Bench shines as Raptors easily topple Pacers

9 mins read

Lou Williams tha god.

Game Recap

The Raptors played a relatively banal contest against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night in the Air Canada Centre, easily coming away with a 106-94 victory.

It wasn’t a blowout by any means, but the Raptors did have the upper hand for almost the entirety match, starting from the tip-off. The Raptors’ starting unit once again featured Landry Fields, who managed to impress for the second-consecutive game. Although the Pacers played off him at every opportunity, Fields was able to make up for what he lacked in shooting with his oft-stated cutting and clever decision making. His ball-handling and willingness to attack the Pacers’ defense set in motion the Pacers’ reluctant help defensive scheme, which was really all Fields needed to do on offense. At one point, Fields had more points than the entire Pacers squad (6 to 4).

As you can imagine, the Raptors ran the sets they always do. Lowry got his share of opportunities to attack off high screens, Terrence Ross got his share of pin-down plays and of course, Valanciunas was pitted against Roy Hibbert in the paint. The latter is of note, because although Valanciunas’s scoring numbers (10 points, 3-of-12 shooting) didn’t impress, the challenge and frustration of battling Hibbert’s stubborn interior defense clearly sparked Valanciunas to settle the score elsewhere. He looked energized from the jump and absolutely dominated on the glass. He ended up with 14 rebounds to Hibbert’s 2.

The second quarter saw the Pacers pull to within six points. Their defense tightened up, limiting the Raptors’ offense to the perimeter. That wasn’t really a problem for the Raptors, as Lou Williams was hot from the outset. LouWill dropped 12 points in the quarter, scoring off his herky-jerky crossover. When defenders sagged too far, Williams pulled up going left and drained threes. If they closed out, Williams had the presence in mind to attack the basket with high floaters and long-armed finger-rolls. On the whole, the offense didn’t exactly resemble team basketball, but with Williams catching fire, it didn’t matter that Hansbrough, Patterson and Vasquez only scored four points in the second. Toronto led by 11 going into halftime.

The Pacers made some adjustments in the third quarter. On offense, Indiana’s wings made a greater emphasis to attack the paint off the dribble. It helped that the Pacers’ guards were connecting on threes, which left the Raptors’ wing defenders with a hard choice to make — to close out or to stay back. The result was that the Pacers were permitted to repeatedly attack the Raptors’ paint. most noticeably C.J. Watson, who blew by Ross on back-to-back possessions at one point.

Defensively, the Pacers simply started playing with renewed vigour and energy. The decimated Pacers aren’t exactly stocked with talented ballers, so their only hope of winning on most nights is to outwork their opponents. The Pacers’ three-guard frontcourt of Stuckey, Watson and Hill allowed them to switch readily on the perimeter, which was effective in preventing the Raptors from getting into the paint on drives.

Altogether, the strategy allowed the Pacers to cut the lead to five, before the Raptors went on yet another run to push the lead back into double-digits heading into the fourth.

From there, the Raptors’ bench was able to thoroughly outplay their counterparts, to a point where when time came for both team’s starters to re-enter the fray, there was no point. Vasquez started lighting it up from beyond and James Johnson played like a man possessed. The run afforded the Raptors’ overworked starters a rest. In rather Spurs-ian fashion, no starter played more than 27 minutes for the Raptors. Instead, Casey was afforded a chance to empty his bench, giving way for players like Bebe Nogueira and Greg Stiemsma to see the light of day for once. Neither player made much of an impact, though Bebe’s presence on the court allowed me to make puns on Twitter.

Breaking it down: Raptors trying new wrinkles on offense

Check out this play below, of which I discussed in an article for theScore. The play is rather simple, but it’s something I haven’t seen out of the Raptors since DeRozan went down with injury.

It opens with Landry Fields making a cut to the basket around a pin-down from Amir. The Pacers don’t bite as David West is far too clever to be fooled by such foolishness, but once that failed, Ross and Valanciunas repeats the same action on the left side of the floor, immediately after Fields makes his move. With lesser defenders involved, Ross was able to be freed up for a look in the lane, which forced the Pacers into fouling. 

A quick moment of introspection

Expectations are a funny thing. Set them too low, and you’ll be tricked into falling for everything. Set them too high, and you’re just constantly disappointed.

I find myself grappling with expectations with Raptors games this season. In the past, double-digit victories against any team under whatever circumstances would excite me, but I found myself almost wholly uninterested in last night’s game. I wasn’t particularly worried that the Raptors would lose, and with the Pacers playing a an ugly, grind-it-out style, there really wasn’t all that much there to take in.

I attribute the lack of excitement to the Raptors’ prolonged success since the Rudy Gay trade. The Raptors have won 59 games against 28 losses in the calendar year since. I know this team is good. You know this team is good. Beating a depleted Pacers squad at home isn’t really moving the needle.

That’s in stark contrast to last season, where expectations were practically non-existent. Off the top of my head, I can name a handful of memorable victories, each of which inspired a paradigm shift in the way I perceived the team and its players. The win against the Pacers at home. Winning both ends of a back-to-back on the road in OKC and Dallas. Both wins against Memphis. Even small wins like the three victories against Washington, or the Patrick Patterson steal and game-winner against Brooklyn — all those games counted for more than just victories. Each win was a dose of hope.

It’s a strange feeling now, then, to not be as stimulated, not as excited, not as hopeful, because expectations are higher. The Raptors are good — each and everyone here sure of that. It’s undoubtedly a good problem — a case of having too much — but for me, and perhaps for some of you, there is a re-calibration that is needed in order for us to attain the same measure of enjoyment out of this season. I don’t want to set the bar so high as such that the magical feeling of beating the odds is no longer an option. It’s less fun that way.

Anyway, the Raptors will take on the Knicks on Sunday in what is shaping up to be yet another easy victory.

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