The way it started with the Raptors surrendering the ball four times in the first few minutes and being down 9-2, you’d think it would end with a coach being fired. A quick 20-second timeout extended to a full upon further contemplation served as the cortisone shot that got the Raptors in the mood. What followed was a gritty performance delivered against all odds, and just when you thought they’d curl up and surrender, time ran out! The Raptors scored five points in the fourth quarter and took low percentage shots on their last five possessions, including an Amir Johnson thrice-hesitated three, yet came away with a much-deserved win on account of the first three quarters. Those five points were the lowest for a fourth quarter in the shot-clock era for a team that actually won the game.
DeRozan’s early domination of Stephenson coupled with Calderon firing from mid and long range provided the underpinnings on which this victory was built. After the horrid start where everything seemed to result in a cough-up, their offense helped settle the nerves and DeRozan’s desire to impale Stephenson in the post with an iron spear of wiry moves had you thinking whether there was something to this evening that might surprise. Caught unawares by the resistance offered by their weary opponent, the Pacers did assist in planting the seed of their own demise by missing countless close-range shots, no doubt affected by the presence of Jonas Valanciunas, who outplayed Hibbert for large parts of the evening and surely broke more sweat than the Georgetown man.
The visitors shot 70% in the first quarter to Indiana`s 50%, resulting in an eight point lead. The fear felt at the introduction of the second unit was unfounded as Kleiza’s post presence was felt by the Pacers, and Terrence Ross hit two timely jumpers to keep the score ticking as Indiana appeared flustered. The rebounding edge that the Pacers might have expected to enjoy was nowhere to be found, as Valanciunas and Johnson controlled the defensive boards. The latter was negating the energy of Tyler Hansbrough while the former supplied his own offense, setup nicely by Calderon on mostly pick ‘n rolls. On display from Valanciunas this season has been a consistent effort and an undying desire to contribute in any which way and last night, provisioned by Calderon, he delivered critical scores that kept the Pacers at bay.
The Halloween lesson had also been learned, with Casey switching the ineffective Andrea Bargnani on the offensively-challenged Hansbrough leaving Johnson to deal with David West. It would be incorrect to suggest that West’s 3-12 were all due to the Raptors’ defense, as he did miss a lot of shots you would expect him to make, but let’s give some credit to Johnson and even Davis, who hung with West by not biting on his pump-fakes and playing defense with their feet. The same could be said for Paul George, the Pacers #1 wing option with Granger out, who suffered through a miserable 3-14 night and found all avenues to the lane clogged thanks to a Raptors defense that was shifting and forcing the Pacers to test their perimeter prowess. Dominic McGuire doing his part as well. All in all, the Pacers shot 32%.
The fear was that that the wounds from the triple overtime marathon would fester and perhaps prove fatal in the latter acts was surely present. Any such belief was rendered baseless in the third, with evidence to the contrary found at every turn. When the home side had lacerated a 15-point deficit to 8, spurring the sparse crowd at hand to contemplate a comeback, Calderon and Bargnani followed with prodigious back-to-back threes which quelled the advantage to 14 and brought respite to the cause.
The next Pacer assault, helped by some questionable shot-selection by Kleiza and Bargnani saw the lead cut to 9, only for Casey to respond with a nerve-soothing timeout. The squad came back to run a pick `n roll which had Johnson go to the line, a post-up for DeRozan, and further plays going towards the rim. The third concluded with the Raptors up 9 – bent but not broken, and most of all, unbowed.
Davis, Johnson, Kleiza, Lucas, and Bargnani featured to start the fourth, with the idea being that either Bargnani would carry the offense after taking the first three quarters off, or in the hopes that Kleiza would perform an encore and supply some much-needed offense while DeRozan and Calderon renewed their charges. I shall not bother the reader with the gory details of the events of the fourth quarter, and leave it at this: the Raptors lost their legs with every jumper meeting the wall that was the front-rim, every drive sealed off, every contact ignored. It was time to call upon the rear guard to hold dearly to the lead earned by endeavors of the first three quarters.
Shockingly, Valanciunas never saw the floor and the Pacers managed to get 8 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, four on the final possession. If this had resulted in a defeat, pointed questions would have been asked of Casey. On the backs of a defense that refused to concede, and helped by Indiana’s seeming inability to finish near the rim, the Raptors were hanging on their lead by slowing down the rate at which the Pacers were shaving the lead. Tick tock, tick tock. It was only a matter of time as the clock ran down to below three minutes. By this time it wasn’t about scoring but managing to shed the weight of 24 seconds, and the Raptors did so in a fashion that brought hearts to mouths. Forced fades by DeRozan, an Amir Johnson three, a contested long-range effort by Calderon, with the Pacers coming closer at every turn.
It came down to the final possession with the Raptors protecting a precious two-point lead. David West missed a short jumper. Offensive rebound. George misses a three. Offensive rebound. Hill misses a jumper. Offensive rebound. George misses again. Game over. If this one had another possession in it, it would’ve been heartbreak.
With the battle scars now healing, honors may be bestowed. Jose Calderon’s sheer will commanded the team in the first half, and his scoring, playmaking and even rebounding (first-carer triple double – 13/10/10) were critical. DeRozan’s hard play attacking the rim set the tone for the game and lowered the critical factor of pace – no jumpers early in the shot-clock, this was about grinding it and making the Pacers pay the iron price. Kleiza and Ross’ second quarter cameos were key, and so was Amir Johnson length inside as it hindered West to no end. The three at the end of the third by Lucas which extended the lead to 9 was much-needed and swung the crucial element of momentum in the Raptors’ favor.
This was about winning ugly on the road and the kind of basketball that a sadist like me enjoys very much. And let it be said that I, for one, am loving how the referees are swallowing their whistles and letting them play.
Here’s the Raptors fourth quarter shot chart: