TORONTO • The Toronto Raptors came out tight in the opening game of their first-round National Basketball Association Eastern Conference play-off series against the Indiana Pacers and it played right into the hands of Paul George.
The Pacers forward played footloose and fancy-free in the second half, scoring 17 points in the third quarter and 10 more in the fourth, to lead his team to a 100-90 victory over the Raptors.
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 cannot win a seven-game play-off series for the first time in club history.
Their only play-off series win was in a best-of-five first-round set in 2001.
Toronto's All-Star guards Kyle Lowry (11 points) and DeMar DeRozan both struggled, Lowry connecting on just three of 13 attempts from the field while DeRozan made five of 19 shots.
DeRozan (14 points) insisted the Raptors were "not panicking" as "we just had a bad game", he said.
"We shot 38 per cent, turned the ball over and missed 12 free throws. They took advantage of it, got hot in the second half."
Toronto led by two points at half-time, but the Pacers were up by three going into the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to 17 points from George in the third.
George said he watched a video at half-time, trying to come up with a better approach.
He said: "I knew I was going to be able to get some good looks and I just had to be smarter about how I took them."
Pacers coach Frank Vogel called George "the biggest reason we won".
The three-time All Star is often the difference for Indiana. When he missed most of last season after both bones in his lower right leg were fractured during a US national team practice game, the Pacers missed the play-offs for the first time in his career.
"That hurt more than the actual break, not getting this team to the play-offs last year," said the 25-year-old, who is averaging a career-best 23.1 points per game this season.
Game 2 will be in Toronto tonight (tomorrow morning, Singapore time).
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE