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Raptors pace the Pacers in a 121-105 victory

Toronto has, on consecutive nights, defeated two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference — and in the process proved they are still the team to beat.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Norman Powell scored 23 points off the bench, both Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry chipped in 12 points and eight assists, and Serge Ibaka scored 18 points as the Toronto Raptors asserted dominance over the third-place Indiana Pacers on Sunday evening, improving to 30-12 on the season.

Unlike their last meeting — where the Pacers held a huge lead in the fourth quarter, only to lose grip — the Raptors flipped the script and dominated most of the final frame and did not let go.

If Kyle Lowry is hurt, he sure didn’t look like it in the first quarter — he took a charge, hit a three, hit the floor for a loose ball and overall looked like the player we remember from November. Perhaps the cortisone shot had more of an impact than one would imagine, however, coach Nick Nurse still has to approach his availability with extreme caution. We need him in the playoffs.

The offense was blistering in the opening frame but the team was plagued with silly mistakes (five turnovers) and lackluster defense (Indiana shot 65 percent from the field) in their attempts to push the pace. This combination helped the Pacers...keep pace... with Toronto, despite the Raptors shooting 15-of-23 for 68 percent.

A night after his 11-of-17 shooting performance against Milwaukee, Serge Ibaka got right back to work by hitting his first four shots — including a turn-around fade away — to lead all Raptors with eight points.

In total, five Raptors hit three-pointers, going 6-of-9 overall. This game was not about offense, despite being nothing but that. After one quarter, with Toronto up 37-35, it was evident this would be a defensive battle — or more clearly, a battle to play defense.

That defense didn’t exactly materialize in the second quarter as much as fans may have hoped, but it was better. A three minute scoreless period by Indiana between the 10:00 and 7:00 minute marks helped spark a 17-4 run by the Raptors to give them a sizeable cushion for the remainder of the quarter.

Despite this, a small hiccup toward the end of the half shortened that lead to just seven points and the Raptors would carry a 70-63 lead into the third quarter. Of note, this was just the second time all season the Pacers allowed 70 points in the first half.

The man of the (second-quarter) hour however, was Norman Powell — who scored 10 second-quarter points in just 15 minutes off the bench. He was a perfect 2-of-2 behind the arc and 4-of-5 overall, capping off his stellar play with a break-away steal and dunk mid-way through the second. Coach Nurse is trusting Powell more with each passing game, and the third year UCLA alum is rewarding him with impactful play.

Not to be outdone, though, was Danny Green and his blistering first-half shooting performance. Green managed to hit 4-of-6 three-pointers (4-of-7 overall)

Overall in the first half, Toronto shot .568 from the field, and 10-of-18 for .556 from beyond the arc. It’s not hard to see the difference in the way Toronto plays when Lowry is running the show. His style of play is always from a place of urgency. Whether he’s begging for the inbound pass after an opponent makes a basket, or looking for an outlet after grabbing a rebound, Lowry always plays as if the score is tied.

Kyle, we’ve missed plays like this:

That hiccup from the end of the second quarter carried into the third, when Indiana went on an 11-2 extended run to tie the game before a much needed Nick Nurse timeout. As Nurse timeouts are wont, the Raptors responded with a 10-2 run of their own and began to build a cushion by the mid-way point of the third.

The offense began to bog down as fatigue set in, however before that the Raptors’ offense was purring — knocking down 4-of-8 from three — and basically keeping pace from the field. Overall, after the Pacers tied the game at 72 apiece, the Raptors went on a 24-8 run to take their largest lead of the game with under two minutes remaining in the third.

The Raptors defense really locked down in the third quarter, holding Indiana to just 21 points, while finally getting their field goal percentage under 50 percent on the game. After three quarters, the Pacers were shooting 21 percent (3-of-14) from three — a huge part of the Raptors’ defensive efforts there after halftime.

Toronto would carry a 96-84 lead into the final frame.

It was finally the fourth quarter where the Raptors absolutely dominated from start to finish. Combined with their defense, Toronto could not miss from long-range. Oladipo, the Pacers All-Star, was held without a field goal in the second half until the three-minute mark of the fourth-quarter — another testament to the Raptors’ defensive intensity.

Facing a 16-point deficit with under two minutes remaining, Pacers coach Nate McMillan would empty the bench, effectively waving the white flag.

Norman Powell led eight Raptors players in double-figures with 23 points, while Ibaka chipped in 18 of his own on 7-of-9 from the field. Five Raptors hit at least two three-pointers, paced by Danny Green’s 5-of-8 outing.

This was a great win, after dispatching Milwaukee the night before, the Raptors are proving they are still the team to beat despite some speed bumps along the way. Next on the schedule are the Atlanta Hawks at home here at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday evening.