The Raptors face off against the Pacers for the second time in a week tonight. It’s the second game of a three-game home-stand sandwiched between seven road games. Toronto is coming off a 126-113 win against Charlotte on Wednesday, a game in which they led the entire contest, but once again watched a double-digit lead vaporize in the third quarter.
Indiana, on the other hand, has lost two of three since their win against Toronto last Friday and will try to snap a seven-game regular season losing streak at the ACC dating back to 2013.
Here are tonight’s game details and some things to watch for throughout.
Where to Watch
TSN1/4 7:30 EST
Raptors - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Pacers – Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner
Raptors – Lucas Noguiera (strained calf) Delon Wright (shoulder - indefinite)
Pacers – Myles Turner (knee soreness – questionable)
The Third Quarter Start
We are all aware of the problem by now. What started out as an annoying itch is quickly becoming a blistering rash.
Despite winning 8 of their last 11 games, Casey was irate after Wednesday’s win against the Hornets because of yet another third-quarter meltdown — something that is quickly becoming a hallmark of the team. While the Raptors have been lucky to enjoy as many wins as they have during this 11 game stretch, the problem needs to be addressed if they have any hope of advancing in the playoffs at season’s end.
They have a chance to start a more successful trend on Friday.
The Pacers head into the contest as the most accurate three-point shooting team in the league, meaning they cannot be allowed any easy looks from deep. With shooters like Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic, Indiana is not the team you can allow any room to wiggle when holding onto a lead — something they proved last week when they proceeded to outscore Toronto 31-20 following halftime.
The Return of Sir Lance-a-lot
This will be the first time Lance Stephenson has been to Toronto since he initially crawled under the collective skin of the Raptors last spring. It should be interesting. Even though he plays the fool with his trolling endeavours, Stephenson is well aware of how the people at the ACC will feel about him Friday night.
As a group, the Raptors need to take away his ability to make plays by pressing Lance the second he steps on the court and keeping him from getting any sort of rhythm established. When he gets rolling downhill, we saw last week that he can rack up game-winning plays very quick. Have faith that the defensively adept bench unit won’t make the same mistake twice and allow Stephenson a repeat showing from their first matchup.
Stephenson knows his role on the team, and he’s living up to every ounce of hope the team had when resigning him late last season as their instigator. With that role, he steps up for big challenges, such as games against a conference powerhouse, like Toronto.
Any other time, he’s a below average player. He’s been bad defensively and even worse on offense this year. He can’t shoot, yet demolished the Raptors by making 4-of-4 from deep and 7-of-9 overall a week ago. He played mind games against a young bench unit, and they need to respond by establishing dominance early.
It’s A Three-Point Shooting Contest
In their seven losses, Toronto has allowed teams to shoot 40% from deep against them, compared to just 34% in their 13 wins. It should come as no surprise then to learn that Indiana shot 42% from deep last Friday. Toronto proved they can execute a defensive gameplan two weeks ago when they held Kristaps Porzingis to 13 points on 3-of-11 shooting. They need to do the same here, but on the perimeter — and they have more than enough tools to succeed.
For as wishy-washy as Ibaka has been on defense this year, he’s been pretty successful against 3-point shooting bigs. If Casey learned anything from last week’s matchup, it’s that Valanciunas isn’t the guy to put on Myles Turner anymore. Ibaka should see a lot of time defending Turner (assuming he plays) and has a reasonable chance to limit the Pacers’ big in that role.
So how do the Raps limit guys like Bojan Bogdanovic who lit Toronto up for 19 points last week? It’s simple: OG Anunoby has to be better. He was tied with Valanciunas last week for worst net rating on the team at -20 in 27 minutes. Part of the blame is on Casey for not pulling him out of the game, but most is on the rookie. The key word there is rookie — it’s a long year and he’s going to learn a lot of lessons. If he starts making the same mistake time and again, then we can panic.
Bogdanovic is shooting a ridiculous 45% from three this year, so the collective crew at small forwards will have their hands full defending the sharpshooter. I expect to see Pascal Siakam get some minutes guarding Bogdanovic if he gets hot, but Casey should trust Powell and Anunoby to handle the load throughout the game.