The Toronto Raptors will start their first seven game series of the 2016 playoffs against the Indiana Pacers.
After a historic season for the Raptors, finishing with the second best record (56-26) in the Eastern Conference, they’ll be playing the seventh seed (45-37) Indiana Pacers. Without a second round playoff appearance since the 2002 playoffs, the Pacers stand in the way of the Raptors trying to get over their postseason hump.
Toronto won’t have to worry about Paul Pierce anymore, after he successfully played the role of ‘villain’ against the Raptors in their last two postseason defeats. Now that he’s across the continent with the Los Angeles Clippers, the Raptors will face new challenges when they go against Paul George and the Indiana Pacers, starting Saturday at 12:30 EST.
Coach Dwane Casey will be looking to take his revamped Raptors squad to new heights this postseason, building more respect across the NBA for “the team north of the border.”
“Evidently someone doesn’t respect us,” Casey said Thursday, in a CBC interview. “We have all these 12:30 p.m. games and they look at us, the team north of the border that plays the early games when the people out west are still asleep. We’ll use that as a little motivation too.”
The Pacers are back in the playoffs after missing the 2015 postseason. Behind coach Frank Vogel they’ll be looking to make their way back to the top of the East, after appearing in two Eastern Conference Finals the years prior. Indiana doesn’t have the core of veterans they used to have in their heyday, making it up to Raptors to stop the young Pacers from exceeding expectations.
Season Series Breakdown: 3-1 Raptors
Game 1: Oct. 28, 2015 Raptors win 106-99
The Toronto Raptors took care of the Indiana Pacers in their season opener, thanks to 20-point showcases by DeMar DeRozan (25), Kyle Lowry (23) and Jonas Valanciunas (21). DeMarre Carroll also made his debut for the Raptors by scoring 14 points and collecting 8 boards, while limiting George to a 17-point performance on 4-17 shooting.
The Raptors were great at using their size in this game, beating the Pacers 50-40 on the glass, and only allowing them to convert on 37.2 per cent of their field goal attempts. The Pacers still played a great team game, with five of their players finishing with more than 15 points. Fortunately for Toronto, the Pacers couldn’t capitalize on their 20 turnovers.
Game 2: Dec. 14, 2015 Raptors lose 106-90
The Pacers once again attacked the Raptors on all fronts in their second matchup, this time with four players scoring more than 15 points, while Rodney Stuckey finished with 10 points and an incredible +42 plus/minus.
The Raptors didn’t have Carroll in this game when they travelled to Indiana, allowing Paul George to do his damage around the perimeter by shooting 4-8 from 3-point distance, for 16 points in under 25 minutes. Offensively, the Raptors couldn’t get in a groove by shooting 36.7 per cent from the field.
Lowry and DeRozan both scored 20 that night, while Terrence Ross joined them as the only other scorer in double-digits with 10 points. A couple of positives for the Raptors is that they were able to win quarters 1 and 3, while also beating the Pacers 45-44 on the glass behind Bismack Biyombo’s 13 boards and two blocks.
Game 3: March 17, 2016 Raptors win 101-94 (OT)
The Raptors’ OT win in their third game against the Pacers wasn’t pretty, with both teams shooting under 40 per cent from the field in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
After losing the 4th quarter to the Pacers, the Raptors rallied back to win the extra-frame 16-9. They finished the game with their season high of 57 rebounds, thanks to Biyombo’s career-best 25 boards. Which is also a Raptors franchise record.
Lowry and DeRozan provided their share of heroics for the Raptors, both scoring 28 points. The Pacers once again had a great team effort, with five players scoring in double-digits, leading to 21 assists compared to Toronto’s 11.
Game 4: April 8, 2016 Raptors win 111-98
Without DeRozan and Lowry in the lineup, the Raptors role-players were able to show how deep of a lineup they have in Toronto. Norman Powell exploded for then a career-high 27 points, while fellow rookie Delon Wright finished with 19.
Cory Joseph did a great job when he filled in for Lowry by going for 18 points, and a season-high nine assists. After the Raptors built a 16-point lead going into the 4th quarter, coach Vogel loaded off all his bench players, leading to 10 Pacers finishing with more than 15 minutes of action.
With the win, the Raptors also marked the fourth time in their season series that they were able to beat the Pacers on the glass.
Lowry had his best year in the NBA this season, averaging career-highs in points (21.2), steals (2.1) and 3-point shooting (38.8 per cent). After receiving some rest before the playoffs, Raptors fans should expect Lowry to be fresh and ready to go.
Last year, he had a horrible performance when John Wall and the Washington Wizards swept the Raptors in the first round. He seemed tired and out of rhythm, averaging 12.3 points on 31.6 per cent shooting, as well as 3 turnovers and 4.5 personal fouls a contest.
If Lowry can’t figure out his stride early in the playoffs, coach Casey will be able to rely on Joseph’s smart play as a floor general. After spending three seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, Joseph has played in 17 more playoff games than Lowry- a huge bonus to come off your bench.
George Hill, the Pacers starting point guard, also had experience with the Spurs before he was traded to Indiana. Having started in 57-68 of his playoff games, its reasonable to say that Hill has the upper-hand against Lowry. In no way does he have more talent, but you won’t have to worry about Hill making careless mistakes when it truly counts.
Fortunately for the Raptors, DeRozan’s 6-foot-7 frame will be a problem for Ellis, who stands at 6-foot-3. The Raptors won’t have to worry about DeRozan wasting too much of his energy on the defensive end of the floor, instead he’ll be able to continue scoring like he’s done all year. In the 2015-16 season, DeRozan averaged 9.8 points more than Ellis, also on better shooting numbers.
DeRozan is also playing in a contract year, so expect him to make some noise that will bring him attention from all around the NBA.
Carroll came back right in time after missing 56 games during the regular season. In the three games he’s played since coming back from knee surgery, he’s looked good enough on the defensive end of the floor to be a starter for the Raptors in the playoffs. His first assignment will be against George, who’s averaging a career-high in points this season with 23.1 a contest.
If Carroll is at the top of his game, he’ll also serve as an extra scoring option for the Raptors. In last year’s playoffs with the Atlanta Hawks, he averaged 14.6 points on 48.6 per cent shooting from the field, and 40.3 per cent from 3-point distance.
If he were to match that productivity, it’s likely that there wouldn’t be one Raptors fan complaining about the 4-year/$60 million contract Masai Ujiri signed Carroll to this off-season.
Luis Scola will be starting in the power forward position for the Raptors, playing against his old squad from last season. At almost 36-years-old, it’s not likely that Scola will play many minutes, especially when he’s scoring 8.7 points a game this season. But his veteran leadership is still a great thing to have when starting games in a playoff atmosphere.
The Pacers’ rookie, Myles Turner, is likely to get the starters job come the playoffs. In the 30 games he’s started this season, he’s averaged 11.5 points, 6.7 boards, and 1.6 blocks. Turner has also shown the ability to produce at a high level on offence, having scored over 20 points on six different occasions this season.
At 29 years old, Mahinmi has played for the Spurs and has won an NBA Championship with the Dallas Mavericks, allowing him to appear in 49 playoff games. He’s had a solid year for the Pacers in the 71 games he’s started, averaging 9.3 points on 58.9 per cent shooting, 7.1 boards and 1.1 blocks a game.
Valanciunas at 23-years-old, may not have as much experience, but is a better player. Since March 1, Valanciunas is averaging 12.9 points on 56.6 per cent shooting, 8.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game, while also playing less than Mahinmi.
The Raptors will have to look out for C.J. Miles, Stuckey, and Jordan Hill, who combined for 29.5 points off the bench. Miles, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard, is the most dangerous threat- having scored 18 or more points on 16 different occasions this season for the Pacers.
The way the Raptors bench has developed this year, they’ll have enough to be able to contain all the aforementioned players. Powell has blossomed into a great player on both ends of the floor, that he’ll be able to take up matchups against Miles, Ellis, and even George if the Pacers try to force switches. With a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Powell will be the go-to defensive stopper for the Raptors off the bench, while also putting up some 3-pointers.
Patrick Patterson and Ross will also play big roles, since both are able to stretch the floor. Ross shot 38.6 per cent from 3-point distance this year, while scoring 15 points or more 15 times this season. Patterson will be used a lot as a scoring option when coach Casey wants to insert Biyombo for the extra defence. Both big men have a defensive rating of 100.6, which is a lot better than Valanciunas (106.1) and Scola (106.7).
Coach Casey has done a great job this year in improving the defence of the Raptors, who are ranked 11th in defensive rating after being 26th in the 2014-15 season. As long as he can continue to have the Raptors focus on that end of the floor, they should be able to take care of the Pacers’ limited offence.
The 2016 playoffs are coach Casey’s last number of games until his contact expires, but Masai Ujiri already came out saying that his job is secure. Without much pressure from management, coach Casey should have an easier time coaching the Raptors this postseason.
“Everyone makes such a big deal, like, ‘Okay, if we don’t make it past the first round, what will happen to Casey?’ Well, coach Casey deserves to be our coach, that’s 100 per cent, and I stand by that,” Ujiri said Wednesday morning in an end-of-the-regular-season media session.
Coach Vogel’s job seems to be secure, especially with a 250-181 regular season record throughout his five-plus years as the head coach. The Pacers will also be looking to rally behind their defence, especially since it’s been in the top 10 in defensive rating for the past four seasons.
Cage’s Keys to The Series
Protect the Glass
The Raptors were able to control the Pacers throughout their season series by beating them on the glass each game.
With the Pacers being a better rebounding team this year statistically, averaging 44.2 boards a game, it’s important the Raptors can take away one of their strengths by simply putting in the necessary hustle. When the Raptors have grabbed 50 or more rebounds this season, they are 11-1.
Valanciunas averages 9.8 boards against the Pacers for his career, and everyone remembers the monstrous 25 rebounds Biyombo was able to grab against them in their matchup on March 17. With the Pacers playing Turner in a starters role, the Raptors bigs should be extra physical on the glass to take advantage of the rookie.
Take Care of the Basketball
The Indiana Pacers are one of the best teams in the league at causing turnovers, forcing their opponents to average 15.8 a game.
Each possession counts in playoff basketball, and the Raptors can’t risk the chance that their careless passing is the reason behind losing this series. Throughout the season, the Raptors have been great at taking care of the basketball, only averaging 13.1 a game, which the fourth lowest in the NBA.
The Raptors will have to work extra hard on creating movement in their half court sets to give Lowry a lot of passing options. Since March 1, he’s been 10th in the league in turnovers per game with 3.3. This won’t be an easy task, especially with Indiana holding the third best defence in the league.
But if the Raptors want to continue playing the second slowest pace in the NBA, they need to understand they won’t have as many opportunities to score, especially with turnovers.
Understand When Is ‘Lowry Time’
‘Lowry Time’ is a joy for any NBA fan, but the Raptors need to make sure that he isn’t pulling the load from beginning to end. If the Raptors rely on him too much, he simply won’t have the energy late in games, and for an eventual deep playoff run.
Lowry hasn’t been the greatest in the first quarter of games this season, only scoring on 37.3 per cent of his field goal attempts. DeRozan is the better scoring option in the opening frame, averaging 6.9 points on 46.4 per cent shooting from the field and 44 per cent shooting from 3-point distance. With his length against Ellis on the Pacers, it’s better that the Raptors get DeRozan in an offensive flow as early as possible.
Lowry is a great facilitator at the beginning of games, which has helped the Raptors win as a team. When he posts 10 or more assists, the Raptors are 7-2 this season. The second half is when Lowry is at his best offensively, averaging 11.1 points on 43.5 per cent shooting from the field.
My prediction: Raptors in 6
All stats for this article are from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com
You can follow Bryan Meler on Twitter @BryanMelo97
We got a few of our writers to give us their individual takes. There might be a little bit of bias.
I’m picking the 6ix to take it in 6ix. That being said, it’s going to be a tight series – no blowouts. Overall, it should be pretty clear that Toronto is the better team. The Raps have more talent, depth and scoring threats. The one thing that worries me about the Pacers is outside shooting. The Raps let opponents shoot 37% from behind the arc this season, which will hopefully tighten up with the return of DeMarre Carroll. Of course, Toronto did still win 56 games giving up that amount, so hopefully it doesn’t matter as much as I fear. When Indiana is on their game, they’re a top-tier defensive team, but their inconsistencies haunted them this year. Let’s hope that continues into the first round.
The Raptors will be hoping that the saying 3rd times the charm holds true. This is one of if not the best chance the franchise has had to make some noise in the post season. The past two series the Raptors were also favorites but had to face tricky opponents. The Pacers have a strong roster of Veterans and a lot of play off experience but the Raptors had their best regular season ever and have been confirmed in the playoffs for a while now. Indiana finished 7th and were not confirmed until earlier this month. The need to win this series is huge not just in order to get to the next round but to not let a great regular season go to waste and break the barrier that has for so long been the first round. The Raptors know how important this series is to the fans and should be able to handle a team they have beaten 3 times already this season. George and the Pacers should be good for two home victories but Toronto shouldn’t lose at home. Raptors in 6.
I think I’ll play the devils advocate here and say Pavers in 7. Don’t get me wrong I love my Raptors and they’ve performed phenomenally over the regular season, but the playoffs are another beast. The Raptors are gonna get hit, and they’re gonna need to hit back. The Pacers have vets and a bonafide superstar with playoff experience in Paul George. The Raptors have been known to drop the ball when it matters the most. With expectations at an all time high, how can I not anticipate the worst. The Pacers have good size in their backcourt should they need to matchup. Their length could make it difficult in spot situations for Lowry and DeRozan to execute with increased pressure. Frank Vogel is a mastermind, so expect him to throw multiple coverages at the Raptors duo. It’s gonna come down to the next man up if the Raptors plan to make it to the second round.
This playoff series scares me, despite the Raptors having all the numbers and odds on their side. Maybe it’s the previous post-season sweep that’s still lingering in my mind. Or maybe the fact that we’re facing a tier 1 superstar in Paul George without having DeMarre Carroll fully healthy, yet. This series is not going to be as easy as everyone thinks; they play a style of basketball that translates well in the playoffs when refs start swallowing the whistle. However, I’ve still got the Raptors winning the series — it’ll take 6-7 games, but I expect them to reach the second round.
While the regular season will go down as the best in franchise history, Raptors fans know all too well of the pain and embarrassment that’s been attributed to the team as a result of our playoff past. Having only one playoff series victory under their belt, Toronto needs to make it past the first round no matter what. For the first team, we have the second seed locked down and finished only a game behind first place. While Indiana has Paul George, their defense cannot be downplayed. While their offense may leave a lot to be desired, it’s their play on the other end of the court that makes the Pacers a tough matchup. However, the boys from the Six are poised and look hungry as ever to make a deep playoff run. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are playing better than ever and the team as a cohesive unit has done a phenomenal job with their consistency. With that being said, Raptors in 5.
While all the above analysis done by Bryan is absolutely fantastic, this series will boil down to the following. The only way the Raptors lose this series is if they don’t play like the Raptors. In other words, the Raps’ worst enemy is themselves. FiveThirtyEight gives them 82% odds to win the series – simply put, the Raptors just need to do what they have been doing all season and this series shouldn’t be a problem. Admittedly, I am more scared than excited for this series, as if the Raptors manage to lose I might stop watching sports altogether. Still, I am confident that the Raptors will win in 5. Paul George will steal a game in Indiana.