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Haliburton guides Pacers past Raptors 140-123

TORONTO – At six-foot-three, Javon Freeman-Liberty is the perfect height to be a point guard but until he joined the Toronto Raptors, he never really played the position.

That’s quickly changing.

Freeman-Liberty had a career-high 20 points, eight rebounds and two assists as the Raptors fell to the Indiana Pacers 140-123 on Tuesday in Toronto’s final home game of a disappointing season. He started at the point for the Raptors instead of Immanuel Quickley, who had the night off.

“Just go out there and play my game, be aggressive,” said Freeman-Liberty, whose previous best was 16 points on April 3 in a 133-85 loss in Minnesota, on his approach. “Don’t try to go out of the ordinary or do too much.

“Just take what the defence gave me, honestly.”

Freeman-Liberty said that although he never played point, he has always tried to help his teammates score. He said the biggest adjustment he’s had to make has been calling plays and organizing his teammates.

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“I’m kind of a quiet guy, I don’t really say too much,” said Freeman-Liberty. “In this league, you have to talk and you have to talk loud, too. That’s one of the biggest things, is using my voice.”

RJ Barrett of Mississauga, Ont., had 23 points as Toronto (25-54) saw its modest two-game win streak end. Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops, B.C., added 22 points with five boards and four assists.

Tyrese Haliburton scored 30 points with five rebounds and five assists to help Indiana (46-34) win its third straight. Former Raptors all-star Pascal Siakam received a warm welcome from fans before scoring 16 points with nine rebounds and Myles Turner added 16 points.

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Toronto has already been eliminated from the NBA’s post-season. The Raptors’ last three games of the campaign will be in Brooklyn on Wednesday followed by a back-to-back in Miami on Friday and Sunday.

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“It’s been a difficult season,” said Toronto head coach Darko Rajakovic before the game. “Everybody in this organization is working really, really hard to turn this around.

“They’re all excited about the summer and opportunities that we have ahead of us and we’re really focusing on us getting better and winning much more games in the future.”

Toronto’s first-round pick in this summer’s NBA draft is still up in the air. The Raptors have the sixth worst record in the league, but if the draft lottery on May 12 shuffles them to seventh or later in the selection order the pick will automatically transfer to the San Antonio Spurs as part of last year’s trade for centre Jakob Poeltl.

Toronto has a 37.2 per cent chance of moving into one of the draft’s top four picks in the lottery and a nine per cent chance of selecting first overall. The Raptors, however, have a more than 50 per cent chance of dropping to seventh or worse.

Freeman-Liberty was red hot to start the game, scoring nine points as the Raptors built an early 15-4 lead. Toronto kept rolling, finishing the first with a 35-25 lead as Freeman-Liberty had a season-high 14 points in the quarter, joining Scottie Barnes as the only Raptors rookies in the last 20 seasons to score at least 14 points in the first.

“That’s not a position that he’s used to playing a lot so he’s playing out of his position,” said Rajakovic. “He’s doing a really good job trying to get us organized and communication and learning on the fly.

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“Especially the first half and first quarter he did really good job managing the team and running our teams.”

Indiana outscored the Raptors 40-29 in the second quarter, largely thanks to a 33-12 run. Haliburton tied it with a pair of free throws, then Myles Turner drilled a 24-foot three-pointer for the Pacers’ first lead of the game and the visitors held a 65-64 lead at halftime.

Turner came alive in the third, scoring 10 of his points in the quarter. That helped Indiana add to its lead, taking a 106-91 lead into the final frame.

Haliburton had 10 points, three rebounds and two assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Pacers led by as much as 18 in the final 12 minutes of the game.

UP NEXT — The Raptors head to Brooklyn to face the Nets on Wednesday.

Indiana continues its road trip with a stop in Cleveland against the Cavaliers on Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2024.

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