No television pundit gave the Indiana Pacers much of a chance in this series. It was finally the Toronto Raptors year to make it into the second round of the playoffs, a chance for the lone Canadian franchise to solidify its place as a dynamic team of 2016. Those hopes were slightly knocked on Saturday when Indiana used a spirited 2nd half to beat Toronto 100-90 in the Air Canada Centre. Now that each side has played its playoff hand, let the physicality and bruising basketball begin!
Game 1 revisited
After early-game turnovers and bad possessions to start from both parties, each team began to settle in a rhythm. A slow start was picked up by the Toronto bench, as Cory Joseph proved to be the most valuable Raptor in the first half. The second unit scorer finished the game with a team-high 18 points and facilitated a lead for the home team. A 10-2 run by the Raptors subs was matched by a 10-2 run by the Pacers starters and the game was tied 41-41 at half. Neither team could find an edge in the first half, but that wouldn’t remain the case after the intermission.
The second half was entirely different, favoring the Pacers throughout. Paul George scored 17 points in the third quarter, 33 on the game, and played exceptional defense on DeMar Derozan. The superstar hit two big threes to give the Pacers the advantage going into the fourth. The second unit was much better in the second half, as Solomon Hill hit a three along with 10-10 free throws and Myles Turner put in a convincing 10 points and 5 rebounds in his first career playoff game. The late-game narrative of the Pacers was different, as Paul George kept hitting shots late into the 4th to ensure Toronto couldn’t come back. The 100-90 win was the Raptors seventh straight playoff loss and the third straight home-opener defeat.
Game 2 of the series will feature adjustments by coaches and players alike, but should remain largely the same. The Raptors can’t afford to spend too much time worrying about Paul George or one of the secondary scorers, like George Hill or Ian Mahimni. George can get 20 points on any night, so it’ll be important for Toronto to make sure that Hill isn’t able to double up his season average in an attempt to limit PG to 15 points. George was the difference maker in Game 1 and will once again flourish in Game 2. While his offense shows in the box score, his defense on Derozan should not be overlooked. DeMar could not get anything going with the all-Defense team representative trailing him on the night.
Back to the basics
For Toronto to win, Kyle Lowry must prove to be the offensive catalyst for the club. Only through his shooting and passing do the Raptors have a chance to claw back in this series. Lowry went 3-13 in Game 1, but his 7 assists show a willingness to dish and find the open man. Derozan will need to score, but he’ll have to work harder for open looks in the second matchup with PG. Jonas Valanciunas was a monster on the boards in the first half, towing in 15 rebounds, but fell off in the second due to foul trouble. His presence in the middle while getting boards, easy buckets, and hopefully some fouls on primary post defender Mahimni is vitally important in the remainder of the series.
The first win is the hardest, so what can Indiana do to continue their run in Toronto? Obviously the offense flows through Paul on Monday, but what can Monta Ellis do to help Paul attack the Raptors? Ellis and Mahimni have turned into a top-10 league pick-and-roll combination, something not seen too much in the first game. Their play off of each other showed in the regular season meetups, but mixing some in with the regular offense might catch the Raptors off guard. In the second unit, CJ Miles is the X-factor for the Pacers in the series, maybe even playoffs. The guard was plagued by injury and inconsistency on the year, but came back around at a great time. Confidence in the final five games was key for Miles, who only scored 5 points but took good shots on the night. If CJ can hit three three-pointers during a shift in the second unit, it’s enough to give the Pacers a serious edge in the series.
Bring it back home
Toronto should bounce back on their home floor, but it’s important not to overlook the Pacers. Late-game collapses seemed to be the specialty on the year, but PG vowed to change that script in Game 1, hitting three jumpshots in the final 90 seconds to ensure a win for Indiana. If PG can keep the hot hand up, and the Pacers can find a secondary scorer to complement him and Monta, the Pacers could take two in the “Six.”