After crapping the bed in both games two and three, I thought the Pacers were down and out for good against a superior Raptors team. They are clearly at a talent defecit, lost homecourt advantage and game one's victory can be largely attributed to Paul George's greatness.
But game three showed a completely different correlation, as Indiana came out all guns blazing en route to a 100-83 victory at home to knot up the series at two games apiece.
So basically, the Indiana Pacers don't make any sense. Right when you think they've given up, they come right back and deliver their best performance of the season. Man, it must be so frustrating to be a Pacers fan...
I mean, before they delivered their best performance of the season, they laid an egg of a game at home in which they could've taken a stranglehold on the series. Even providing this gaffe:
Regardless of whether they make sense or not, the Pacers are now well and truly in this series. They have forced at least another two games and even have the opportunity of a close-out game six at home if they can overcome the Raptors in Toronto.
But can they? Is there actually a chance in hell that the seventh seeded Pacers can knock-off the 56 win Raptors without homecourt advantage? Of course it's a possibility, but is it realistic?
To have a chance, the Pacers have to rely on their highly impressive defense, which has kept the Raptors in check throughout the series so far. How they have done this has been rather straight forward. The Raptors entire offense basically revolves around the ability to get their pair of all-star guards going. However in this best of seven, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have been absolutely awful. Both are shooting cataclysmic percentages (Lowry has the highest of the two at 32%) and are well below their season averages, where they combined for 44 points per game. In four games against the Pacers, the pair is putting up only 25 points per contest. A major drop off to say the least.
The Pacers are managing to hold these two down by placing their best two perimeter defenders on them for as long as possible. Those of course being, George Hill who marks Kyle Lowry and Paul George, who has done a stunning job at making DeRozan's life miserable. Frank Vogel has had his two defensive studs just about match minutes with Toronto's dynamic duo, trying to keep them restricted at all times, with no free buckets. It's a decision that isn't nearly as obvious as one would think either, as it leaves players like Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey out there waffling on the Raptors' small forward, who most of the time has been DeMarre Carroll, who is a brute in comparison.
But clearly, due the Raptors' backcourt's extremely low output, it has worked. I mean, when you have Paul George turning an All-Star into this, how could you not have him guarding him 24/7:
To any aspiring basketball player, just look at the expertise George shows on this. He doesn't bite on the pump fake, stays in front of his man the whole way, leaves him stuck on an island in the corner and forces the turnover. Brilliant.
That type of defense has forced Toronto to get production from other sources. Sources they typically -- and didn't during the regular season -- don't go to. Sources they are now relying on to win them games due to the poor efforts from DeRozan and Lowry. Guys such as Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson have all been tasked with having to keep Dwayne Casey's offense afloat, which shouldn't usually be the case for a 56 win team.
Relying on bench players and usual third or forth options to win you a series against a team led by Paul George is a very, very bad thing. Especially when those same role players have been incredibly inconsistent throughout the series. In their wins, those four players mentioned in the previous paragraphs have averaged 49 points, while in their two loses,they average just 40.5 combined.
That's a big drop off and points exactly to where the Pacers can win the series. Can the Raptors actually win two of the three remaining games while relying on those guys to make shots in critical situations? It's the only way the won both games two and three, without them, Toronto would've been toast. In game two, Jonas Valanciunas had an epic 23 point, 15 rebound performance, as well as Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson scoring in the high teens. In game three, the Raps saw a great scoring output from DeMarre Carroll in the form of 17 high energy points get them over the finish line.
With DeRozan and Lowry being held in check, the Raptors need these guys to step up and there's no way around that.
That's without even considering the adjustments Indiana made to their defense in game four. Frank Vogel brought in Myles Turner to team up with Ian Mahinmi in the frontcourt and as a pair, they destroyed any sort of advantage the Raptors had inside in the first three games, destroying the Raptors inside, 50-26 in terms of points in the paint. Turner's inclusion hasn't been praised by a lot of people, but I think he was excellent. Offensively, sure he wasn't at his best, but defensively he was a thing of beauty. Toronto tested him plenty, targeting him 7 times while he was around the rim, but the Raptors scored just 3 times on those attempts, shooting at just 43 percent, 15 percentage points lower than the average of the Pacers team as a whole for the game. He also guarded smaller matchups around the perimeter particularly well, using his athleticism and quick feet to full effect.
Dwayne Casey's men may even need super-human performances from that foursome, especially if Indiana gets the type of offense they got from game four.
Ian Mahinmi and George Hill had 22 points each in what were very good performances from both. Mahinmi was a beast around the rim, gathering in offensive rebound after rebound and George Hill had the most George Hill-y game of his career, delivering a consistent flow of efficient scoring looks without forcing the issue.
I can hear a lot of you screaming at your screens right now, asking what the difference between the Raptors' supporting cast and the Pacers' supporting cast is. You'll probably be wondering why I just said the Raptors might not be able to win two games while using their supporting cast as primary offensive options, while I praised the Pacers for doing practically the exact same thing in game four.
For me, the difference is Paul George. George is such a threat -- shown by him dropping 61 points over the first pair of games -- that it takes the whole team to defend him. Everyone on the squad has to be engaged defensively, ready to double team and help and on a string at all times, otherwise he will go off on you. This means that the defense often collapses trying to defend him and it means his squad gets open shots and a better flow of offense.
Meanwhile DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry haven't been effective, the Pacers have been able to defend each of them one-on-one and haven't had to put nearly as much attention on those two through four games. Meaning that the rest of the team, including their tertiary options, have been taking tougher shots.
The Pacers have also done a better job of matching up with the Raptors' lineups, in my opinion anyway, from what I have seen. The Raptors haven't been nearly flexible enough, constantly going to two-big lineups involving either Patrick Patterson or Luis Scola at the power forward spot. Both are not good defensive players and the Pacers often see this, going small to force the big guys to run around and defend. The Raptors' unwillingness to adapt to the Pacers' lineups has left them stranded a lot of the time. Removing Luis Scola from the starting lineup is a good first step, he gets exploited far too easily, on either side of the ball. The Pacers don't respect him offensively and pick his defense apart.
Anyway, to answer my question, yes, the Pacers can definitely steal this series from the Raptors. Whether they will, is a whole other question, especially considering the inconsistencies of this team, but it will be interesting to see how the rest of this series plays out.
Like what you see here? Make sure to follow this blog so you never miss a post and while you're at it, follow me on Twitter (@BradWinter12)