Why the Pacers are championship contenders and the Raptors are a borderline playoff team.
I was going to write out a more nuanced game recap detailing how this match-up went down, but it could really be summarized with a couple of bullet points. Let’s get those out of the way first.
- Raptors come out guns a-blazing. Lowry pushes the tempo and the Raptors catch the Pacers sleeping on a number of occasions, lead by 10 after one.
- Bench comes in, gives up lead, Aaron Gray makes an appearance, turns it over on three straight possessions, Raptors squeak into halftime with 2 point lead. Gay is on fire.
- Paul George comes alive in the third, drops 17 on the Raps, including a sweet buzzer beater three from 30 feet. Raptors stop pushing the tempo and settle into halfcourt sets. Hibbert and George shut down the offense.
- Bench comes in again; gets mauled. Stone jumps DJA on the depth chart, but is terrible. Demar keeps bricking shots, Gay cools off. Pacers hold on to the lead with two pronged strategy; glacial pace and Roy Hibbert in the paint. Pacers win by 7
- Apparently Rasual Butler plays for the Pacers. Hmm.
- Demar has a horrible day at the office. He’s on pace to become the latest cautionary tale of “dude, it’s just preseason”. His post-game is starting to appear on milk cartons across Canada (I know we get our milk in bags, you know what I mean)
Okay, now that we’ve got the nitty-gritty out of the way, let’s discuss the differences between these two ball clubs, and why Indiana is a title-contender, while the Raptors will be lucky to make the playoffs.
1. Indiana has a bunch of great players, the Raptors do not
- George Hill is a very steady point guard. He can sink threes, he’s a dogged defender and he takes care of the ball.
- David West is a great in the post. He’s the 17-foot assassin for a reason.
- Roy Hibbert is the best defender in the NBA. He leads the NBA in blocks per game, and before last night’s games, he had more blocks than 19 other NBA teams! He’s also limited opponents to 30% shooting at the rim.
- Paul George is a superstar, and a borderline top-5 player at the moment.
- Awesome bench, with decent scoring (Granger, Scola), steady ball-handling (Watson), and defense (Mahimni)
- Kyle Lowry is flawed. He’s a good defender, but he’s prone to hero-balling at the end of games. He’s much better than most Raptors Republicans think he is, but there’s a reason why he’s hanging onto an expiring contract
- Amir Johnson is great, but he’s limited to producing within his role.
- Jonas is developing, and occasionally flashes brilliance, but he’s just a league average center at this point
- Rudy Gay isn’t this bad of a shooter, but he turns a whole boatload of possessions into not that many points.
- The bench is a wasteland
- Demar Derozan is Corey Maggette. You’re not going anywhere with Maggette as your leading scorer. Compare their per-36 numbers through 5 season:
2. The Pacers are experienced, the Raptors aren’t
- Battle-tested. Pushed the Heat to six games two years ago, almost eliminated the Heat in last year’s playoffs.
- David West has playoff experience from his time in New Orleans, George used to play in San Antonio
- Core of the roster has played together for three years running
- No playoff games for their two leading scorers (Demar and Gay)
- Lowry was a back-up when Houston last made the playoffs (4 years ago)
- Lack of significant veteran leadership
- Core has not played together for very long
3. The Pacers have a defined offensive and defensive identity, the Raptors do not
- Indiana knows where it’s offense is buttered. Paul George and George Hill facilitate. PG24 also plays pick-and-roll and attacks the paint. Hibbert operates in the low post, West camps out at the elbows.
- Indiana’s has the best defense in the league. Every starter is an above-average defender (first team defenders in George and Hibbert), and they know how to snuff out the pick-and-roll.
- Offense: ISO-heavy, inefficient offense centered around the wings. Little motion on offense. Lowry struggles to be effective without the ball in his hands, Amir and Jonas need to be set-up to score. Nobody wants to pass.
- Defense: Is there a defensive strategy? Amir is a great defender; he’s mobile and able to effectively guard in P&R, but Jonas is still a weak interior defender. Gay is sporadic; some nights he’s on, some nights he lists. Demar is a capable defender up until the point where someone sets a screen, and then his man is wide open.
These disparities amounted to 7-point difference in tonight’s game, but in the grand scheme of things, these differences illustrate why Toronto is a fringe playoff team, and why Indiana is a legitimate title contender.
So how do the Raptors get to where the Pacers are? Well, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? It’s worth noting that up until 2010, the Pacers jogged on the treadmill of mediocrity for six straight years, winning between 32 and 44 games. What changed? Discuss in the comments.