Have your Pepto Bismol handy for Game 2. Not only is it going to come clutch if there's another puke-inducing performance, but that shit also tastes better than Gatorade. Win-win, kinda.
The Raptors played to the apprehension of the entire fanbase as they ended up as the only high seed/home team in the playoffs to go down in their series opener. I've had almost two whole days to let this loss marinate and rationally look at the Raptors' chances for the rest of the series. It has been difficult.
In the hours immediately following the game, I was in utter disbelief that this was happening again. Toronto lost in the first round as a 4-seed two years ago, as a 3-seed last year, and we were going to complete the trifecta and lose as a 2-seed this year. My mind opted for pessimism, as it often does. Since then, we've seen plenty of well-reasoned arguments and analyses for why you should be worried and why you shouldn't. I won't link to them all here, because I don't want to rehash those topics. You're already worried, and the game is in a few hours.
The reality is this: the Raptors SHOULD be fine. But they should've been fine in Game 1. The problem I have with applying rationality and logic to this Raptors team is that they continue to defy any reasonable sensibilities I have when it comes to the playoffs. Fans have seen this team break the franchise record for wins on three separate occasions. The team has changed, but the core has not. We've gone from 48 to 49 to 56 wins, but haven't seen a playoff win since May 2014, spanning three separate playoff series. Arbitrary endpoints or not, that defies logic.
Do aberrations happen? Sure. Will Paul George go nova from midrange again? Will DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combine to shoot 25 percent again? Will Jonas Valanciunas get caught in foul trouble in the midst of a dominant performance? All of those things are unlikely to happen.
How do we reconcile with the fact that a team this good continues to underperform in the playoffs? We approach this sport with an analytical approach, we trust what the numbers tell us, and we try not to overstate the impact of the numerous, immeasurable intangibles that undoubtedly affect a team's on-court product. Maybe some of our players get tight in the playoffs. Maybe Dwane Casey's rotations speak to his lack of ideas at times. Maybe this situation is a pressure cooker that's not conducive to success.
A playoff series in its entirety is a small sample. And therein lies the Raptors' problem -- they've left themselves considerably less room for error. A slight variance for 4 to 7 games from an 82-game sample of logical results, and suddenly we're staring at a 2-0 deficit in the face again. The Pacers have a blueprint, and the Raptors need to alter their game-plan to counter it. Make no mistake, things could go badly again. Whether that's mental, tactical, or physical, it remains to be seen. Slightly or not, the odds have shifted. That is our reality.
Here's what to look for in Game 2:
Rotations, Rotations, Rotations
The rotations in game 1 were an absolute mess. That 5-minute spell of a rarely-used all-bench unit? Absurd. Patrick Patterson sat for almost the entirety of the third quarter. Terrence Ross got 8 minutes in the fourth quarter after barely playing prior to that. DeRozan rarely saw the court while Paul George sat, and as a result matched up with him every time he was on the court. Here were the Raptors' best units:
Small sample alert, but that makes sense to me. Those are exactly the type of units I would've expected to be effective. So why did they only play 12 minutes cumulatively? Why did the rotation stretch out to 10+? Can we finally just start Patrick Patterson? Let's fix this.
The DeMar Conundrum
While I thought Kyle Lowry was missing shots he usually takes and makes, besides turnovers, I don't think he can or should really change much. DeRozan on the other hand, was all over the place. The Pacers played him to a tee. They let him go one on one against PG, and dared DeMar to make smart decisions. He could either post up or iso on a terrific defender or operate in the pick and roll. If he used a screen to penetrate into the paint, they were willing to help with a lengthy defender at him in the form of Myles Turner or Ian Mahinmi. The result: 5 blocks against, 3 turnovers, and 14 missed shots.
That game plan needs to change. Casey needs to get DeRozan moving in space, off the ball, use cuts, or DeMar's counter-productive in that offence if he's willing to get baited into bad decisions. DeMar can be effective, but he needs to pick his spots much better. Some of that is coaching and some of that is him.
Feed Jonas Valanciunas
Valanciunas almost averaged a rebound per minute. Granted, some of those were on his own missed put-backs, but good God, the Pacers can't contain him. He went 0-7 on put-backs off his own misses, and if he's able to avoid foul trouble, he has a chance to put his stamp on this series. One of the ways to diversify a stymied Raptors offence is run it through JV some more. Their bigs are willing to help on penetrating ball-handlers, and JV should have more than enough room to operate in the pick and roll and can bully the Pacer bigs on post ups.
Valanciunas is tailor-made for this series. The Pacers don't space the floor well generally, and defending stretchy, agile bigs has generally been his achilles heel. He can ice all the pick and rolls he wants, because the Pacers will oblige with midrange jump shots. Trust the process. Let JV cook.
Where to watch: 7 PM EST, TSN National