“I think that’s what he’s taking advantage of. I think he’s been efficient. He’s not just trying to drive in there and get fouls. He’s driving trying to score, and consequently getting contact to complete the play.” Now, that only matters if Gay can also increase his efficiency. Gay gets the most looks, and his ability to make the right play with teams loading up on him has been tenuous. Add in Bargnani’s continued slide, and the Raptors’ offence is still far from perfect. This offence is going to have to be completely re-calibrated before next season.
If in hindsight this was the night the Raptors’ playoff dream definitively died, at least it did so quietly, while the team slept. Three successive losses, each disappointing in its own special way, have pushed them back an evolutionary stage. This team is an entertaining upstart, rather than a minor power. The Raptors managed to hang with the larger, far more physical Pacers for the first half. By the second, Roy Hibbert and David West were manhandling them inside.
Well, we saw Terrence Ross as the first wing off the bench and it was pretty much just foul trouble that kept Valanciunas out of the game so maybe there are a few more minutes ahead for some of the kids. But it’s not going to be tonight – Dwane pulled the chute with about five minutes to go Friday so he could rest some guys for this evening in Milwaukee – but if things keep going like this, I’d say the end of next week is the time to go all in with Ross and Valanciunas and, maybe to a much smaller degree, the smaller Acy. Again, until there is nothing left in the dream for these guys – and they don’t ever share the same feeling that the season’s over that many of you do becasue they are not wired that way – you’re going to see them make every effort to win every game with the lineups and rotations that Dwane figures makes those chances the best. It’s just the way it is.
The Raptors nearly had more fouls (25) than made field goals (29) and together with the Pacers combined for 32 turnovers. Yep, good stuff. And that’s without factoring in the Pacers’ 24 fouls meaning fans were treated to a game that seemed like a foul was called every 10 seconds. In the end, this was loss number 36 for the Raps, their third straight and another nail into the playoff coffin.
There was effort by the Raptors, at no point did they quit or not compete, but they simply weren’t good enough against a very good Pacers team, not physical enough and not equipped, at least not at this stage of their evolution, to keep pace. In the wake of their 93-81 loss, the Raptors have now lost three in a row against three teams in Indiana, Cleveland and Washington that play different styles. The week began with so much promise, but now ends with the harsh truth that these Raptors just aren’t good enough.
Terrence Ross may yet be given extended minutes and be allowed to play through mistakes for long stretches. But unless something dramatic happens to DeMar DeRozan’s game, Toronto’s high-flying, dunk-defying rookie will have just have bide his time and try to make an impression in practice. To hear head coach Dwane Casey tell it, Ross is the unwitting victim of a team that has undergone an identity shift in the wake of the Rudy Gay trade.
Through three and a half games against Toronto this year, the Pacers could find no rhythm and no breathing room. The result had be three two-point games, two with Indiana on the wrong side of the score. But slowly and surely, the Pacers took the third quarter of tonight’s game to exert the kind of control they expected to have in their series with Toronto this season. They exited the quarter up 64-51 on their way to a 93-81 win. Just one night after falling to the Clippers, Indy needed this win, just as they will need every win they can get going forward. With almost three quarters of the season complete, the 37-22 Pacers are percentage points out of second place in the East. At the same time, they’re only 3-1/2 games ahead of the 6th place Chicago Bulls.
Dismissing the frustrating whistles, the Pacers were more than glad to have big man Roy Hibbert back in the fold. Roy shot 7-10 from the floor, scoring 18 points in his return. The Pacers saw the exact things they were missing last night from Roy tonight in his defense around the rim, in addition to a couple hustle plays saving possessions. Indiana allowed Toronto to score just 30 points in the paint, a huge victory of last night’s 50. In fact, defense as a whole was stellar in limiting the effectiveness of Toronto’s starters in particular. Rudy Gay led the way with 21, but no other starter reached double figures, only DeMar DeRozen getting close.
“You are talking about one of the best defensive teams in the league,” Casey said after the game. “That is playoff basketball. We have to be able to execute against that type of basketball and that type of physicality. Everything has to be with force.” The Raptors finished the game shooting 40 per cent from the floor. They had just 12 assists on their 29 made field goals. Rudy Gay led the team in scoring with 21 points, but he was hampered by back spasms for much of the game.
“It was a gritty game, a grind-it-down game,” said Raptors forward Rudy Gay, who led the team with 21 points despite struggling from the field. “Both teams forced people to take tough shots they just made a lot more than we did. They also made a lot more easy shots. They made it easy for themselves.” With 49 combined fouls called, 33 turnovers committed and some questionable shot selection on both ends, the game was indeed a choppy one. Gay shot just 7-for-16, frustrated by Indiana’s aggressive defensive attack but also fighting through back spasms that began to slow him down in the first half.
“Protect the paint. Shrink,” read one of the directives. The author’s choice of words was interesting, given the Raptors had played more like shrinking violets in their two previous games this past week, both losses to teams with sub-.500 records, to put their playoff dreams on life support. And the Pacers (37-22) just might have pulled the plug, grinding their way to a methodical 93-81 victory at the Air Canada Centre to hand the Raptors (23-36) their third straight loss as they now embark on a four game road trip.
“David West obviously towards the end of the third was big,” Vogel said of West, who had eight of his 15 in the third. “That’s kind of been his time this year: third quarter, late third quarter. Ian (Mahinmi) made a couple jumpers and obviously Paul (George) plays the whole second half. That was when the game was decided for sure.” Toronto (23-36) has lost three straight. The Raptors were looking for their third win over the Pacers (37-22) this season — the last time Toronto won three in a single season against Indiana was during the 2007-08 season.
Roy Hibbert returned from a one-game suspension to score 18 points as the Central Division leaders won for the sixth time in seven games. Hibbert sat out Thursday’s home loss to the Clippers after a shoving match with David Lee in Tuesday’s victory over Golden State. ”Clearly we’re a different team (with Hibbert),” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. ”He guards the rim as well as any big guy in the NBA. He’s a big factor in why we’re the No. 1 defensive team in the league and he gives us some offensive punch, too.”
Monta Ellis, whose 27-footer before the buzzer was the difference against the Rockets, had team highs with 49 points and 22 assists during the two-game Texas sweep. He also finished with six steals in each contest to raise his season average to an Eastern Conference-best 2.0. “He’s all over the floor,” said coach Jim Boylan, whose team has played six consecutive games decided by five points or fewer – winning half of those. “… He’s doing everything for us right now. I look at the guy, and I don’t know if anyone in the league is playing as hard as he is right now.”