All encouraging progress made by the Toronto Raptors in Games 2 and 3 of their opening-round series against the Indiana Pacers went out the window in Game 4, and all the demons of playoffs past have once again come roaring back to haunt them.
Let's break down the many things that went wrong.
To Live and Die by DeMar DeRozan
There are lots of issues you could point to over the two losses in this series as problems for the Raptors, but one thing that has stuck out like a sore thumb over all games -- wins and losses alike -- has been the absolutely horrendous play of one DeMar DeRozan.
Over four games, DeRozan is averaging 13.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.5 steals in 34.0 minutes per game. Decent numbers for a role player, disappointing numbers from your supposed All-Star, and absolutely horrendous numbers when you dig down beyond the raw counting stats.
He's shooting 29.6% from the field and has missed all nine of his three-point attempts. That wouldn't be so damning, only he's leading the team in shot attempts at 71 over four games for an average of 17.8 shots per contest.
He's gotten to the line only 15 times this series, including two games that he didn't even attempt a single free throw (which never happened once during the regular season). For context, he averaged 8.4 free throw attempts per game this year and there were six different instances when he shot 15 or more free throws in a single game, including opening night against these very same Pacers.
Call it the refs swallowing their whistles all you like, but DeRozan's shot selection has moved further and further away from the basket and has given them no reason to blow.
|% of FGA by Distance
A big part of the story is obviously that Paul George is doing a fantastic job on DeRozan, but DeMar has done a terrible job of adjusting to the pressure and continues to shoot himself and his team out of games.
The Raptors have a Net Rating (points scored minus points allowed per 100 possessions) of -12.0 in DeMar's 136 minutes of floor time this series, compared to a 18.3 in his 56 minutes on the bench. That's a 30.3 point swing per 100 possessions when the team's supposed star is on the floor compared to when he's on the bench. That is a ridiculous number.
Honestly, how can you expect to win a series when your team's leader in Usage Rate (29.2%) has a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 3.9 and accumulates Win Shares (WS) at a rate of -0.127 per 48 minutes?
I just don't know anymore.
Luis Scola, Veteran Presence
This isn't meant to be a player or coach bashing column, but one can't help but ask: what is the point of playing (let alone starting) Luis Scola in this series?
He's averaging 2.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and basically nothing else in 13.8 minutes per contest, while shooting 21.4% from the field, 11.1% from deep (on 2.3 attempts per contest, no less), and 33.3% from the charity stripe.
If that's supposed to be "veteran presence", we don't need it anymore.
The starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Scola, and Jonas Valanciunas has a Net Rating of -8.5 in 35 minutes this series, while the exact same lineup with Patrick Patterson in place of Scola has a Net Rating of 31.1 in 16 minutes. Those are small sample sizes, sure, but this isn't rocket science.
Yes, someone has to fill those minutes, but Norman Powell and Terrence Ross are only averaging a little over 13 minutes per game and DeMarre Carroll can play the four.
This rotation can be tightened up. No excuses.
Turnovers Are Bad
Getting away from the individual problems and focusing on things more from a team level, turnovers were a big problem in Game 4. The Raptors turned the ball over 17 times, leading to 25 Pacer points. Meanwhile, the Pacers turned the ball over 12 times, leading to a mere 13 points for the Raptors.
The Pacers outscored the Raptors 50-26 in the paint. In the three previous games, the Raptors held a 124-84 edge in that department. That obviously has to change.
Running Through the 6 with My Shooting Woes
The Raptors shot 36.5% from the field, 8-for-30 (26.7%) from long range, and missed nine of their 30 free throw attempts (70.0%), while the Pacers shot 47.1% from the field, 37.5% (6-for-16) from deep, and 77.8% (14-for-18) from the charity stripe.
Team A never beats Team B in that scenario.
Hats off to the Pacers for their smothering defense and shame on the Raptors for trying to chuck their way back into the game with threes when they got down and for not hitting their free throws.