“I think it shows a lot about our team,” said reserve forward Chuck Hayes, whose 17 minutes of playing time had a lot to do with Johnson’s absence. “We’re missing two starters — one of our key players in Amir and probably the head of this monster in Kyle. It shows the true story of our team: how the next guy is always stepping up.” Jonas Valanciunas was huge late in the game, keeping several possessions alive with offensive rebounds. He finished with 22 points and nine rebounds. Terrence Ross added 24 points, making up for Lowry’s absence on the offensive end.
“You have to give the Raptors credit playing a heck of a basketball game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I thought the three starters they had in the game really stepped up. “All three of those guys — DeMar (DeRozan), Terrence (Ross) and Jonas (Valanciunas) just played out of their minds.” Down the hallway in the Raptors locker room, there certainly was no shortage of confidence. “(This win) means a lot,” DeRozan said. “With us, we feel like we can beat anybody when we step out there on the court honestly.” Of course, those victories would come a lot easier with Lowry in the lineup for the Raptors, who remained tied for third in the East with Chicago after the Bulls beat Milwaukee 102-90 on Friday night.
It was the team play of the Raptors, on both sides of the ball, that stole the show. In particular, the Raptors’ ball movement was crisp, leading to open looks and efficient scoring chances. The assist numbers of the first half (TOR:15, IND:8) should serve as a testament to the Raps unselfish play out of the gates, and they never let up. Nando De Colo and DeMar DeRozan both stood out as the teams go-to facilitators in this one, a role left vacant by the injured Kyle Lowry. DeRozan and De Colo combined for 14 of the teams 23 assists (DeRozan had a game-high 9). On defense the Raptors managed to hold Indiana to 42.3% shooting and kept the Pacers under the 100 point threshold, both of which have tended to be variables in the equation for Raptors’ success this season. More impressive was the crunch time defense that Toronto displayed by smothering Indiana in the final quarter, giving up only 19 points on 36.4% shooting. That’s playoff defense if I’ve ever seen it – so we know at least one MLSE team can play defense and hold leads.
Look, this isn’t a good basketball team anymore. Forget whatever you thought this team was in December and just watch what is happening. They stink. On both ends of the floor, and there is no longer a single player on the squad you can rely on to produce. You honestly can’t even rely on anyone to play well. But the Pacers did play well tonight for almost the whole game. They just forgot about the final four minutes, when they did the equivalent of projectile vomiting all over their new girlfriend’s mom on mother’s day. They also were awful at the end of the second quarter. For the rest of the game, however, they played pretty damn well. As sad as that sounds — and as bad as losing to the Raptors without Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson is — this was progress. You can pretend this is still a team that should beat a short-handed Raptors’ team even on the road. But it’s just not. So what we saw here was a bad team getting a bit better tonight, even in defeat.
Lance Stephenson was quite for most of the night, but came up with two big misses down the stretch that did little to help Indiana’s case in the closing minutes. Neither of Stephenson’s two layups with under a minute to go were particularly good looks and they were ill advised shots in both situations despite’s his ability to put in shots in unorthodox ways. While Stephenson can absolutely change the flow of a game for the better as he did against Detroit on Wednesday, he did just the opposite with his drives at the end of tonight’s game.
“We’re a scrappy, grind-it-out team,” said Ross, who also added five boards. “So if one player goes down, we’ve got guys who can help off the bench and give us that same spark, that’s how we’ve been winning games.” Greivis Vasquez (eight points) and Nando De Colo (10 points) shared the running of the floor in place of Lowry (knee), contributing baskets at key moments. Patrick Patterson started in place of Amir Johnson (ankle), and his key contribution was leading the team with seven boards as the Raptors out-rebounded the Pacers 42-39.
A reluctant spectator for the second straight contest, nursing his bruised knee, Lowry refused to take the night off. Not that anyone truly expected him to. “He was like our second or third coach,” said Jonas Valanciunas. “He was kind of doing the same thing he does when he’s in the game,” added Terrence Ross. “Helping us with plays, drawing things up for us, being vocal.” The Raptors would rather have him in uniform, dressed in red and white while leading his team in the trenches instead of on the sidelines, but they have more than held their own in his absence. “With us we feel like we can beat anybody when we step out there on the court, honestly,” said DeMar DeRozan, who tallied 20 points and nine assists in his team’s inspiring 102-94 win over the Indiana Pacers. “They’re [a] top team in the East. We understand tonight was a big win at this time of the season.”
“It just shows how good our team is, man,” said Hayes. “We’ve got a lot of depth.” The Raptors. And depth. Who knew?
“Everybody came in and contributed,” Casey said. “Chuck Hayes came in and held fort in the post defensively. Nando (De Colo) came in and did an excellent job offensively. He got the tempo where we needed it.” John Salmons, who didn’t score a point, impacted this game in a big way as well as the ‘smash-mouth’ Pacers tried to impose their will on Toronto. “It was just physical play that got a little out of hand,” Salmons said. “We aren’t going to back down from anybody, not going to back down, not going to quit, we going to be there, we going to fight.”
“He did (look more comfortable),” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “The rust is still there, especially on his shot. Usually those shots are money. “But it’s just going to take a little time and all the workouts in the world can’t duplicate the way the games are going to be. But he’s coming. Again, it’s going to probably have to come a little quicker than we expected.” Quicker because Amir Johnson is battling a bad ankle and sat all but three minutes in Wednesday’s game. And quicker because, with seven games to go, Toronto is battling for a favourable opponent in the post-season and needs all the help it can get. The Raptors (43-32) are third in the Eastern Conference and two-and-a-half games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for the Atlantic Division title.
The Bulls, who are tied with San Antonio for the league’s stingiest defense since the All-Star break, would be well-equipped to limit the damage of the Toronto trio. Jimmy Butler, in particular, would be a nightmare for either Ross or DeRozan, as he’s limiting opposing shooting guards to a PER of 11.4 and opposing small forwards to a PER of 11.2, according to 82games.com. While Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson have made strides this season, Toronto also lacks a defensive-minded center capable of shutting down the Bulls’ prolific frontcourt players. The trio of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson would likely power their way through the Raptors’ front line with reckless abandon.