Lost in Transition: Raptors fail to capitalize on momentum with Game 4 letdown

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Raptors 83, Pacers 100 | Quick Reaction | Boxscore

The aftermath of Game 4 calls for a more personable post-gamer. One that I think everyone will be able to relate to.

Prior to Indiana tying the series at two games apiece, not to mention stifling the Raptors’ momentum in the process, I had a feel-good story all planned out. The purpose of it was to¬†show just how much things have changed.

However, I should’ve known better on whether to jump the gun. I just had yet to come down from the high Game 3 provided. But in the spirit of still believing that the end result of this series will be different than in years past, allow me to share what my official intro was “supposed” to be — the optimism before the disappointing storm, if you will:

“At this point last season, I was tasked with the unfortunate responsibility of covering the now-infamous Game 4 in Washington. While it allowed me to vent my frustration, and hopefully yours along with it, writing a recap after the team you root for gets swept in the first round isn’t my idea of an enjoyable evening. But now the time we’ve all been waiting for has arrived. A full-circle moment is upon us. The Raps are one game away from truly exorcising their playoff demons by taking a stranglehold of this series. This franchise has never been up 3-1 in the postseason. Do you smell that? That’s the second round brewing.”

I was even going to end this piece by incorporating a tribute to Prince (RIP) — what better way to throw an after party?!

Needless to say, my feel-good approach beforehand went south faster than Luis Scola being exposed matching up against Myles Turner.

Frank Vogel’s decision to insert Turner into the starting lineup may not have had the desired effect on the stat sheet (2 for 13 from the field) but the visible mismatch at both ends most likely calls for the switch to become a permanent one as the series rolls along. Could Casey counter with a substitution (Patrick Patterson) of his own? I get not wanting to mess with continuity and that PP’s impact off the bench can provide instant impact the very moment this team needs it, but this is now a 3-game series — neutralizing any added advantage before your opponent really gets to benefit from it should now be a top priority. Even if that means expanding the experiment of Carroll at the 4-spot with Scola as the odd man out. That would even allow Powell to be re-inserted into the regular rotation and WHO DEOSN’T WANT THAT?! It’s time, Dwane.

When I had the chance to cover this particular game, I jumped at it. If for nothing more than a personal experiment. With the anguish of last season still lingering, where I thought the Raps would stand after four games vs. the Pacers was a way to finally kick that anger to the curb.

And just to let you in on my way of thinking, my headline is twofold: Not only did issues defending Indy’s transition game show its ugly face again but failing to make the transition from just being a team that’s up 2-1 in a playoff series to a team on the verge of silencing their critics left plenty to desired.

Though with that said, even though their Jekyll-and-Hyde ways have surfaced yet again, the Raps have shown enough backbone for all of us to remain positive. Well, most of the roster members have, that is.

Raptors

That last statement leads right where you think it will. And it’s official: DeMar DeRozan is the most polarizing player in Raptors’ history. I won’t get into his contract situation this time around — though whether you like it not that enormous elephant in the room will only loom larger as we go — but it’s become evident that even the mere mention of DeRozan — whether positive or negative — awakens the emotions of this fan base like no other player I’ve ever seen suit up for this organization.

After failing to build off of somewhat getting his act together in Game 3, while adding another abysmal shooting night (27 percent) to his postseason resume, his detractors will surely be out for blood. Though I have little doubt his supporters will still have their shields up. The rub lies somewhere in between but the fact remains that so far he’s just been an extension of my double-meaning headline: DeMar has yet to translate his regular season success into the playoffs. One game is a write-off, two games are a concern, three games calls for action to be taken. Simply put: DeMar needs to wake up.

I recently wrote about how this series would be far different if this club’s supporting cast hadn’t picked up the slack and risen to the occasion. How sustainable that backup can be has yet to be determined, but over a seven-game series (which this battle seems destined to become) there’s going to come a time when lack of production from this team’s go-to option will inevitably lead to this team’s demise. Still, that doesn’t mean that DeRozan couldn’t have been benched in the fourth quarter for a second time. Especially if it meant Norman Powell, who was having a visible impact with his aggressive defense and clutch outside shooting, stayed on the court.

Adding insult to missed opportunity was the fact that Paul George and Monta Ellis failed to be their usual disruptive selves. Which was highlighted by George’s 37% overall shooting and 25% from behind the arc while Ellis managed just seven field goal attempts. The Raptors couldn’t have asked for a better scenario to help take this series by the throat. But that support system will eventually work both ways and the Pacers’ cast of characters finally broke through.

Though I will say this: A clutch and efficient game from George Hill was to be expected but when a career night pops off for Ian Mahinmi (22 points, 10 boards, 64% shooting, overall +20), a player who’s been a complete non-factor through the series’ first three games, the blame goes well beyond questioning Casey’s in-game adjustments and squarely on the shoulders of a disengaged effort level. Forcing Indiana’s second and third options to raise their level of play would usually be a recipe for success, and the encouraging fact that George’s point production has dipped in every single game has only furthered that notion, but that success quickly transforms into disaster when they’re allowed to operate with such low resistance.

Speaking of missed opportunity, how the Raps failed to involve Jonas Valanciunas will forever be questioned if Tuesday night deems unsuccessful. Only seven shots after carrying this squad for the first three games? What made it even worse was Indiana making it a focal point to put as much pressure on the ball-handler as possible — not to mention the fact that for the first time in this series JV wasn’t anywhere near foul trouble. A team that goes 8 for 30 from downtown, commits 19 turnovers, while not even making a half-ass attempt to reap the benefits JV provides in this matchup was extremely hard to stomach.

After the third quarter unfolded, I can only assume that the majority of fans raised their white flags. The defense finally showed up and a push to bring the game within single digits was being made — but that attempt ultimately met head-on with a sputtering and undisciplined offense. All the work they put in to climb back amounted in being down by the same deficit (15) they were at the half. If that wasn’t enough, the moment Patterson was called for his technical foul to start the fourth quarter had to be the final straw. Emotions run high, I get that, but for as under control and productive PP has been in this series, that was foolish.

Lowry’s poor shooting continued (33% and 0-for-5 from behind the arc) and this time around he wasn’t able to counter with his usual across the board contributions. Yes, foul trouble is partly to blame but that doesn’t exactly tell the whole story. K-Low has a knack for committing cheap fouls when he’s struggling so that excuse can only go so far.

Still, with all of the above shedding negative light, the fact that DeMarre Carroll played over 30 minutes yet again has to be viewed as the silver lining. If there was any doubters left, these last 2 games showed why his acquisition was so imperative for this organization. Whether it’s his defense on George, timely 3-point shooting, running the floor, fighting for 50/50 balls, or the ability to exploit matchups at the Four, Carroll has become what he was supposed to be before his injury: A foundational piece that the rest of this team feeds off and the eventual difference in this squad advancing into the second round.

And at least the numerous fans that made the trip to Indiana got to enjoy DMC being the first to have Valanciunas’s back in JV’s scuffle with George. Carroll’s physicality has come as advertised no matter the situation.

In closing:

Not only did the Raps seemingly enter Game 4 a bit overconfident, this fan base (myself included) did as well. But the humbling experience this one will hopefully provide could very well end up being exactly what all parties involved needed the most.

Hopefully I’ll get to use the originally scheduled “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince but for now the moment unfortunately calls for a something different. Something that represents all of Saturday’s miscommunication:

 

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