NBA Round One Playoffs Preview: Indiana vs. Toronto

Fans in Toronto are reeling from a huge loss on Saturday night, when the Raptors lost Game 1 to the Pacers. Fearing a first round exit repeating itself, fans and media in Toronto are holding their breath to see if they can get out of this early hole tomorrow night.

Pacers’ Paul George served Toronto the latest postseason pain, the Raps are clutching at straws and looking for answers as they try to stop the bleeding and end their recent cycle of playoff disappointment.

Raptors coach, Dwane Casey thinks his outstanding backcourt will respond and regroup on Monday night when the Raps try to avoid an eighth consecutive postseason defeat, and even up their first-round series with the Pacers in Game 2 at the Air Canada Centre.

George on Saturday night was able to come back from a 2-for-9 shooting performance in the first half and in the second, he hit 10 of 13 attempts and ended up with 33 points overall, as Indiana stole homecourt advantage in a 100-90 win. George hit four 3-pointers to go with six assists, four steals and two blocks in a performance his coach, Frank Vogel called “awesome.”

George was happy to be back after a long injury. He poured his soul into the playoff game, becuase he had missed all but six games last season due to a break to his right leg that he suffered while playing with the national program, Team USA.

“Paul’s shot-making at the end of the game was spectacular,” Vogel told local media. “It’s been a long road for him, in terms of actually getting back on the court, but before his injury, we were in the conference finals.”

The Raptors’ stars could just not stop George. He was able to hit all four shots, including two 3-pointers, despite being guarded closely by top defender DeMarre Carroll. He was 3 for 6 with seven points while DeMar DeRozan was on him. It looked like they had no effect. Carroll only played 19 minutes though, off the bench, since he was only playing his fourth game getting right knee surgery on Jan. 6.

George was not also stellar offensively, he also shone defensively. He was able to limit Toronto’s leading scorer DeRozan to 1-of-7 shooting on 36 touches while the All-Star was directly guarding him. The Pacers improved to 26-1 this season, when holding opponents to 94 points or less.

DeRozan averaged 23.5 points during the regular season, and ended up with 14 on 5-of-19 shooting. His fellow team mate, All-Star guard Kyle Lowry, who was scoring 21.2 per game, was only 3 of 13 for 11 points and had six of the team’s 20 turnovers which were crucial in their loss.

“I don’t think they’re going to shoot like that again,” said Casey, whose club hit just 38 percent and missed 15 of 19 from long range. “As a team, I thought we were tight offensively and that frustration carried over to the defensive end. It wasn’t us. I hadn’t seen us play that tentative on the offensive end all year. That’ll change.”

Obviously, the Raptors don’t have recent history on their side. In 2013-14, after they won the Atlantic Division they lost the last two of a seven-game first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets before the Washington Wizards had swept them in an opening series last year.

Strangely enough, the Raps are coming off a record season with a club-high 56 wins, and getting their third consecutive Atlantic crown. But it doesn’t matter really until they can win a playoff series. They are still trying to end the longest playoff skid in team history. Its only postseason success they had came in a five-game series win over New York way back in 2001.

“This is not last year,” Lowry insisted to local media. “We’re very positive, we’re very confident.”

For Toronto, Cory Joseph was a bright spot off the bench, who finished with 18 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Unfortunately, Jonas Valanciunas fouled out with a team playoff-record of 19 rebounds. The Raptors ended up with a 52-38 advantage on the glass, but to no avail.

The Pacers could still get a lot better defensively in Game 2, since they allowed Toronto to shoot a lot. The Raps had a franchise-record of 1,702 free throws during this regular season. The Pacers let the Raps get to the line 38 times, they were fortunate that the Raptors only made 26 of them. It was the game changer.

Indiana will want to continue its successful 3-point shooting after going only 16 for 55 (29.1 percent) in the last two regular-season matchups. Monta Ellis made three of his four attempts in the opener to help the Pacers go 11 for 21.

“We’re hoping that we’ve settled on something that can be successful for us in the playoffs,” Vogel said. “We’re off to a good start but obviously a lot of work to do still.”

The Raptors were obviously not very good defending the perimeter during the regular season, sincce they ranked 29th in opponent 3-point percentage at 37.3. So if they can clean that up, they should be able to keep the Pacers scoring only in the double digits, and thus have a chance to equalize the score. There has never been a bigger mist-win game for Toronto, so look for them to heed the call.

Our Pick: Raps over Pacers, 101-93