It's been 356 days since the Washington Wizards completed their sweep of the Toronto Raptors. We all knew that Raptor team was flawed, but the way in which the exit happened, once again at the hands of a Paul Pierce-led crew, made the fans feel like:
It would be easy to dwell on that feeling. Many have, all season long. I've talked to friends and acquaintances who are nervous for this series with Indiana, not really because of the Pacers, but just because we've been here twice before. It doesn't matter to them that this is the best Raptors team in history, that the defense is far stronger this year, that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are better than ever before, that the emergence of Norman Powell has given the team a boost they've rarely received from a late draft pick or that DeMarre Carroll has finally made his return, just in time to help guard Paul George, one of the guys he's best suited to defend.
They know all that, but they don't care. They just want to win.
I can't blame them.
Here are your keys to the game.
1. Stay Cool
I understand the nerves. Game 1 has not been kind to Raptors fans. But it's important that we, the fans, maintain our swagger. We don't want to be Jordan Spieth at the 12th hole of the Masters (golf!), gripping that club too tight in the big moment. We don't want to be the people spouting ultra-negative nonsense just so that we can say 'I told you so' later on. We don't want to act like Leafs fans, essentially. There are more important things than being right. This Raptors team has done everything we could have wanted (so far) in response to last seasons defeat. Lets give them the unconditional support they've earned. More than in any other sport, home court matters in the NBA.
That's from Game 1 of the regular season, versus these Pacers.
2. Take Care of the Rock
In our variety of previews and content leading up to the series, I'm sure it's been said before: Indiana were one of the best in the league at scoring points off turnovers this season (18.5). They also finished with the third ranked defense, behind only the Spurs and Hawks. It was a simple system that works to patch their holes on offense. They like to defend hard, generate turnovers and score before the other team gets set. Unfortunately for Indiana, Toronto finished fourth in the NBA at turnovers per game (13.1) and allows the third lowest opponent points of those turnovers (14.2). If the Raps hang onto the ball, they should be able to assert their will and stifle a valuable part of the Pacers game plan.
3. Ours is Bigger Than Theirs
When you hash things out, it really comes down to this: both teams are elite on one side of the ball, and not as good on the other. The Pacers have the third ranked defense in the league, while Toronto finished with the fifth ranked offense, per 100 possessions. Many think that Toronto's offense versus Indiana's defense might be the crux of the series, and while that match-up is certainly important, to me, it's a toss up. I think the real difference is this: the Raptors finished with the 11th ranked defense, which is decent, if not elite. They really struggle to defend the long ball, giving up the second worst percentage in the NBA. Indiana, however, has just the 24th ranked offense, the worst of any team in the playoffs. While Paul George is an excellent player, he's struggled against Toronto this season, shooting just 30.8% from the floor and 26.8% from three. If Toronto can keep the clamps on him, this Pacers team is going to struggle to score, even if guys like CJ Miles and George Hill can get it going from three.
It's time, Raptors fans. In about ten days, I look forward to seeing Kyle Lowry do this:
Lets get it.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet, SN1 and ESPN at 12:30pm EST (get over it).