Game 2 in this series almost feels like a Game 7 for the Toronto Raptors. Four quarters of bad basketball in Game 1 resulted in a 10 point loss to the Indiana Pacers and the Raptors giving up home court advantage. Without a strong showing and a much needed win tonight, the psychologically frail Toronto team may fall to pieces.
If they don’t come together, a sweep becomes much more probable along with a shake-up of the entire organization.
Bottom line is that the Raptors played like hot garbage on Saturday. A few tweaks on the offensive side of the ball will take pressure off the defense. If the Raps can keep Paul George from getting into his rhythm they’ll put themselves in a much better position to win. The Raptors really struggled last game as they took too long to set up, taking them deep into the shotclock resulting in wild shots leading to fast break opportunities for Indiana. Their 19 turnovers didn’t help either as it resulted in 25 Indiana points. Their nervous play lead to sloppy ball movement but these are things that can be fixed very easily. With that said, lets turn to the Cage’s Key to the game:
- Jonas Valanciunas and his love affair with fouls:
Whenever Jonas Valanciunas was benched the Raptors lost their biggest offensive contributor. JV’s improved skills landed Ian Mahinmi in early foul trouble and when he put his back to the basket, he pushed Myles Turner to the baseline. The Indiana Pacers didn’t have an answer. Sadly, the refs did. JV was called for a few cheap fouls that meant he had to sit. Yes, these were bad fouls but the reason the refs are not to blame is because JV needs to understand he can’t put himself in a position where he can get called. If he is fighting down-low, his hands need to be up and he can’t retaliate to the Pacers’ overly aggressive play. Provided JV can play 35 minutes and get into his rhythm Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan have an option down-low if they get swarmed. Jonas needs to calm down and play smart so he stays on the court.
- Back to Basics:
Toronto looked out of sorts when they had the ball. There wasn’t any play development until the shotclock was low. This forced Toronto out of their planned play and left them chucking up wild, ill advised shots. The Raptors have the tools they need to successfully play very basic basketball. They have a good center in JV, one of the best penetrators in DeRozan and some decent long range options. They need to drive, draw the double team and either throw it in to JV or out to the perimeter for a clean look. The Pacers don’t have the skill set to guard all of the Raptors options.
- Dwane Casey:
Last year I was fundamentally against the fire Dwayne Casey movement. He is a good coach who has some growing up to do…but he has to do it now. The Raptors don’t need anything more than what they have to beat the Pacers. A new practice regime is not necessary, they don’t need another star to materialize off their bench, and they don’t need to take their skills to another level. They have the preparation, the man-power, and the skill set to win this series and maybe more. However, they are nervous. The stats illustrate this: Kyle missed 5 free throws (tied for second most in one game), him and Derozan shot 8 for 32 (these are guys who shoot 43% on a bad night), JV missed 4 tip-ins (that just doesn’t happen to a seven footer with a soft touch).
These aren’t the Raptors we’ve grown to know. It is up to Casey as the coach to calm this team down. He needs to be the steady hand that can help them work through their deep seeded playoff demons. I have full faith he can do this. This is a coach who forced the Dallas Mavericks to watch hockey games during their championship series against the Miami Heat to illustrate what type of defense they should be playing. He placed a boulder at the entrance of the Raptors locker room to teach them how to disrupt another team’s flow. I have faith he has something in his bag of tricks that will get the Raptors to slow it down and play like 2 time division champions and a 50+ win team.
- X-Factor: DeRozan’s nerves
DeRozan has to calm down. In game 1, DeRozan went to the line 6 times (missing two) and was a shadow of his true self. He may not be the superstar Raptors fans hoped for, but he is a legitimate max player and this is the time for him to prove it. He has take this team on his back and be the first option for Kyle Lowry. He has to frustrate the Indiana defense and score at will. If there was a time for DeRozan to prove his worth it is now.