The Toronto Raptors will play their most important game in franchise history, when they go against the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 at 8:00 p.m. EST.
For the third straight postseason, the Raptors will try to advance to the second round of the playoffs after being the higher seed. They haven’t advanced since 2001, when they were able to win a five game series against the New York Knicks. The Raptors were ahead 3-2 in this series against the Pacers, making a loss tonight even worse for the franchise.
Both teams expect all their players to play tonight, when they enter a do-or-die Game 7 in the Air Canada Centre.
Cage’s Keys to the Game
Contain the 3-Ball
The Indiana Pacers have shot more than 15 3-pointers in each of their past six games against the Raptors. When they’re hitting more than 35 per cent of their attempts from distance, they’re 3-1. The only loss coming from the Raptors miraculous Game 5 comeback.
A big reason why the Raptors were able to erase that 13-point 4th quarter deficit in Game 5 was because of their effort of taking away the 3-ball. In the first 3 quarters, the Pacers went 12-23 from distance, but in the 4th they were only 1-6.
The Raptors can’t even dare to give the Pacers any open looks from 3, with five of their players shooting over 35 per cent. In wins, those five Pacers are all shooting over 40 per cent, which includes Paul George (42.9 3P%), George Hill (44.4 3P%) and Monta Ellis (45.5 3P%).
Use Jonas Valanciunas
The Pacers don’t have an answer for Jonas Valanciunas, and Dwane Casey hasn’t figured that out yet.
In the last six games he’s been averaging 14.2 points on only 10.7 shots from the field, which has only been possible because of his 51.6 per cent shooting from the field. The Raptors should be giving him more looks, especially since he’s taking 7 less than shots than DeRozan, who’s shooting 32.1 per cent, and 4 less than Lowry who’s at 31 per cent shooting from the field.
If the Raptors are in a late game situation where they require a basket, Valanciunas should be the first option. Which requires him getting into an offensive flow, early in the game. The Pacers don’t have anyone that can truly guard him, especially with Ian Mahinmi experiencing back problems before Game 6.
The last thing any Raptors fan wants to see, is another play where Lowry drives to the rim to put up a horrible shot, and have an ending like in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets in 2014.
Limit the Turnovers
Another reason the Raptors were able to complete their Game 5 comeback, was because of their ability to take care of the basketball. In the first 3 minutes of the game, they gave up 4 turnovers. The rest of the way, they only gave up 3.
When the Raptors have won games this series, they’ve averaged 10.7 turnovers a game. Which is a lot better compared to the 18.7 they give up in their losses. If the Raptors continue to shoot 32.2 per cent from the field, they’ll need to make sure they get all the possible chances to score.
The Pacers were also one of the best teams this season at forcing turnovers, making their opponents average 15.8 of them a game. By doing so, they’ve been able to create a lot of transition opportunities, especially 3-pointers- which have already cost the Raptors this series.
X-Factor: Norman Powell
It seems like whenever something great happens in this series for the Raptors, Norman Powell is on the floor.
Toronto has tied it all up! https://t.co/ICHa9QTFkm
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 27, 2016
HIs defence on George has been nothing short of breathtaking, especially when you considering Powell is only a rookie. Of all the Raptors players that play over 15 minutes, he also holds the best defensive rating (95.1) and offensive rating (105.3)
DeMarre Carroll has also been solid this series, and there should be no reason for him to taken off the floor. But if there is any Raptor player that’s unable to make their shots, Powell should be the first one of the best bench because of his overall effectiveness. He can defend multiple positions and give George different looks, which is important considering the Pacers’ superstar is averaging 27.5 points a game.
All stats for this article are from NBA.com
You can follow Bryan Meler on Twitter @BryanMelo97