Pacers 94, Raptors 102 – Box
I’ll raise my hand. I didn’t give the Raptors a chance when they announced that Amir Johnson was joining Kyle Lowry on the sidelines with an ankle problem. How wrong was I? The Raptors pulled out another win where they had to hold their nerves and play toe-to-toe clutch basketball for the entire duration of the fourth quarter and beat the Big Bad Pacers at their own game of physical interior basketball. This was about as good as a prep game for the playoffs as you’ll have, and what this will do for the collective confidence of this unit could be significant.

Patrick Patterson got the nod against David West and Greivis Vasquez started his second game in a row. The first quarter was about neither of them, it was about Terrence Ross. The sophomore had the defensive-minded Lance Stephenson on him, who was made to look pedestrian as Ross rubbed him off well-placed screens as he found himself open for two triples. Tip of the hat goes to Patterson for being extremely disciplined in his screen-setting, a rather underappreciated aspect of his game. Complementing Ross was Jonas Valanciunas, who likes to dish it against the slower Hibbert by being active enough for Hibbert to eventually lose interest in him.

Valanciunas was able to craftily get his shot off against the wide-spanning Hibbert by acting without hesitation and using his body extremely well. Dipping that shoulder into Hibbert reduces his chances of blocking the shot, and Valanciunas possesses enough awareness of his position around the rim that he can alter the angles and trajectory of his shot to fit the situation, a very valuable trait. He wasn’t shirking his defensive responsibilities either, playing sound positional defense and relying on the principle of verticality when it called upon to do so.

Grinding it out

“We’re a scrappy, grind-it-out team, 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.”

- Terrence Ross

DeMar DeRozan was jumper-centric but effective. His assists were well planned and weren’t the types where he gives up the ball to the nearest teammate at the first sight of trouble. A couple of his dump-offs to Valanciunas were simply brilliant and showed that he had planned on events to proceed in the way they had, rather than relying upon chance. After all this, though, the Pacers were up one after the first quarter and were shooting 52% to the Raptors’ 58%.

Defensively, the Raptors were missing. West was slaughtering the lighter Patterson, and when Valanciunas was switched on him, the latter was forced to concede the jumper which West welcomed. It was very much about offensive rhythm in the first quarter for both sides, and it wasn’t until the second, with Nando De Colo at the helm, that the Raptors applied enough pressure in the backcourt to force the Pacers into possessions where the tail end of the shotclock came into play.

Vogel on Raptors

“I think they’ve finally got what Coach Casey has been preaching along…. to play for one another like they did in Dallas when Casey was there”

- Frank Vogel

De Colo, who I doubt the Pacers spent a minute preparing for, had four assists in the second quarter, one in which he led the charge against a backtracking Pacer team that was surprised at the resilience of not just the Raptors’ first unit, but their bench. Tyler Hansbrough, the perfect antidote, for bullies like West and Hibbert, brought his trademark physical style into a battle which was ripe with emotion fueled by seething hostility, his history playing its part.

De Colo’s quarterbacking of the second unit, in combination with Jonas Valanciunas continuing to be a factor on offense, had the Raptors go up by 8 at the break. Indiana was caught unaware by the Frenchman’s panache with the ball, and the influence he had on the tempo of the game was considerable, as the pace of it was increasingly turning into a flavor too sweet for Indiana.

It was some irresponsible play from Greivis Vasquez that sparked the Indiana rally in the third. Being up eleven, there was a sense that the Raptors were in firm control, and it was a series of empty possessions punctuated by poor shots from Vasquez that gave Indiana a glimpse of an entry back into the game. Possessions that failed to test Indiana’s defense – which looked to be on the ropes – led to the Pacers getting a mini burst which gave them confidence.

George vs Salmons

“I just thought that he was holding on to me. Refs were letting it go, so I gave him a bump and he gave me a bump back.”

- Paul George

The Raptors were up five when John Salmons and Paul George were tied up late in the third, resulting in some pushing and shoving which appropriately culminated in a double-technical.  This woke George from his game-long slumber and Salmons was soon exiled to the bench in favor of Ross. The benching concluded a dull evening from Salmons who, instead of looking zoned in for the playoffs, is drifting into a malaise that the Raptors can’t afford. He’s making the current site poll look very much justified.

So here we were in the fourth quarter all tied up. The easy conclusion to the evening that was in the purview of the Raptors at the outset of the third was a distant memory, and what faced the Raptors was a daunting task against a momentum-heavy Pacers unit whose best player was playing inspired basketball after the mini-melee. Ross, being assigned to cover George, was having little luck as the taller Pacer swingman was able to get his shot off after effective moves that created space. Luis Scola was giving the Raptors trouble off the bench against a tired Patterson, who was again outmatched physically, just like he had been against West. However, that was about it for the Pacers.

The Raptors may not have had an answer for George (4-7 FG) in the fourth, nor for Scola inside, however, they did manage to neutralize the rest of the Pacers who were 2-10 in the fourth.  The Pacers have been brutal on offense since February and their lack of mobile players in the frontcourt means that spacing is often poor, which played right into the hands of the Raptors who had to defend quite narrow to get stops in the fourth.  The control the Raptors exerted on the boards was impressive: they outrebounded the Pacers 15-9 and limited Pacer second-chance points to two. Nando De Colo’s second spell may not have been as statistically significant as his first, yet he was the engine that spurred the Raptors on in the fourth, including a massive three-pointer which was an answer to one the Pacers had just hit.

Ross hit a huge three (and missed a couple which one can’t fault him for taking) and was immense on the boards in the fourth with five rebounds. DeRozan chipped in with a couple traditional jumpers and a layup, and it should be noted that all his scores came when it was a 2-point game or less. Jonas Valanciunas hit a clutch face-up jumper against Roy Hibbert, who Casey tested by putting in pick ‘n pop/roll situations.

The Raptors were helped by Stephenson going 1-on-4 on an impossible break and giving the Raptors the ball back up four, which essentially sealed the game. The Raptors had beaten a Pacer team that is, on paper, supposed to be their kryptonite. The Pacers have now lost 4 of 5 and 6 of 8. Let that not take away from the sheer will and determination the Raptors displayed to pull this one out. Brooklyn and Chicago had routine assignments on the night and it was the shorthanded Raptors who were under tremendous pressure to win, which they did in the same manner as they’ve played since the trade: as a team.

Tags: , , , ,