Lessons Learned: How The Raptors Leveled It

What and how the Raptors adjusted for Game 2

The Pacers upsetting Toronto in Game 1 was the only such occasion among all opening meetings between teams in the first round, and it naturally triggered bigger interest for the upcoming Game 2 than other match-ups, since I kind of predicted these series to be more competitive than your usual 1st vs 8th seed duo.

What made Game 2 even more compelling is the fact how flawed Toronto's first game was — Lowry and DeRozan offensive game was non-existent, Paul George was too much to handle, the Pacers were killer in transition and rotations for the Raptors were all messed up. So I was interested to see, how would Dwane Casey adjust for Game 2 after spending quite some time watching footage, I presume.

Deadly “one-two punch” by Lowry and Valanciunas

The Raptors came storming out of the gate. With Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Scola and Valanciunas as their starting five, the Raptors looked locked in right from the beginning. Lowry was darting through the Pacers' defense like a hot butter knife and dishing alley-up passes to Jonas Valanciunas, who was finishing at the rim with no mercy. The Raptors found themselves on a 17 to 1 run at one point in the first quarter.

During the first and the second quarter JV delivered on both ends on the floor, finishing the half with 19 points (8 of 14) and 10 boards (5 OREB), while the whole team combined for 13 assists. Even though, Lowry dropped only 5 points at the half-time (1 of 6), he was busy torching the Pacers with his deadly dishes to JV, totalling 8 assists midway through the game.

During the first half the Pacers were not able to find any cure in order to stop JV from rolling to the rim. Though, it wasn't without the help of the fact that the Pacers were very preoccupied with shadowing Lowry and DeRozan and preventing either of them from going off.

So Raptors got their offense going early on, which is good for them, because the early lead they built definitely came in handy later on down the streach, when Paul George and Monta Ellis started to make their shots.

Guarding Paul George

Casey started with Carroll on Paul George, the match-up that brought up the matter of how far from his optimal form is Carroll. He was simply too slow to be able to track George as he maneuvered through traffic, losing his assignment and picking up two early personals. In came Powell. Rookie was playing with an impressive energy — harassing George and knocking down a three (which would end up being his only points). Of course he also wasn't able to escape some typical rookie fouls, falling for a pump-fake.

But just as it had happened in Game 1 George changed gears and went off in the second and third quarters, finishing with 28 points and 4 boards, and nobody was going to prevent that. Ellis catching fire at the right time with 15 points on 6 of 12 shooting also helped to cut deficit to 5 by the half-time, after trailing by as much as 18.

With Valanciunas on the bench, rookie Myles Turner was enforcing his authority on offensive end, by scoring quick 4 buckets (8 points) at the end of the first and beginning of second quarter.

The Pacers, though, will have to do better helping out George, because at the moment he's doing it all by himself with just an occasional spark from others, if they are to win this series.

Transition offense by the Pacers

It's no secret that the Pacers this year is one of the fastest playing team in the league — they rank 11th at pace (96.6) and 12th at fast-break points (13.4 points per game). This has been an issue for the Raptors in Games 1 and 2. Fast transition baskets contributed greatly to the Pacers' comeback in Game 2. Every careless play, missed shot and turnover might lead to an easy basket on the other end, especially against Indiana. And this is something Toronto has yet to prove they can deal with.

The Raptors need to make smarter plays and be prepared with transition defense, in order to force Indiana to play in the half-court.

The great struggle of DeRozan

It was genuinely hard to watch how all the frustration in the world was projected to Toronto's star guard's face and stat-sheet for that matter. Two playoff games in he's been averaging just 12 points (11.5 point drop from his regular season average) and shooting 27% from the field (0–5 from three point land).

DeRozan has been eaten alive by Paul George so far. Nothing seems to be going DeRoan's way. In Game 1 he was forcing bad shot after bad shot, failing to finish at the rim and swallowed by George in iso situations. In Game 2 Toronto at least tried to set up a free jumper for DeRozan by setting multiple screens, while he was trying to shed George, but even that resulted in more missed mid-range shots and even greater frustration, even though, in the third quarter for a brief it looked like DeRozan could turn things around, after he made two consecutive jump-shots in his typical manner. It all led to the situation where defense was no longer paying that much attention to DeRozan and was focused more on guarding the paint.

After the third quarter we never saw DeRozan again. And it was for good. Clearly, series won't end without DeRozan having at least a couple of 20+ point games, but the Raptors need to figure this out as soon as possible, draw up some plays for him, instead of asking to create himself.

The real MVP — Toronto's bench

Toronto's second unit (with Lowry in the mix) outscored Indiana's bench 45 to 33, however, good part of those 33 points came in the garbage time, when Toronto had sealed the deal already.

Corry Joseph scored 16 (6–8), Patrick Patterson added 14, 8 of which came in the 2nd quarter, and both T-Ross and Biyombo both chipped in with 6 points. This second unit simultaneously sharing the floor with Lowry and DeRozan has been a killer throughout the regular season and will be a key factor in upcoming games.

Epilogue

Toronto tweaked their defense and exploited their offensive strengths in the form of Valanciunas, their rotations were better and less chaotic, however, sum fundamental flaws still remain — carelessness with the ball, transition defense, DeRozan. Also it wasn't that the Pacers showed a particularly strong game. If they expect to get past the second round, these things have to remedied fast, or else Miami (assuming that they advance) will get in those cracks.

Now I'm kinda curious how will The Pacers respond to JV & Lowry duo. They could start giving a damn for starters.

R.

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