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Raptors surge early, never let up in dominant win over Pacers

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan tries to get past Indiana Pacers forward Paul George on March 19, 2017.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Jonas Valanciunas propelled his bulky seven-foot frame up toward the basket, emerging from a cluster of players to tap a loose ball and keep it alive during a mad scramble in the first quarter.

The ball quickly fell back down, but the Toronto Raptors centre was there again, working diligently to ensure the ball would not end up in the possession of the Indiana Pacers, rising once again to knock it free.

The third time Valanciunas rose to make contact with the ball he made it count, redirecting it through the hoop for a Toronto basket as the capacity gathering at the Air Canada Centre roared its appreciation for the display of tenacity Sunday night.

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Valanciunas's energy was soaked up by the rest of the starting lineup as the Raptors (41-29) surged in front early and rarely let up on the throttle, cruising to a 116-91 victory over the Pacers (35-34).

With the dominant win – seven players scoring in double figures – Toronto has ensured it will finish the regular season with a .500 record for the fourth consecutive season, a franchise first. Toronto has 12 games left before the start of the playoffs.

"From start to finish I thought it was solid contributions, offensively, defensively," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. "We set the tone defensively from start to finish from the jump ball and that's the way we have to play."

The Raptors held a commanding 91-73 lead heading into the fourth quarter, where the conclusion was never in doubt.

They had solid contributions throughout the lineup, led as usual by DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 22 points.

Valanciunas was also effective, contributing 11 points and 13 rebounds, while Serge Ibaka made his presence felt with 16 points.

And don't overlook the work of rookie centre Jakob Poeltl, who soared to a career-high 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting while hauling in seven rebounds along with two of Toronto's seven blocks in just more than 23 industrious minutes off the bench.

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A frustrated Paul George, the Pacers talented forward who was hounded all night by the likes of Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, fell into early foul trouble and was held to a team-high 18 points.

The game was the Raptors' 70th of the season but the first against the Pacers. Indiana provided the opposition in last year's opening-round playoff series before bowing to Toronto in seven tough games.

"Very unusual for scheduling," Casey said before the game. "That's the way the computer spit it out, I guess."

The teams will get reacquainted quickly, squaring off against each other twice more over the remaining 3 1/2 weeks of the regular season.

The Raptors take on the Chicago Bulls at the ACC on Tuesday. The Bulls have defeated Toronto in their past 11 meetings.

After that, Toronto embarks on a two-game to Miami to face the Heat on Thursday and then into Dallas to play the Mavericks on Saturday.

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Toronto was much more engaged on Sunday than when it played at the ACC last Thursday, a shockingly inept performance during a 123-102 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

That apathetic performance sparked a players-only meeting afterward in the locker room and prompted Casey to issue a public apology for the team's putrid play.

Toronto made amends in Detroit on Friday night, exhibiting a sound defensive effort in an 87-75 victory before returning home to face the Pacers.

The Raptors' energetic start in the first quarter, led by eight points and nine rebounds by Valanciunas, set the right tone as Toronto secured a 32-24 lead after connecting on 54.2 per cent (13 of 24) of its field-goal attempts.

Toronto clobbered Indiana off the glass, holding a 20-5 margin in rebounds.

The Raptors' solid play continued in the second quarter, in which DeRozan sank a corner three after a push-pass from Valanciunas, who was stationed in the paint.

Ibaka then hit an open jumper to give him 14 points in the first half, in which Toronto enjoyed a 62-45 lead – the team's largest halftime advantage since Jan. 15 when it was up 69-54 against the New York Knicks.

Toronto's dominance flowed into the third, during which Indiana's cause was not helped when a outwardly frustrated George absorbed his fourth personal foul and had to head to the bench with just more than five minutes remaining, not to return until the start of the fourth.

By then it was too late.

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