Raptors Cage

Toronto Raptors prove they’re the better team in Game 3

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Raps Pacers Game Three

The NBA is often considered the most predictable of the four major sports. It’s rare the league sees an upset in its opening playoff rounds. It’s because through seven games, with only eight or nine different players hitting the floor for either side, talent usually prevails in the end. A lower seeded team can sometimes fluke their way to one or two victories. But in the end, the team with the better players is going to come out on top.

This is what we saw last night. For the first time this series, the Toronto Raptors played like the team that won 56 games in the regular season. They took home a 101-85 victory in the Pacers’ hostile territory of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“Tonight out of the total three games, this was a lot closer to Toronto Raptors basketball,” said Patrick Patterson after the game. The scariest part of it all: it wasn’t even the Raptors best basketball, at least offensively.

It’s been widely discussed how Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had struggled through the first two games. Especially in the case of DeRozan, who was throwing up enough bricks to get signed by Gucci Mane, his shooting was causing some to suggest reducing his role for the remainder of the series.

Thursday’s game showed what the Raptors look like when they get even a marginal improvement in the play of the team’s two star players. Lowry ended up with 21 points on 8 of 21 shooting, while DeRozan also finished with 21 points on 7 of 19. Not amazing nights from a shooting perspective, but DeRozan got to the line nine times (compared to six total free throw attempts through the first two games), and Lowry continued facilitating for the team, dishing out eight assists.

“We put in a couple of new sets in shootaround,” said DeRozan post-game. “But I came out aggressive, looking for my shot, understanding, picking, choosing where I was going to shoot from and they went down tonight.”

The two star players were far from their best offensively, yet they were right where Raptors fans are used to seeing them: at the top of the team’s box score. Indiana has received well-earned credit for stifling DeRozan up to this point, but as DeRozan said after Game 1 and 2, he was missing a lot of shots he normally makes. He came out firing in Game 3, nailing four of his first five and showing the doubters he was right all along – those shots were inevitably going to start falling. As the game went on, he began to slip back to the DeRozan we watched in the first few games, but at that point the damage had already been done.


The Raptors came out with more energy, more intensity and more physicality in the game’s opening quarters, opening up a 16-point lead at halftime. Depth was key in building this lead, which at one point in the second quarter had ballooned to 23 points. The first half of the second quarter was where the Raptors made their money.

Indiana coach Frank Vogel inexplicably sent out a lineup sans Paul George, George Hill or Monta Ellis, leaving the 2016 version of Ty Lawson to lead the offence at a critical juncture of the game. It didn’t take long for the Raptors to capitalize, sending out their lethal lineup of Lowry plus four bench players (Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph and Bismack Biyombo). Those few minutes demonstrated the depth of Toronto’s scoring and defensive weapons. It’s not difficult to argue every player in that lineup had a matchup advantage over their Pacer counterpart.

The final element of the Raptors’ offence worth mentioning is the play of DeMarre Carroll, who scored his highest total in months, with a huge 17 points. Since returning from injury, he has looked a step slow and unable to get any elevation on his shot. Game 3 saw his minutes restriction lifted (he played his most minutes since November), as well as his body, as he soared for two dunks and wasn’t afraid to jump-stop and pull-up on drives – not something you do if your knee is hurting. Of course, this is DeMarre Carroll, the guy who was brought in as a defensive stopper, so it logically follows we should talk about defence.


The first half was one of the Raptors’ best defensive performances of the entire season. Every player, even DeRozan, was factoring in on defence by sticking to their man, getting hands in passing lanes and making life difficult for Pacer scorers. Indiana went into halftime shooting just about as well as I do at 33% and had turned the ball over 11 times. DeMarre Carroll looked particularly spry on the defensive end, holding George to 4 of 10 shooting and 0 of 2 from the line.

The third quarter was a bit of a mess. The Raptors were basically trash on the offensive end, but it was defence that kept the Pacers from ever getting closer than 12 points. Carroll was once again integral to holding down Paul George. The Pacers’ superstar finished the third quarter with a grand total of 0 points on 0-4 shooting. Indiana would go on to win the quarter by a measly 5 points, only making the slightest of dents in the Raptors lead.

The fourth quarter saw Toronto build their lead back up to 20 points on the back of 12 points from Lowry. The team cruised to victory, even getting Delon Wright and Norman Powell, who didn’t play to that point, into the game for a few minutes of action. Many will question Dwane Casey‘s decision to sit Powell for most of the game considering the strong defence he played in Game 2. The fact of the matter is that Casey understandably wants to get away from a 10-man rotation in the playoffs, and Powell, who arguably outplayed his competition Terrence Ross, is the odd-man out. Ross’s floor stretching is too valuable to the second unit to afford to give up. It speaks to the depth of the Raptors that a weapon like Powell doesn’t make the cut anymore.

1,000 words into this post and I have yet to mention the play of the Raptor bigs. Through three games, it’s pretty clear the Pacers have no answer for Jonas Valanciunas. Each time the Pacers make an adjustment on him, like going small, he answers by bullying them into offensive rebounds and put-backs. They have no recourse but to either foul him, or send more help to him, leaving other Raptors wide open or opening up lanes for Lowry and DeRozan. Biyombo is doing much of the same, just without the offensive prowess. He’s piling up rebounds and either slamming them home or getting fouled. Even Luis Scola has been decent in limited minutes, though the more of his minutes that go to Patrick Patterson, one of the most versatile players in the series, the better.

JV game 3

Indiana tried just about everything in Game 3. Vogel threw out some surprising lineups as the game went on and the Raptors’ lead built, including going big with Myles Turner at power forward. In every case, the Raptors responded with force, either out rebounding the Indiana bigs, dancing around Indiana defenders not named Paul George and rotating effectively on defence.

Game 3 was proof the Raptors are the better team in this series. While it’s far from over, Paul George has proved Indiana needs him to carry the team with a monstrous performance to steal games in this series. Even his 25 points tonight weren’t enough to stop a blowout. In the end, depth of talent will be the prevailing factor through the next few games.

While it may not have been the best game by Indiana, it also wasn’t the best game by the Raptors. Toronto’s offence went stagnant at many points, and the team’s two leading scorers had an improved, yet inefficient performance. It was depth and defence that won the Raptors this game, as well as 56 games throughout the regular season. Game 3 showed how scary the Raptors are when Lowry and DeRozan show up to play, the supporting cast members do their jobs and the whole team locks in on the defensive end. When those things fall into place, Toronto can hang with any team in the league.


You can follow Matt Jamieson on Twitter @mattjamieson12


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