You couldn't have asked for a more perfect start to Game 2 if you're a Raptors fan. A combination of thunderous Jonas Valanciunas finishes, Norman Powell hustle plays and suffocating defense quickly cleansed the Raptors system of the nervous energy that hampered them in Game 1. Dwane Casey's early insertion of Patrick Patterson for Luis Scola was the secret ingredient, and Paul George leaving the game with a pair of fouls was the dollop of whipped cream on a near perfect opening 12 minutes for the Raptors that saw them take a 27-16 lead into the second quarter.
Of course the playoffs are never a breeze for this fan base. After the first quarter wrapped, the Raptors played the next two quarters like an NCAA tournament favourite that barely manages to scrape by round-to-round.
Early in that second frame, DeMar DeRozan had trouble picking up calls despite numerous drives into traffic. And George's return in the second after that early exit sparked a run that brought back flashes of Game 1 that the Raptors would have rather kept as repressed memories.
They weathered the storm swirled up by a small Indy lineup that featured Solomon Hill at the four. Valanciunas carried over his first quarter brilliance -- he had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the first half en route to a line of 23 and 15 -- and Patrick Patterson once again exhibited why he is the adhesive that often holds the Raptors together with his typically strong defense and some timely offensive contributions. Despite a continuation of DeRozan & Kyle Lowry's troublesome shooting issues (3-of-18 in the first half), the Raptors held a 53-48 lead at half time.
New half, same tense vibe. Offensive execution wasn't the theme for either team in that third quarter. DeRozan kept forcing his square one-on-one moves into Paul George's round torso, and the non-George Pacers missed a lot of the three point looks that helped Indiana steal game one.
George had 11 of his game-high 24 pts in the 3rd Q but Raptors held rest of Pacers to 7 pts on 1/8 FG & build on their lead. They're up 8— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 19, 2016
The Raptors stopped searching for Valanciunas in the pick-and-roll as well, and if it weren't for Kyle Lowry finding his shooting groove at long last, the third could have cratered Toronto as George yet again morphed into an unstoppable supernova incapable of clanking even the trickiest of shots. An infusion of energy by Cory Joseph, Powell, Bismack Biyombo and Patterson to close the quarter helped the Raptors modestly add to their half time lead. Toronto escaped the third up 74-66.
Finally, the early part of the fourth quarter opened up the stress release valves for every Raptors fan. As it has done all season, the unit featuring Lowry plus four reserves drove, kicked and defended its way to a win-cementing 15-7 run to start the quarter. They weren't even fazed by the presence of Powell in Ross' usual spot -- Ross entered the concussion protocol in the second quarter after experiencing headaches, per Raptors Media Relations.
Casey recognized the issues DeRozan was having, and made the savvy but uncharacteristic decision not to put him back in and risk disrupting Toronto's fourth-quarter mojo. Priority number one for the Raptors over the two off-days before Game 3 needs to be concocting a strategy to get DeRozan going. Toronto probably has the offensive firepower to manage against Indiana when DeRozan is cold -- as we saw Monday night -- but snapping his cold spell is going to be necessary at some point if the Raptors have designs on a serious playoff run.
DeRozan's issues aside, this game cleared up a lot of the concerns that ate at the psyche of Raptors fans over the course of the last 48 hours. Lowry finally flipped into full-on eff you mode in Game 2's deciding fourth quarter, Indiana's complementary players faded into the background they so regularly occupied during the regular season, and the tandem of Powell and DeMarre Carroll (who re-entered the starting five for the first time since returning from injury) showed that the Raptors don't need to rely solely on DeRozan to check George.
The constant fear of and impending disaster will almost certainly creep back into the hearts of Raptors fans in time for Game 3 on Thursday back in Indiana. When that happens, at least fans will have Game 2 and all of its goodness to hold on to tightly like a comforting stress-ball.
How are you feeling after that big Game 2 win?