INDIANAPOLIS — Until a strange third quarter Wednesday night in New York during which Toronto allowed the Knicks a 28-0 run, the Raptors joined the Indiana Pacers as two of the NBA’s hottest teams entering Friday night’s game in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Toronto (11-6) had won four in a row until a 41-10 third-quarter meltdown in Madison Square Garden produced a 108-100 loss to New York despite 25 points from Kyle Lowry and 18 from DeMar DeRozan.
“The Knicks came out and overcame our energy — lack of energy — with their energy and just put us on our heels,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We couldn’t make a shot — short-arming it — and missed a couple of layups.
“They came out and made five straight baskets, and again, you let a team like that get momentum as hard as they are playing, you put yourself in a hole.”
DeRozan said it was an ugly third quarter.
“They came out aggressive in the third quarter, and we came out in a funk,” DeRozan said. “We couldn’t make a basket, couldn’t get a stop, and they took advantage of it. It happens. It’s the NBA. Some teams — some nights — have to go through it.”
Indiana (10-8) on the other hand has won four in a row, including a 105-97 victory Monday night in Orlando during which third-year pro Victor Oladipo scored 29 points.
Since coming to Indiana from Oklahoma City in the Paul George trade, the former Indiana University standout has blossomed, averaging 22.6 points, five rebounds and 3.7 assists.
“I think I’ve improved a little bit everywhere,” Oladipo said. “My mindset, especially, I think has improved a lot. I’m getting comfortable with my teammates and comfortable with the system. I am just taking it one day at a time.”
Pacers coach Nate McMillan said Oladipo has been a pleasant surprise. Oladipo was the brunt of some jokes about being the player traded for one of the NBA’s best.
“Victor absorbs everything that you tell him,” McMillan said.”I have had more film sessions with him than I’ve had with any player. It’s because he wants to get better. He’s a guy that watches film a lot. He wants to learn and wants to improve. We’ve been able to see some growth in his game from some of those film sessions.”
For Oladipo, being only 70 miles from where he attended college in Bloomington, Ind., makes him relaxed and comfortable. He said he grew as a man playing for then-Indiana coach Tom Crean, who was replaced by former Dayton coach Archie Miller at the end of the 2016-2017 season.
“He will always be my coach,” Oladipo said of Crean. “He will always be a father figure to me and always be my coach. He will always be a man that when I look at him, he believed in me before anyone else did.”
After a year in Orlando and one in Oklahoma City, Oladipo has landed where he believes he belongs.
“I’m glad to be a Pacer,” Oladipo said. “I feel like I am home.”