TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors have finally erased all the heartbreak of playoffs past.
DeMar DeRozan poured in 30 points as the Raptors beat the Pacers 89-84 in Sunday's Game 7, winning their best-of-seven opening-round series against Indiana.
The series win was just the second in Toronto's 21-year franchise history.
They will face the Miami Heat the Eastern Conference semifinals, with Game 1 on Tuesday in Toronto.
Rookie Norman Powell had 13 points for Toronto, while Patrick Patterson and Kyle Lowry had 11 apiece.
Jonas Valanciunas had 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo, Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph celebrate a 89-84 win over the Indiana Pacers in game seven of the opening round of the NBA play-offs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday. (Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Paul George led Indiana with 26 points.
Backed by a raucous home crowd, the Raptors led almost the entire game, and took a 78-64 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Toronto went up by 16 points when Powell drilled a three-pointer and then swiped the ball away from Indiana on the next possession for a Joseph bucket. But in a roller-coaster series where no lead has been safe, the Pacers pulled to within three points with 2:36 to play when Monta Ellis drilled a three.
A pair of George free throws made it a three-point game with 53 seconds to play, but DeRozan grabbed a huge steal off George on the Pacers' next possession and then calmly sunk two free throws with 6.5 seconds to play to secure the victory.
DeRozan, who has struggled all series, came up big when it counted in his strongest game of the seven, and when he spun off a Pacers defender with two minutes left in the third quarter, the crowd roared its approval.
George Hill #3 of the Indiana Pacers drives against Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors. (Photo: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
The Maple Leaf — laid out in a pattern of red and white T-shirts — provided the Air Canada Centre backdrop. And the crowd that included Drake, Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban, and Blue Jays Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Marcus Stroman, was electric, in full voice from the opening jump ball.
When Bismack Biyombo missed a free throw late in the third quarter, the fans stood and gave the Raptors big man a rousing cheer. He made the second one, with a smile.
Outside, thousands of Raptors fans braved the chilly weather to watch the game on the giant screen in Maple Leaf Square.
The Raptors' only previous playoff series victory came way back in 2001, when they knocked off the New York Knicks in a five-game series. After last year's four-game debacle at the hands of Washington, they've played under heavy expectations.
Winning a franchise-best 56 games in the regular season and earning the No. 2 seed for the first time only intensified the pressure.
Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan scores over Indiana Pacers forward Myles Turner. (Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
"This is a great basketball market, the players have built up the expectations and done a great job of it and these are the consequences of it,'' coach Dwane Casey said before tip-off. "I feel like our players have embraced it.
"We've earned the right to play in Game 7. We did it through 82 games. As a player the pressure is what you grow up thinking about. I'd rather have this pressure than not be here at all.''
The Raptors, who won Games 2, 3 and 5, dropped an ugly 101-83 decision in Indiana on Friday to force a seventh game.
The Raptors looked solid in the first quarter, and backed by 13 points from DeRozan, took a 28-23 lead into the second.
Powell pushed the pace for Toronto in the second with 10 points, including a pair of threes, and the Raptors went into the dressing room at halftime up 50-44.
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