Canadian history made as Raptors give up costly loss to Pacers

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Led by a trio of Canadians, the Indiana Pacers served the Toronto Raptors a tough 118-114 loss on Wednesday night.

With only nine games left in the season for the Raptors, each game has extra weight to it, especially with Toronto sitting in the ninth seed in a competitive Eastern Conference. Now, they’re only two games ahead of the Pacers — who sit just outside of a play-in spot as the 11th seed — and half a game ahead of the 10th seed Chicago Bulls.

Aurora, Ont., native Andrew Nembhard led the charge for the Pacers, with 25 points and 10 assists, as the rookie made his NBA debut at Scotiabank Arena. He was joined by fellow Canadians Bennedict Mathurin and Oshae Brissett — marking the first time in NBA history that three Canadians were featured in a starting lineup together.

Aurora, Ont. native Andrew Nembhard scored 25 points and dished 10 assists against the Raptors in front of a massive home crowd. (Reuters)

Aurora, Ont. native Andrew Nembhard scored 25 points and dished 10 assists against the Raptors in front of a massive home crowd. (Reuters)

“Just a surreal moment,” said Nembhard. “It’s cool to see guys [you’ve played] with in the [Ontario Basketball League] or whatever it is, down the street. Now we’re all playing in the league and trying to just keep getting better in our careers.”

Nembhard said that around 200 of his friends and family were in the stands. By the end of it, they got themselves quite a show, especially as he ultimately scored the final dagger, amid a flurry of highlights throughout the game from the trio of Canadians.

“I was flowing,” said Nembhard.

The Pacers were without their All-Star in Tyrese Haliburton, while the Raptors were short handed with three big rotation pieces in Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr. and Precious Achiuwa sitting out due to injuries.

“Clearly, we missed them today, but it’s not an excuse,” said Chris Boucher, who had 11 points and six boards off the bench.

The Pacers opened the matchup with a sense of urgency — one they’d hold the entire way through — while the Raptors’ defence allowed Indiana to attack the paint.

“You know, to start the game, we didn’t put up much resistance at all, maybe the first nine to 12 possessions … that was a tough start,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.

Boucher notes that the Raptors got lost in switches throughout the game, especially with the Pacers slipping in a lot of actions, allowing their guards and wings to flourish.

Along with Brissett, Mathurin and Nembhard, the Pacers got timely contributions from Buddy Hield, who had 13 points on 5-8 shooting, and also T.J. McConnell, who pitched in with 14 off the bench.

“That was definitely a difficult game for us since I feel like they had more energy and they were moving the ball faster,” said Boucher.

The Pacers finished the first quarter shooting 75 percent and the first half at 61 percent from the field, and 41 percent from distance. After two frames, the Raptors’ clips stood at 44 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

As the Pacers tinkered with a double-digit advantage, it was Jakob Poeltl who kept the Raptors in the game in the first half, scoring 15 of his eventual 25 points, while he also finished with eight boards and some impressive blocks. Fred VanVleet chipped with 14 in the first half, as he finished with 28 points in 42 minutes.

When it seemed like the game might ultimately slip away, the Raptors put together a 19-4 run in the third quarter to take a lead. It wasn’t long lived, as the Pacers and Raptors would go toe-to-toe in the fourth quarter.

Siakam would score 18 of his game-high 31 points in the final frame, but it wasn’t enough as the Pacers put together timely baskets and consistently drew fouls.

As the Raptors finish their season, the goal is to be among the top six teams in the East. But with nine games left, and with the Raptors sitting 4.5 games behind that seeding, that seems like a monumental task. Instead, their eyes seem set on keeping their position for a shot in the play-in tournament.

If the Raptors secure the seventh or eighth seed, they’d just need to win one game in the play-in to enter the playoffs and start a seven-game series. As the ninth or 10th seed, they’d need to win two games — but if they were to lose their first game in that scenario, they’d be knocked out in do-or-die fashion.

Their matchup against the Pacers could have presented a good opportunity to create some distance with Chicago, who lost their matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. It would have also tied their record with the Atlanta Hawks, who hold the seventh seed. However, both the Pacers and Hawks hold a season series advantage over the Raptors, making it crucial for Toronto to create separation.

Moving forward with a 35-38 record, Toronto will look to get back in the winning column and improve their ranking come Friday when they welcome the Detroit Pistons as part of a four-game homestand.