The Indiana Pacers, through no fault of their own, have featured prominently as bystanders on the list of signature moments of the Raptors season. When the two teams played on December 19, Jonas Valanciunas had only recently injured his thumb. Serge Ibaka was likewise unavailable. The time was ripe for some Pascal Siakam minutes at center, which had to that point been promising but ineffective. Only two days before that game, I had broken down every possession on both ends that featured Siakam at center. He could be effective on the defensive end, forcing tons of turnovers, but the Raptors might struggle in the half-court.
That was the case, and the look broke open the game for the Raptors. In the game, Toronto scored 103.1 points per 100 possessions (29th percentile), but they held Indiana to an even worse scoring rate while forcing a 24.0 percent turnover rate (95th percentile). In 14.6 minutes of Siakam playing center, the Raptors outscored the Pacers by 19 points. Siakam finished with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block. Outrageous.
Toronto’s win against the Pacers on January 6 was also a momentous occasion, but not because of the success of some new-fangled gimmick. No, Toronto’s second win over the Pacers was a highlight because it featured the return of Kyle Lowry to the floor. Despite returning from a back injury, Lowry was peak-Lowry, taking charges, diving after loose balls, dishing dimes, barking at refs, and altogether representing the single biggest reason for the Raptors’ success.
“It’s always a big deal when you’ve got a guy out and you…get me back, and everybody is happy to see you back. That makes you feel back,” said Lowry after the game of his return. “It makes you want to do a lot of things to give more of yourself for the team.”
So the Raptors will once again face the Pacers, this time in Indiana. Both previous contests were spectacular by necessity. Toronto has no such extracurricular motivation coming into this game, as they’re coming into the game red-hot, having won their last two games in definitive fashion. Lowry and Miles have found their shots, and all seems to be well in Raptorland. Indiana is also hot, winners of 11 of their last 14. Look a little closer, though, and their losses have been to Toronto, Boston, and Philadelphia. They’ve generally beaten bad teams and lost to good ones. Their schedule has been fairly soft, and Oladipo’s level of play has been slipping. Regardless, the Pacers defence is always stout, and they will never be an easy victory.
As reported yesterday, the Raptors will continue to rest Leonard, but Nick Nurse is quite confident he’ll return on Friday. Anunoby is still away from the team but is projected to return Friday. Valanciunas remains injured.
The game tips at 7 PM ET on TSN for TV and TSN 1050 for radio. You can read an excellent full preview here from Josh Howe, and it features a fairly deep conversation with Grant Afseth of the Kokomo Tribune.
The Raptors have already ruled out OG Anunoby (personal), Jonas Valanciunas (injury), and Kawhi Leonard (rest). Here’s the probable depth chart.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright
SG: Fred Van Vleet, Norman Powell, Patrick Mccaw
SF: Danny Green, CJ Miles, Malachi Richardson
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe
PG: Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Aaron Holiday
SG: Victor Oladipo, Tyreke Evans, Stephan Hicks
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Doug McDermott, Alize Johnson
PF: Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Leaf
C: Myles Turner, Kyle O’Quinn
Vegas has Toronto as +3, which is interesting. They’ve been great without Kawhi, but they are on a back-to-back, and Indiana is hotter than a pig in the Nevada sun. Over-under is 217, which seems high.