Washington (AFP) – Paul George scored 33 points to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 100-90 victory over the second-seeded Raptors in Toronto on Saturday in the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs.
It was a dispiriting start to the post-season for the Raptors, who notched a franchise-record 56 regular season victories to win a third straight Atlantic Division title — achievements that will count for little if they can’t win a seven-game playoff series for the first time in club history.
Their only playoff series win was in a best-of-five first-round set in 2001.
Toronto’s All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both struggled, Lowry connecting on just three of 13 attempts from the field while DeRozan made five of 19 shots.
Toronto led by two points at halftime, but the Pacers were up by three going into the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to 17 points from George in the third.
With 2:36 to play George’s pull-up jump shot — after a turnover by Lowry — gave the Pacers an eight-point lead.
The Pacers got the ball back thanks to an offensive foul by Lowry, and when Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas fouled out with 2:14 remaining Pacers forward Solomon Hill made both free throws to stretch the lead to 10 and with 1:49 to go guard Monta Ellis drained a three-pointer to make it 95-82 for Indiana.
Ellis finished with 15 points for the Pacers, who hadn’t won at Air Canada Centre since March of 2013.
The second game of the best-of-seven series will be on Monday in Toronto.
The winner of the series will play either Miami or Charlotte, who open their set on Sunday, along with Eastern top seeds Cleveland — who take on Detroit.
Later Saturday, the Hawks host the Boston Celtics in Atlanta. After earning the top seed in the East last season the Hawks are seeded fourth this year, and face a tough matchup with the fifth-seeded Celtics.