The Toronto Raptors knew they had to win tonight.
In front of a purple-clad crowd at the Air Canada Centre, the East's two-seed, in danger of going down 2-0 in the first round, powered their way through the Indiana Pacers.
Despite another lacking scoring performance from guards Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan, the Raptors played well from the opening tip, eventually pulling away from Indiana in the fourth quarter to glide to a huge 11-point win.
With it, the Raptors and Pacers are now tied at one game apiece, as the seven-game series heads to Indianapolis on Thursday night.
A different country, a different story
Game 1 saw the Raptors nervous. Toronto knows what playoff demons they need to exorcise. They haven't won a best-of-seven series in their 20-year history, and after being swept in the first round last year by the Washington Wizards, Toronto would hate to be embarrased in the playoffs again.
In Game 1, they were. The Raptors were stagnant, afraid to move, and they lost to the Pacers by 10 points. Suddenly, pundits alike were naming the Pacers as the new favorite to win the series, and the Raptors as "not ready."
They were ready tonight, though. Instead of the stiff offense of Game 1, the Raptors started cutting again; they were moving the ball through Lowry pick and rolls, and in the first half they nailed some big threes (courtesy of Terrance Ross). Jonas Valanciunas was outstanding, putting up 19 points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone. Valanciunas and Lowry led the way for Toronto, but the Raptors needed more to keep up with Paul George (28pts/ four rebounds) and Monta Ellis (15pts/ five rebounds/ three assists).
Enter the Toronto bench.
With Pacers head coach Frank Vogel dialling in on Lowry and Derozan, the Raptors needed contributions from elsewhere. Lowry and Derozan combined to average almost 50 points per game in the regular season, and when they were shut down in Game 1, the other Raptors couldn't keep up with Paul George. Tonight, though, was different. Valanciunas was great in pick and rolls, and Patrick Patterson (14pts/ six rebounds) and Cory Joseph (16pts/ three assists) were game changers off the bench. Patterson, Joseph, and Terrance Ross combined to shoot 13-for-18 from the field and score 36 points.
Pace and space
The bench wasn't just creating for themselves, though. Toronto's cuts and extra passes were much better tonight, and it allowed them to pull away from a notoriously weaker Indiana offense. George and Ellis were essentially the offense for the Pacers -- they were the only two double digit scorers for Indiana, which went an abysmal 4-for-20 from three. Even though the Raptors "won" the third quarter -- after which they led by eight -- it didn't feel like they did. The Pacers' offense was just too anemic in Game 2, and Vogel might need to rally them better for Game 3 at home.
The Raptors pulled away with their selflessness and energy. A Patrick Patterson fastbreak layup and a Joseph layup off a sharp off-ball baseline cut were the breaking points in the 4th quarter. With 9 minutes left, Toronto led by 15, and they weren't looking back.
This was a huge win for the Raptors, but they can't relax for a minute. Thursday night's Game 3 is even bigger -- the winner will take a 2-1 lead and have a chance to make it 3-1 in Game 4. After their Game 1 loss, Toronto was assured of having to win a game in Indiana in order to regain home court advantage. Let's see if they can do it on Thursday.
Line of the Night:
Kyle Lowry: 18 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, +13 plus-minus, win