Pacers 90, Raptors 88 – Box

It’s going to be important not to get too deflated after this one.  A 50-50 call which the officials, after watching 30 different replays, made  a decision which decided the game.  I’d hate it to boil it down to one play, but it truly does come to that.  A hard-fought game on both sides which the Raptors were leading by 6-9 points for most of the fourth quarter and the majority of the game concludes with the home-team blowing the lead, somewhat predictably.  It came down to the wire in a possession game and a key possession went the other way.  Game over.

Stepping back, you have to point to the fourth quarter drought where the Raptors struggled without Lowry early in the quarter.  It was where Indiana gained the required momentum which eventually completed their comeback, certainly helped by the Raptors’ inability to execute in the half-court set when the steals weren’t coming as easy as they did earlier.  A lot can be learned from a loss and the importance of execution is definitely going to be hammered home by Casey after this one, because unless you’re absolutely blowing out a team in the first three quarters, execution in the fourth will decide the game.

Roy Hibbert and Paul George set the tone early for Indiana, Hibbert going inside against Valanciunas and George looking for his shot with Granger out of the lineup.  Both had success, but the matchup that caught the eye was Bargnani and West.  Bargnani’s defense can’t quite be faulted for West’s 12-19 night, West just happens to be a superior player who made it show.  Bargnani moved his feet, got his points here and there early, and was even drawing doubles at one point in the first quarter.  The standards for him are rather low for me, so if he shows up, moves his feet, gets a few scores and his share of the rebounds I’ll be hap…wiat…what…he only had 3 rebounds in 34 minutes? Meh, who cares.

Lowry’s activity in the backcourt was contagious enough for DeRozan to step up on defense, and despite Indiana shooting 51% in the first half, it’s actually the defense that kept us in it.  Specifically, the pressure in the backcourt which resulted in 10 steals in the half, 3 by Lowry.  The trapping was superb and forced turnovers, with big/guard combos being on the same page as to how, and when to trap.  See Calderon and Johnson as Exhibit A, and even Bargnani and Lowry combining to apply pressure.

Jose Calderon’s contribution off the bench was well noticed, as is usually the case when he’s a reserve.  It’s a shock to me that management wasted so much of his and our time making him a starter.  The guy is gold off the bench because he’s better than most backup PGs in the league and worse than most starters.  Makes perfect sense.  I liked the combo of playing Calderon and Lowry briefly with Calderon at the two, which is made to look especially good if Calderon is knocking his threes down, which he was.   With DeRozan struggling to find his mark both near and far from the rim, Casey tried Terrence Ross  for a bit but instead of rookie jitters, he had rookie earthquakes.  One of his airballs struck and killed a man.

The Raptors finished the half going 1-11, and tied despite shooting only 39%.  The positives had to be Valanciunas and Lowry, both newcomers were aggressive in their approach, no doubt spurred on by the great noise at the ACC.  Valanciunas’ defense on Hibbert improved as the game went on, he learned not to bite on his little shoulder-fakes, knew which way he was going to turn, and started to move his feet to counter Hibbert’s bulk rather than just trying to block his shot.  Hibbert (remember, drafted a Raptor) is a beast in the post when he wants to be, and at the very least Jonas showed that he’s up for the challenge.  Mistakes were made, like picking up a frustration foul after an airball, and maybe a team-high 15 shots is a bit much for a rookie, but hey, this is how you learn.

If there was a defensive theme in this game it was the Raptors’ consistent focus on anticipating opportunities to trap and play the passing lanes on the perimeter.  The flip side of that is recover and perhaps they were a little over-aggressive last night, leaving the back door open for a lot of Indiana’s points.  I would say the strategy worked because Indiana’s a talented team and we hung right there with them.  Sometimes we lose our perspective of this bunch, and expect them to win games which on paper nobody’s picking them to win.

Casey pointed out the need for the post-up defense to be better at halftime, and no doubt his eye was pointed to Valanciunas and Johnson, who was inserted at center ahead of Gray.  The latter was brought in at some point, but it felt like it was too late because by then Hibbert already had most of his points and rebounds.  Questionable strategy by Casey.  He tried to get DeRozan going by running the first play of the second half for him which worked.  Too bad getting DeRozan going isn’t as easy, and he struggled against George and Green’s length all game, and it showed with a 5-14 night where the customary poor finishing at the rim was front and center.

The Raptors pulled away and were up by nine in the third, all thanks to some inspired play by Lowry who led a 12-0 run where it looked like Indiana was on the ropes.  The defense picked up again as well, and the Raptors had some great baseline closeouts of Indiana penetration, which was complemented by much improved interior rotations.   Unfortunately for the Raptors, Lowry had to go to the bench and by the time he came back in the fourth, the combination of Lucas/Calderon had done well to extinguish all momentum. Neither got the offense going, and with no Lowry, DeRozan and Bargnani, the points became harder to come by.

On the backs of some turnovers, rather unforced, Indiana clawed their way back to three with under 9 minutes left.  Casey was preserving timeouts for some reason and waited till the TV timeout to get Lowry in. I thought at the moment that he had brought him in just soon enough, as the first thing he did was drive, get fouled, and knock down two FTs.  The offensive was slightly more improved but the legs were getting tired, and Lowry front-rimmed a couple jumpers which didn’t help the cause.

When Indiana tied, DeRozan had a great chance to take the lead late on, but after a good move, his finish at the rim was short and Indiana got the ball.  This was preceded by another ill-advised jumper, which when you’re shooting poorly, is what the defense will give you.  It’s important for DeRozan to recognize the distinction between being open and being left open, and he often doesn’t.  You could also point to Jose taking a jumper instead of running the clock down and dumping it inside, but the guy was having a great offensive game so you can’t fault him for shooting.The out-of-bounds call was 50-50, there is no way the refs could make a confident call on that one so they stuck with the decision made on the court, which was also 50-50.  I’m not mad about that call, I’m more pissed about the call George Hill got on the break where he got to tie the game.

Of course, Hill scored off a pick ‘n roll where DeRozan failed to come over from the wing, and Valanciunas came out too late.  Well run play by Indiana and great recognition by Hill of when to shoot.  Game over. Heartbreak.  Oh yeah, the Raptors had a chance to win but Bargnani airballed the fadeaway two.  Not a bad shot, he had the height advantage, just needed to set his feet, be calm and drain it.  Didn’t happen.  At least Devlin didn’t say “no call” to suggest that he got fouled.  Whatever.  Indiana deserved it, the little cameo by Augustin and the late-game play by Hill pulled them through.

I’m not going to analyze the death out of this game, and neither should you.  It was a good run for the Raptors who stuck with a pretty good team for most of the night and probably should’ve won but for some late-game execution (or lack of).  Lowry will eventually figure it out, Valanciunas will get it and Casey will start running more pick ‘n rolls for him (not many last night), and DeRozan and Bargnani won’t be this bad on offense.

Lowry missed half the pre-season and managed to rack up 8 assists and 5 steals, which is excellent, and even though the point guards failed to provide the stability needed in those clutch situations, it will come and perhaps if this was game 10 instead of game 1, we would’ve held on to the lead and not been outscored by 10 in the fourth.

I’m not even going to rip on Landy Fields who was the worst player for both teams.  Too early for that. Oh yes, the extension.  I already said what the Raptors should’ve done and they’ve ignored my sage advice.  I’m sure Blake or Garrett or someone else will have something to say about that.  All we can conclude at this point is that it sure didn’t motivate DeRozan for the opener.

Basketball’s back, just be happy for now.