Two games after their post-rout meeting, the rallying cry to play harder continues to resonate with the Toronto Raptors.
DeMar DeRozan scored 22 points to lift the Raptors to their second consecutive win, a 116-91 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.
"It's just energy and effort," said Cory Joseph, who started his 13th straight game at point guard for injured Kyle Lowry. "We're playing a lot faster than we did, the past two games. Cuts, getting up the floor quicker, getting to our transition game, being able to get more easy buckets."
The Raptors (41-29) got a balanced contribution on both ends of the floor. Serge Ibaka had 16 points, while Jonas Valanciunas had 11 points and 13 rebounds. DeMarre Carroll and Jakob Poeltl had 12 points apiece — Poeltl's points were a career high — while Joseph and Norman Powell chipped in with 11 apiece.
Paul George led the Pacers (35-34) with 18 points.
Raptors come out hungry
The meeting was the first between the two teams since Toronto dispatched Indiana in seven games in last season's opening round of the playoffs. It also came a few nights after the Raptors' emotional post-game meeting following their ugly 21-point rout by Oklahoma City on Thursday. They bounced back to beat the Pistons 87-75 the next night in Detroit.
They kept their proverbial foot on the accelerator Sunday, racing out to their biggest halftime lead — 17 points — since Jan. 15 versus New York.
"Any time you play with the force we played with tonight — that's what we've been searching for and we got that — it gives your offence and your defence, a chance to be successful," said coach Dwane Casey. "From start to finish, thought it was solid contribution offensively and defensively. Set the tone defensively start to finish from the jump ball. That's the way we have to play as a team."
Leading 91-73 heading into the fourth, the Raptors would stretch their advantage to 24 points on a three-pointer by Patrick Patterson with 6:05 left to play. With the game well in hand, Casey sat all his starters moments later. A driving finger roll by Powell with just under a minute left gave Toronto its biggest lead of 27 points.
DeRozan stresses improvement
The Raptors, who've been struggling from long range without Lowry, shot 12-for-27 from three-point range, easily their best performance in his absence. The Raptors shot 49 per cent from the field, and outrebounded Indiana 51-33.
DeRozan said the team has to avoid getting complacent.
"Two games don't mean nothing, we've got to keep it going," DeRozan said. "We're coming down to the end of the season and we've got to keep this up, we've got to continue to get better, we can't be happy with just doing it two games, we've got to continue to get better."
With 12 games left in the regular season, it's all about post-season positioning. The Raptors are fourth in the East, a game-and-a-half behind third-place Washington. The Pacers are sixth.
The Raptors' task is made tougher with the absence of Lowry. They're 8-5 since Lowry's wrist surgery that's expected to keep him out the rest of the regular season. The all-star guard, dressed in a dark suit jacket, joined the coaches in huddles Sunday, and poked Casey on the shoulder to point out something during one timeout.
"I'd much rather have him in a No. 7 uniform than standing over in our coaching huddles at any time, 'cause he's that valuable to us," Casey said.
The Raptors outhustled the Pacers from the opening whistle, outrebounding them 20-5 in the first quarter to take a 32-24 lead into the second.
Toronto kept the pressure to take a 15-point lead early in the second. DeRozan drained a pair of free throws to send the Raptors into the halftime break up 62-45.
The Raptors host Chicago on Tuesday then travel to Miami and Dallas for a pair of road games.