What might now be the most compelling first round playoff series in the league plays its third game tonight in Indiana, as the Raptors head into Bankers Life Fieldhouse looking to take a 2-1 lead against the Pacers and regain home court advantage.
Monday night's win was re-assuring on some levels, as the bench played above and beyond expectations, Kyle Lowry looked like himself again (albeit without the shooting stroke), and the team finally jumped out to a quick start which led to a dominant 27-16 1st quarter lead.
For the success to translate into Indy, the Raps will need to do the following:
Let Jonas Cook
Jonas Valanciunas has arguably been the second best player in this series behind Paul George, and he's become an absolute terror for the Pacers to deal with on the glass and in the pick-and-roll game. Ian Mahinmi, Lavoy Allen and Myles Turner have been no match for JV as he is averaging a monstrous 17.5 points and 17(!!!!) boards in just 26.5 minutes of action in the first two contests. He's impressed the advanced stats crew as well, posting a PER of 33.0, a usage rate of 30.9, and grabbing over 40% and 30% of defensive and offensive boards, respectively.
Although the flailing arms on the glass and in the post hasn't been aesthetically pleasing, Valanciunas has been dominant, and if Ian Mahinmi's back is still ailing, JV should have no problem taking over once again.
Ride with Lowry + The Bench Mob
The lineup of Kyle Lowry along with Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo has been one of the most explosive and productive units in the NBA this season. And that continued in Game 2 as the lineup (with Powell in for Ross) sealed the deal by breaking the game open in the fourth quarter. The two point guard look is an absolute plus, as Joseph and Lowry are fantastic at both facilitating and bail outs at the end of the shot clock if need be. Meanwhile, Patterson has been lights out from three point land and might be the team's most versatile defender. Terrence Ross has channelled his relationship game to on court success. And of course you can't bring any weak shit in the lane if Bismack is around.
Play DeRozan by Ear
The struggles and future of DeRozan's play in the series were broken down by myself, Woodley and Kevin Yeung on yesterday's podcast:
Besides some adjustments to the offensive scheme to try and get him some more open lanes by running him off multiple screens before getting the ball, the Raptors are really stuck between a rock and a hard place with his play. You can either let him try to shoot himself out of the slump, or as Casey did in Game 2, park him on the bench for crunch time as he just doesn't match up well with Paul George.
It appears like the Raps can get away without contributions from DeRozan in this series offensively, but the road test is a different animal than the ACC, so we will see how the team performs in the hostile environment.
What do you think needs to happen for the Raps to take the 2-1 series lead?