning champions, their 17th in 18 games, and their ninth in a row at home. All-star Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 21 points, leading six Raps in double digits. That included the sharp-shooting Matt Thomas (17), Kyle Lowry (16 points with 11 assists and five steals), Serge Ibaka (15 points and 15 rebounds), Terence Davis (13), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (12).
That’s three wins for Toronto in four meetings this season against Indiana, a team that is sixth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Raptors are second behind the Milwaukee Bucks.
“That’s a wakeup call, man. That team is playing for something big,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said of the Raptors. “They came with the intensity. They play with a sense of urgency. That team is connected out there.”
The Pacers and Raps were also meeting for the third time in three weeks. Pacers star Victor Oladipo was out with back pain. Yet the Pacers did have T.J. Warren, who had missed the previous two games against Toronto with a concussion. Warren had been on a hot streak in recent weeks, including 35 points against the East-leading Bucks.
Warren wasn’t scoring early on Sunday, and neither were any of his teammates. Signs of a dominant Toronto win were on the horizon right off the tip.
The home squad jumped to a 13-1 lead in the blink of an eye. Ibaka was demolishing Indy’s Myles Turner in the paint, and then the Raps’ big man bounced outside to score from beyond the arc, too. Ibaka was relentless while collecting six rebounds and 11 points in his opening nine minutes – just a point shy of what the Pacers scored as a team in their disastrous opening quarter.
Twice the visitors hollered desperately for timeouts. Indy shot a calamitous 4-of-23 in the first quarter, including Warren’s 0-for-5. The Raps buried the Pacers deep in a 34-12 hole going into the second.
The Raptors provided several moments of sheer entertainment. There was a driving slam dunk from the rookie Davis just seven seconds after he entered the game, and a backward jam from OG Anunoby. Hollis-Jefferson, while falling to the ground under the hoop, delivered a crafty handoff to a leaping Anunoby for another dunk. Siakam blocked Malcolm Brogdon’s driving layup.
While the Pacers improved a little in the second quarter, the game was ridiculously lopsided by halftime. Ibaka already had a season-high-matching 14 rebounds beside his name. Toronto led 63-32, which was the fewest points it had allowed an opponent in a half this season.
The success made it easy to forget the Raps remain still short-handed. Just as in Friday night’s win over the Phoenix Suns, the Raps were missing Marc Gasol (hamstring), Norman Powell (left hand) and Patrick McCaw (illness).
The Raps eased off the gas pedal in the third quarter and were outscored 23-22 in that frame. They were so far ahead they still led by 30.
Those Raptors fans who hung around long enough to see the fourth quarter saw some razzle-dazzle from popular young Montrealer Chris Boucher – a flurry of dunks and blocked shots on his way to a nine-point, 11-rebound, four-block night.
Coach Nick Nurse emptied his bench and unleashed Thomas, rookie Oshae Brissett, Malcolm Miller, little-used Stanley Johnson and newcomer Paul Watson. From the bench, Toronto’s starters were on their feet, dancing and celebrating for the successes of the team’s reserves, such as a trio of three balls from Thomas (for a game total of five on the night) and a dunk from the Canadian Brissett.
“We're hungry. We are not happy, even tonight, everybody, we are not going to be happy,” Ibaka said. “We're going to go back into the gym and then try to work on all the things we did wrong, even if it seems like we did everything perfect, we can still get better.”
Toronto held Indiana’s Lithuanian all-star, Domantas Sabonis, to 14 points. Aaron Holiday also had 14, while Brogdon had nine and Warren had seven.
The Raptors prepare for a marquee matchup between the top two teams in the East. On Tuesday, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks come to town.