It was less than a week ago that the Toronto Raptors visited the Indiana Pacers and dropped a dispiriting decision. While it’s nice to have a rematch in short order to try to correct that, there’s been little traction toward a solution to the team’s third-quarter problems. They own the league’s worst third-quarter defense, and while some of that is born from unseasonably hot opponent 3-point shooting (on a similar breakdown of contested and uncontested shots to other quarters), it’s clear the Raptors are worried about the trend.
“It’s still bad and a trend, I was told by the analytics people that in the previous games we were a plus-25 or 27 or something like that and those three games were a minus-58, I think it is,” Dwane Casey said Thursday. “It’s a trend in those three games, a bad trend so we’ve got to make sure we correct it, whether it’s offensive focus taking care of the ball. But I do know in the third quarter we’re 30th in defense, and in the fourth quarter, we’re first. That tells me something right there from a defensive standpoint where we stand. It’s about focus, it’s on the starters to have the focus, the energy to come out in the third quarter with that. In t hose three games, it was the biggest problem.”
The Raptors have been mostly winning despite the poor third quarters. They grade well by ESPN’s BPI metric (fourth in the league, second in the East), and they’re once again among the league’s best net rating teams. All you need to know about online betting is that the Raptors are 7-1 at home and 12-8 against the spread so far this season, so there’s reasons to think they’ll correct course against the Pacers back on their own court. At least for the first, second, and fourth quarters.
The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN 1/4 and Sportsnet 590.
Blake Murphy: Cory Joseph is missed as a human here in Toronto, even if the team’s point guard play has been strong and C.J. Miles has been a godsend. How have Indiana fans taken to Joseph, and does he have the crispiest fade in the entire midwest?
Ben Gibson: Y’all probably miss Cory like I miss C.J. In some ways the new player replaced or even improved on the old, but that doesn’t mean you don’t look out the window longingly at times. CoJo’s given the bench something the Pacers haven’t had there in years, and that’s a reliable point guard. Sometimes things get weird when he plays with Lance Stephenson since they both need the ball in their hands, but Joseph’s defense helps tide things over even when he isn’t scoring as much. I don’t think the average fan appreciates him fully, but when he hits some 3-pointers and builds the lead, they’re slowing learning to love him.
Blake Murphy: The Pacers were able to frustrate the Raptors to such a degree last week that they altered their starting lineup for the second half (to no avail, mind you). Have the Pacers given more traditional lineups problems fairly often, or was this just a case of them having the Raptors’ plodding frontcourt pretty well figured out?
Ben Gibson: Indiana matches up well with the Raptors, and on a certain level, I think they get in their heads. Ultimately though, the Pacers offense can quickly get teams out of sorts with their Zerg Rush approach. When the shots are falling they’re absolutely overwhelming and can beat other teams in the paint as well. Indiana’s shooting the ball well, but as we’ve seen in their two losses to the Rockets, they don’t have the makeup to beat down teams with the 3-point shot.
No one man should have all that power. pic.twitter.com/XoYNTzXa3C
— Ben Gibson (@CowboyOnPatrol) April 5, 2017
I won’t be surprised if Indiana loses on the road to the Raptors. While their record isn’t a fluke, when teams take them out of their comfort zone we’ve seen things go off the rails quickly.
Blake Murphy: I know Myles Turner’s numbers are more or less the same this year, but he seems to have taken a qualitative step forward. It’s also insane how young he still is. Do you think he’s unfairly left as a secondary consideration when everyone’s listing off the league’s unicorns?
Ben Gibson: I understand why he doesn’t get the same sort of love. For one, he doesn’t take enough 3-pointers to really make you think of him as a unicorn. They’re more of a shot of convenience in his game than something that feels like it is in his playbook. He will crush team’s on pick and pops, sure, but he isn’t creeping out and launching them as much as some like.
It also hurts he really is off to a stop and go start. He missed seven games with a concussion and had struggled since then. I see that as an anomaly more than a real concern. There is no reason to think at 21-years old he’s not going to get better. He could stand to beef up his core, work on defense in pick and rolls, but he’s the focus of Indiana’s future, either way, unicorn or not. He’s still years away from his peak, so everyone chill.
Blake Murphy: Can Lance Stephenson please sit this game out?
Ben Gibson: CUE THE AIR GUITAR!
Blake Murphy: Victor Oladipo was able to play Monday, which must have been a big relief since he’s been rewarding the Pacers and those who maintained their faith in his game (/raises hand) all year. Has Oladipo exceeded your expectations so far this year?
Ben Gibson: Of course he has. He was expected to play better than he did in Oklahoma City, but I don’t think it was realistic to expect him to shoot the lights out like he is right now. There’s concern the numbers are going to fall back to earth, but right now he and Sabonis are making Kevin Pritchard look pretty smart.
As long as he playing something like this all season long, then it’s great. It’s like he combined his driving game from Orlando with the shooting from OKC, but then leveled up those and the other parts of his game. If nothing else, he’s been a lot of fun. And in a season where there isn’t a ton to look forward to after having hopes of contending for the past 5 years, fun is good enough.
The Raptors come in mostly healthy once again, and they’ll be armed with C.J. Miles, who missed the last meeting. Delon Wright remains out without a timeline for his return, and Lucas Nogueira, who suffered a strained right calf on Wednesday, is not listed on the injury report. In Nogueira’s case, it’s probably something to keep an eye on leading up to game time.
The other question, of course, is whether Casey makes changes, either to the starting lineup or just for the third quarter. He’s threatened to do so if the out-of-break slippage continues, and he’s had a quick hook for those groups, including eschewing them altogether in the second half last time out against Indiana. Starting small isn’t particularly tenable unless the Raptors are going to change their starting lineup opponent by opponent, so it will be on the starters to find a better groove against the Pacers and then maintain it. It’s probably not a big Jonas Valanciunas game, though there are always some things he can do to tilt the matchup his way, like he did against Indiana in the playoffs two years ago.
“It’s something I know we can be better at. We’ve got those veteran players that are in the game in that situation, there’s no reason to be makings some of the mistakes. And I don’t think it’s effort,” Casey said.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, (Lucas Nogueira)
OUT: Delon Wright
TBD: Lucas Nogueira
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo
While he’s not on the team’s game notes injury report, Myles Turner is questionable with knee soreness. If he can’t go, the matchup changes noticably, as the Pacers aren’t exactly deep in the frontcourt. Usually, Domantas Sabonis is the only other natural big seeing time, and their replacements for Turner are Al Jefferson, T.J. Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu, all varying levels of threatening on only one side of the ball (if that). If Turner plays, well, surely you remember the matchup problems he can create.
This also marks Cory Joseph’s return to Toronto, so let’s take a second to just listen to Raptors rave about him.
DeRozan: “His smoothness. Cory was the smoothest guy who’s came through the organization. For him to be from here, you got that sense that this is his city. This is his town, his country and everything. It was great to have him over here. The energy he brought, his vibe and everything was always a positive. You rarely saw Cory being upset or mad about anything. When you have that kind of aura around you, it’s contagious on the court and off the court.”
Casey: “Cory’s just a beautiful young man. He’s from a great family from here in Toronto, he’s Canadian, he wore that badge with pride which is great. That’s something you really respect about him, just who he is. He’s won a championship, and there’s not a lot of those guys walking around the NBA that has a ring. That’s something I always drew from because I knew he had been through the wars, he’d been through pressure, he’d been through tough situations and that’s something I always respected about Cory. That’s something we miss, our young guys are getting it now, the hard way, they’re learning, going through the fire, making mistakes, going through it with the same type of passion. They learned from Cory. I thought Cory did a good job of teaching Fred and Delon and them emulating him. I see some of the similar traits with these guys that Cory had. We miss Cory. Like I told him the other day, we’ll miss him except for four nights a year, we’ll try to beat his butt.”
VanVleet: “Cory’s just a great guy on and off the court, a great teammate. Just what it takes to come in and be prepared. Obviously the basketball aspect, little moves and tricks and things that he does that I picked up on. So it’s a lot of things that you can learn from a person on and off the court. I always give Kyle a lot of credit but I don’t try to leave Cory out, he was just as good for me last year to learn from. I couldn’t have picked two better guys to learn from in my first year…He started off slow so he understood where I was at last year. Just the encouragement day-to-day, even when he wasn’t playing well, and for a guy in his position with me and Delon kind of on his heels a little bit, he never had a bad attitude about it. He was helping us along the way, which was really rare to find a guy in that position, to help the young guys that were kind of coming for his spot. He was still helping us…Our relationship was great in that sense. He was a big part of my growth last year.”
PG: Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Joseph Young
SG: Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Damien Wilkins
PF: Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Leaf
C: (Myles Turner), Al Jefferson
OUT: Glenn Robinson, Edmond Sumner
TBD: Myles Turner
Fort Wayne: Alex Poythress, Ike Anigbogu
The Raptor s are 6.5-point favorites. The over-under sits at 215.5.