Five thoughts on Game 22: Raptors 120, Pacers 115

Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors, Dec 1

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors winning their third straight game, an entertaining—if at times frustrating—affair against the Indiana Pacers.

The first quarter is the new third quarter

You might walk away from last night’s game thinking, oh, the Raptors were better in the third quarter at least! And they were! But all the same problems that plagued the starters in recent third quarters plagued them in the first quarter last night. The Pacers went on a 14-0 run at one point, and it was the same lackadaisical play from the starters that fueled it. Dwane Casey went to the bench, bringing in Jakob Poeltl, then CJ Miles, then Pascal Siakam… the run continued. Until Fred VanVleet came in.

I’m eating all the crow on Fred VanVleet

He’s been awesome. Your traditional stats don’t tell the whole story; he’s averaging 5.8 points, 1.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists on the season. But he leads the league in Net Rating at 20.4, which indicates the Raptors outscore their opponents by 20.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. Pretty good! I was tough on FVV to start the year but he’s turned it around completely, and has become the stabilizing force for the team off the bench. For more, check out Blake Murphy and Eric Koreen for their recent takes on Fred VanVleet.

Victor Oladipo went off on the Raps… but guess who slowed down in the fourth?

Oladipo is finally showing everyone that the potential he flashed in college is for real. (He was clearly wasted on the Russell Westbrook Thunder last year.) He’s averaging 23-5-4 on 48% shooting (43% from three) and has led the Pacers to their surprising early start (12-11 after last night). He looked unstoppable last night, torching the Raps for 20 in the first half on 9-12 shooting. He added 11 more in the third but was finally slowed in the fourth (he had five points on 0-4 shooting, 5-6 from the line); guess who guarded him for stretches in that fourth? Yep, Fred VanVleet.

Sometimes it’s nice to put teams away, but drama is fun too

Even though I never felt the Raptors were in danger in this one, the Pacers managed to keep it interesting down the stretch, getting to within five with two minutes left. A poor stretch by Serge Ibaka—a missed jumper and two bobbled balls—gave the Pacers hope, but the Raps closed it out on the free throw line. On the one hand, it’s more fun to watch that than say, a blowout like the Hawks win; but on the other, you’d like the Raps to play a little more evenly in the final minutes.

This an important stretch for the Raptors

Their next eight games are against opponents with sub.-500 records, including 2 each against Phoenix and Sacramento. This is a great opportunity for the Raptors to both make a move in the standings and fix some of their nagging problems (namely, the inconsistent play of the starting unit). Five of those games are on the road, though, including a 4-game west coast swing. I’d really like to see a 7-1 record coming out of it!

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Next up for the Raptors—after a nice three-day rest first— it’s our old friend Jay Triano (former Raptors and team Canada coach) and the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night!

Five thoughts on Game 18: Pacers 107, Raptors 104

Toronto Raptors at Indiana Pacers Nov 24

A few observations from the Toronto Raptors loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the Raptors’ second in a row on this three game road trip:

It was another game of runs early.

The Raptors started out 5-0, off of a Kyle Lowry three and a Serge Ibaka steal and dunk. The Pacers then went on a 12-0 run and it looked like this was gonna be a long night. But the Raps then went 7-0… before giving up a 13-0 run, while looking like the same team that rolled over to the Knicks in the third quarter on Wednesday. So the Raptors naturally decided to end the quarter on a 13-4 run. And Fred VanVleet kept it going with a little 6-2 run of his own to tie it at the start of the second.

Third quarters are becoming a problem

That’s two straight games the Raptors have had double-digit leads at halftime, only to give it up in the third and enter the fourth trailing. On this night, the third quarter certainly wasn’t as bad as Wednesday—the Raptors only lost by 11, not by 31—but still. It’s a little concerning that your starters—ostensibly, your best unit—can’t hold a 10-point lead.

Casey did some experimenting tonight

Some of this was due to CJ Miles absence (his wife delivered their first child on Thursday night) and Delon Wright’s injury, but there were a couple odd sub patterns in this game. DeMar DeRozan got a longer run with the bench at the end of the first quarter, and both he and Kyle played 39+ minutes—not ideal on the first night of a back-to-back. After being the first centre off the bench in recent games, Lucas Nogueira was behind Jakob Poeltl on this night—and he only played 2 minutes. Most notably, though, was Jonas Valanciunas starting the second half on the bench, with Pascal Siakam inserted into the starting lineup. This is a move that Raptors Twitterarti have been asking for; the thinking being, Serge Ibaka and JV can’t play together and Serge is better served playing centre. The stats back it up; the Raptors give up 113 points per 100 possessions with Serge and JV on the floor together, but are plus-10 when it’s Serge and Pascal. But it didn’t work on this night, as the Raptors squandered their lead with Serge and Pascal on the floor.

I honestly didn’t even know Lance Stephenson was still in the league

I was shocked when he got into the game; I assumed he’d played himself out of the league by now. Naturally he made me pay for my foolishness by catching fire in the second half and all but sealing the game: he went 6-7, 3-3 from deep and had 7 rebounds in 15 second-half minutes. He also committed two egregious fouls on DeMar DeRozan that weren’t called, that might have swung the game back in the Raps favor. I’ll let it slide, since I suspect Pacers fans are still smarting from the non-call that DeRozan got away with in game 7 against the Pacers two years ago.

This was not a good DeMar night

Aside from getting bullied by Stephenson and softballing the potential winning layup (there may have been contact, but come on DeMar—you gotta take it strong there), DeRozan only shot 6-16, only shot 2 free throws, and had 3 rebounds and 2 assists (and 4 turnovers) in 39 minutes. His backcourt partner picked it up with a near-triple double (24-9-10, include 5-9 from deep) but without CJ and Delon, the Raptors really need DeMar to be his usual self (or better) to win. 13 points (and lackluster defense) isn’t going to cut it.

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The Raptors need a strong performance in Atlanta tonight to salvage this trip. They’ve already allowed Cleveland and Detroit to surpass them in the standings (I know it’s way to early to scoreboard watch, but I can’t help it) and need to get back on the winning side of things!

Zach Lowe channels The Wonder Years

Zach Lowe, on the Indiana Pacers’ new jerseys:

The softer blue-on-yellow version, which includes no white or highlighting, reminds of those all-gray uniforms Kevin Arnold and Paul Pfeiffer wore to gym class.

Zach’s the best NBA writer around. His ability to combine hilarious and obscure references with legit basketball insight (almost always  backed up by video examples) is why.

Check out his annual League Pass rankings for more of the former, and read him throughout the season for more of the latter.