TORONTO (Reuters) - With ice hockey on hold due to the NHL’s protracted labor dispute sports fans in Toronto turned to basketball for their Halloween entertainment on Wednesday, but despite giving Indiana a scare the Raptors lost 90-88 in their NBA season opener.
George Hill’s lay-up with two seconds left clinched the win for the visiting Pacers at the Air Canada Centre, but the rebuilding Raptors delivered enough tricks and treats to give encouragement to head coach Dwane Casey for the rest of the National Basketball Association regular season.
“Yes it hurts (to lose) but there are so many positives I am looking at against one of the top teams in the NBA,” Casey told reporters. “I like what I see. We’ve got a lot of good stuff going. A lot of positives.”
With the NHL players who Canadians traditionally idolize scattered across the globe amid the labor dispute, Toronto hopes to build their fan base in ice hockey’s absence and may have found a new favorite in Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas.
The rookie seven-foot center had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in his debut and showed plenty of grit going head-to-head against the Pacers’ towering Roy Hibbert.
“Didn’t win but it was a good game, a hard game, we showed that we can compete against them,” said Valanciunas, who was taken with fifth overall by the Raptors in the 2011 draft.
“We fight well. I try to learn from my mistakes, the coach gave me advice on how to defend Hibbert. I don’t like to comment on my game, I will let the coach decide what I did good.”
Trailing by 10 points with six minutes to play, the Pacers showed why they are expected to be a force in the Eastern Conference this season, coming back to get the win without Danny Granger, who is sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury.
David West had a game high 25 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, while Paul George had 14 and 15 rebounds. Hibbert also chipped in with 14 points for the Pacers.
“David put us on his shoulders in the fourth quarter, at both ends of the court, and just carried us,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “This victory is squarely on his shoulders.”
Newly acquired Kyle Lowry had 21 points and eight assists to lead the Raptors, while Andrea Bargnani had 16 points and Jose Calderon 15 coming off the bench.
DeMar DeRozan, who signed a four-year contract extension for a reported $38 million with the Raptors before the opening tip-off, had 10 points and five rebounds.
Editing by Peter Rutherford