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Post-Game 2 Breakdown: The Raptors improved, but what now?

What were the biggest improvements for the Raptors in Game 2?

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

After a heartbreaking 100-90 loss to the Indiana Pacers in Game 1, the Toronto Raptors came back strong in Game 2 with a more-convincing-than-the-score-suggests 98-87 win.

The Raptors' Game 1 loss could largely be attributed to the total disappearances of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who shot 5-for-19 and 3-for-13 from the floor, respectively, while going a combined 1-for-10 from three-point range and 8-for-15 from the free throw line.

One would think that a bounce-back win for the Raptors in Game 2 would mean that DeMar and/or Kyle got it going, but they finished an equally bad 5-for-18 and 4-for-13 from the field, respectively, a combined 0-for-7 from long range, and DeRozan didn't even shoot a single free throw for the first time this year (although Lowry did go 10-for-10 from the charity stripe).

The team's stars going from shooting 25.0% from the field to 29.0% certainly wasn't enough to win the game for the Raptors. Lowry found other ways to contribute (seven rebounds, nine assists, tons of hustle), but DeRozan was flat out horrible for the second game in a row -- look no further than his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 1.8 on the series for proof of that.

So, if the stars that have been carrying the team all year weren't the reason for the Game 2 turnaround, what was?

Improved Rotations

In Game 1, Dwane Casey's rotations were practically unrecognizable compared to his regular season tendencies. The second most-used lineup in the first game was an all-bench unit that consisted of Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, and Bismack Biyombo.

That lineup played 5.5 minutes together and registered a -1.7 Net Rating (points scored minus points allowed per 100 possessions) in Game 1, while the team's previously successful Lowry-plus-bench and DeRozan-plus-bench units saw only roughly five minutes combined.

In Game 2, the team's second most-used lineup was the killer combination of Lowry, Joseph, Norman Powell, Patterson, and Biyombo, which posted a 57.7 Net Rating in nearly six minutes of action (these samples are far too small to put too much stock into Net Rating, but you get the picture).

Yes, Casey's hand was forced a bit by DeMarre Carroll's foul trouble and Terrence Ross' head injury, but the lineups and minute allocations felt tighter and more precisely chosen to matchup with the Pacers this time around than they did in the first game.

Bench Contributions

The Raptors' depth is supposed to be one of their biggest advantages in this series, but in Game 1, every bench player but Patrick Patterson (+1) had a negative plus-minus.

If Toronto and Indiana have their starting lineups draw about as even as they have in this series, the Raptors will have to get big contributions from their bench players if they hope to get the opening round monkey off their back, particularly at times when Paul George is on the bench to rest.

In Game 2, Patrick Patterson and Norman Powell each came off the bench to play big minutes for Toronto, and both were a +21 during their time on the floor. Cory Joseph has been huge in both games, averaging 17.0 points and shooting 78.6% from the field, 50.0% from three-point range, and 91.7% from the charity stripe.

Guarding the Three-Point Line

In Game 1, the Pacers shot a blistering 11-for-21 from three-point range, but were held to 4-for-20 in Game 2. The Raptors haven't shot well this series (40.9% from the field and 24.3% from three), but reducing the damage that the Pacers can do from long range will make up for that.

The Big Lithuanian

This has nothing to do with adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2 (since he was great in both), but Jonas Valanciunas is having a breakout against the Pacers, and that's worth highlighting. He's averaging 17.5 points, 17.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 26.1 minutes per contest, while shooting 43.8% from the floor and 87.5% from the free throw line. His per-36 numbers of 24.2 points, 23.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks are bloody monstrous.

He's had a usage rate of 30.9% (up a full 10.0% from his career-high season mark of 20.9%), while grabbing 32.4% of available offensive rebounds and 42.1% of available defensive rebounds. His PER of 33.0 and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (WS/48) rate of .320 both lead the Raptors through two games.

Keep eatin', big fella.