TORONTO — Serge Ibaka‘s three-point shots hadn’t been falling all night, so when the Congolese big man set up to launch a long bomb with 30 seconds to play, and history on the line, the Scotiabank Arena crowd held its collective breath.
Ibaka connected for the go-ahead basket, as the Toronto Raptors overcame a 19-point deficit to beat the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, setting a franchise record with their 12th consecutive victory.
And moments after the nailbiter, Ibaka echoed what Toronto players and coaches have been saying all season: the Raptors know how to win.
"We keep our composure during the game," Ibaka said. "We’ve been there before, even in playoffs. So we have that mindset of never give up, we keep trusting each other and we don’t point fingers. When things go bad, we stay together, and I think that’s what makes us very special."
Kyle Lowry poured in 32 points and Ibaka added a season-high 30, going 2-for-7 from three-point range. Pascal Siakam had 25 points, while Terence Davis had 11 and Fred VanVleet chipped in with 10 for Toronto (37-14).
Malcolm Brogdon scored 24 points to lead the Pacers (31-20), while Domantas Sabonis had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
With history on the line for the reigning NBA champions, the game had a post-season vibe. And with eight of Toronto’s previous 11 wins coming against teams with losing records, the Raptors knew they were in tough Wednesday.
"We’ve said this before during this win streak, we haven’t played great all the time but we keep finding a way and that’s a heck of a characteristic to have," coach Nick Nurse said. "Tonight we weren’t very good and they were very good. They were awesome, they were cutting and flying and moving and hustling and guarding and physical and all the things you can be and they were trying to knock us out — and we wouldn’t quite go away and luckily we hung in there and pulled one off."
The Pacers outscored Toronto by 25 points in the second quarter, frustrating the Raptors with their smothering defence, and when Brogdon drained a three early in the third quarter, the Pacers went up by 19 points. But the Raptors clawed their way back, pulling to within two points late in the third, and Toronto trailed just 86-82 to start the fourth.
Three consecutive Pacers threes had the visitors back up by 10 in a see-saw final quarter. The Raptors rallied again and a Siakam dunk pulled Toronto to within two with five minutes to play. But once again, they had trouble containing Indy on the other end, and when Victor Oladipo waltzed in for a basket, then Brogdon hit another three with 3:50 to play, the Pacers were back up by 11.
A Lowry three-pointer and a Siakam free throw sliced the deficit to four with 1:15 to play. Nine seconds later, Siakam stole the ball off Brogdon and his layup made it a two-point game.
Lowry found a wide open Ibaka for the game-winner, then clogged up Indiana on the defensive end, forcing an Oladipo miss and Brogdon turnover.
"Man, it’s good, feels good," said Ibaka, wrapped in a giant chunky brown scarf that fell past his knees, a jab at OG Anunoby after the two teammates argued about fashion in a hilarious Holt Renfrew video.
"Missed a couple of open threes earlier, but then coach told me in a timeout, ‘Serge, keep shooting with confidence, just push the ball.’ He gave me a lot of confidence."
Ibaka has played major minutes in the absence of Marc Gasol, who’s missed 16 games, in two stints, due to a hamstring injury.
"You guys know how I rave about Serge’s work ethic on the off days and stuff and I give him all the credit in the world," Nurse said. "He’s really serious about continuing to improve. He knows his role, he understands our offence and how he can fit in it, he knew what he had to to do get a little bit better with our offence and as a teammate and he’s done that thing. He’s done it.
"To me it’s super fitting that he hit that shot because he’s tweaked it a little bit and worked on it and tonight was the first night in a long time where he was coming up short a little bit, one after another."
The Raptors had won 11 games in a row three times, previously from Feb. 26 to March 16, 2018 and Jan. 6-30, 2016, but this streak has seen several key Toronto players miss games with injuries.
And the Raptors proved once again they’re never really out of game. In late-December, they beat Dallas with a franchise-record 32-point comeback.
"We play 48 minutes. That’s how we play," Lowry said. "We give ourselves a chance, put the press on, made some shots, got aggressive and played better defence down the stretch, played a little faster, Pascal made some great plays and we made some big shots down the end."
The Raptors’ streak is one of the longest in Toronto sports history. The Toronto Blue Jays won 11 in a row five times. The Maple Leafs’ longest win streak is 10 games in 1993. The Argonauts won 10 straight in 1997. And the Toronto Wolfpack, the city’s trans-Atlantic rugby league team, saw its 23-game win streak end last weekend.
The Raptors are in Indianapolis on Friday to face the Pacers again.
Lowry led the way with nine points in the first quarter, and the Raptors took a 30-20 lead into the second.
Oladipo’s pullup jumper midway through the second capped a 33-10 Pacers’ run that put the visitors up by 12. Brogdon muscled his way through the Raptors’ defence for a finger roll at the buzzer sending Indy into the halftime break up 63-48.