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Raptors respond to adversity by snapping seven-game playoff skid

TORONTO -- Rest easy, Toronto.

Facing a virtual must-win Game 2 on Monday night, the Toronto Raptors responded to adversity with aplomb, snapping a seven-game playoff losing streak with a 98-87 victory over the Indiana Pacers that evened their first-round series at 1-1.

It was Toronto’s first postseason victory in nearly two years.

“It means a lot because it takes a little bit of the monkey off your back,” Kyle Lowry said.

Lowry shot 4-for-13 from the field but still managed to produce 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds while making all 10 of his free throw attempts.

“It’s tough to have that monkey on your back and knowing that’s how it is and people are always going to assume and think, ‘Here we go again,'" Lowry said. “But for us, we have to just stay positive and do the things that we’ve done and just continue to grow.”

It seemed as though the tension had mounted in Toronto all the way to the top of the CN Tower after the Raptors dropped their third consecutive Game 1 at home last Saturday afternoon. Lowry and DeMar DeRozan went a combined 8-for-32 from the field, while Dwane Casey’s coaching strategies and rotations were met with heavy scrutiny.

Lowry and DeRozan (5-for-18) didn’t make shots again on Monday night, but Casey’s decision to sit his struggling All-Star swingman for the entire fourth quarter in favor of a lineup that featured his All-Star point guard and four reserves paid dividends. The Raptors outscored the Pacers 15-5 over the first four minutes of the final period and put the game away with Paul George (28 points overall, four in the fourth) resting on the bench.

“The seven-game losing streak, it’s easy to sit here and see that,” Casey said. “But again, the hard part is to see the growth in this program -- where we’ve come, where we’re going, how we’re getting there. The guys that have been here every day see that. And I think it’s really important to keep that in mind.

“Who wants to lose seven playoff games in a row? Nobody does. But again, it’s still basketball, and we’ve got to go out there and play -- not have the pressure of the world on our back.”

The bottom line is still this, however: The Raptors need to get over the first-round hump with this core group before it’s too late. And the fact that DeRozan is 10-for-37 from the field in the series -- and didn’t get to the free throw line for the first time all season in Game 2 -- is certainly concerning, even if he continues to dismiss it.

“I just missed shots. I’m not worried about it. Whether I make shots or miss shots, that’s going to come. But it’s all about playing hard, especially on the defensive end,” DeRozan said.

“It’s funny. A lot of people think I feel a certain way that I didn’t go back in the fourth, but I went up to the coaches and said, ‘Keep it going.’ If we have a group of guys in there [and they’re doing well], keep rolling with them.”

“I don’t know if it’s tightness or what it is, but he didn’t get to the line, so I don’t know if that’s frustration or what, but his teammates picked him up and he’ll come around,” Casey said.

They sure did.

Jonas Valanciunas set the tone early following a 12-point, 19-rebound Game 1, scoring 19 of his 23 points and grabbing 10 of his 15 rebounds in the first half.

DeMarre Carroll, inserted into the starting lineup in favor of rookie Norman Powell, held George to 2-for-5 shooting and two turnovers on nine half-court plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. And Cory Joseph (16 points) and Patrick Patterson (14 points) continue to be a lethal combination off the pine, as they combined for 30 of Toronto’s 45 bench points. Even Powell, the second-round standout, got into the act, making life tough on George and finishing with a plus-21 rating.

It seemed like everyone contributed. All the depth that GM Masai Ujiri acquired to put around Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas showed.

But maybe more important than anything else -- aside from the win, of course -- was that Lowry put together a solid postseason performance and was all over the floor. He needs to be the engine for this Raptors team, both emotionally and statistically, and on Monday night he was.

“Even though I didn’t shoot the ball well, it didn’t matter,” said Lowry, who had six turnovers and shot 3-for-13 from the field in Game 1. “I played my type of game -- aggressive, assertive, downhill -- and we got the win. That’s really all that matters.”

“His numbers didn’t show how hard he played. I thought he left it all on the floor,” Casey said of his point guard.

The series now shifts back to Indiana for Game 3 on Thursday night.

At least the Raptors finally got that monkey off their back before then.