The Indiana Pacers’ season has made little sense so far. The oddsmakers had them winning barely over 30 games, so of course they’re the Eastern Conference’s third seed. More recently their breakout star Victor Oladipo has been in an awful shooting slump. He’s shooting just 28% from three-point range in the ten games since the All-Star break, so of course the Pacers are on a hot streak, going 7-3 in that time.
It almost seems reasonable then that the first half of tonight’s Raptors-Pacers tilt was played in bizarro land. The Raptors are 22nd in the league in three-point percentage and have the league’s fourth lowest turnover percentage. So, of course they punted the ball all over the court early on, turning the ball over eight times in the first quarter alone. Of course, they nearly made up for this carelessness by shooting five of seven from three-point range. Of course.
The game was nearly even after one quarter, but what differentiates the Raptors from the pack is their ability to run out their devastating bench lineup to start the second quarter. With Oladipo on the bench to begin the second frame many, understandably, predicted that this unit would pull away for the umpteenth time this year.
The Pacers with Oladipo out there are a legitimately really good team that's cool as hell. But....the bench is gonna annihilate them when Dipo sits— Samosas Malone (@Biyombonesaw) March 15, 2018
Of course, they instead got sonned by Al Jefferson. Jefferson has acted as a third stringer this year, playing behind Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. He was only playing in this game because of a recent injury to Sabonis. Jefferson has, generally speaking, been nearly unplayable since the Pacers signed him to an inexplicable 20+ million dollar contract. He’s been predictably slow defensively and inefficient on the other end.
So, of course he had 15 points on perfect shooting in the first half, pushing around an unusually passive Jakob Poeltl and building what would become an eight-point lead for the Pacers at the half. The bench as a whole was flat, with only Pascal Siakam bringing the high level of energy that has become their trademark. Fred VanVleet, the Raptors leader in net rating was, of course, last on the team in plus-minus at the half.
The third quarter wasn’t quite as weird as the first half, but it certainly had its oddities. The Raptors started the quarter with a barrage of turnovers, adding four more giveaways to their mounting tally in just the first three minutes. Jonas Valanciunas has a career-high true shooting percentage this year and has been one of the league’s best pick and roll finishers, so of course he seemed unable to make a layup to start the second half despite receiving several opportunities.
The Pacers’ lead held mostly steady until the Raptors went to a Serge Ibaka-at-center lineup which has been rarity for them this year. Valanciunas was replaced by an energized Pascal Siakam who led an attack on the Pacers interior, helping the Raptors get the score to within two points to begin the final frame.
Then in the fourth suddenly things were normal once again. The Raptors bench came out energized and recovered the lead for the Raptors off the back of a triplicate of C.J. Miles triples.
SHOOTAH pic.twitter.com/hU3FjB66Fx— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 16, 2018
As the starters re-entered the only anomaly was Delon Wright’s presence in the closing lineup in place of Fred VanVleet, who struggled all game long. The Wright and starters lineup pulled away nonetheless. Kyle Lowry made all the tough hustle plays, pulling down several crucial offensive rebounds. Jonas Valanciunas showed off his improved rim protection, stuffing Victor Oladipo at the rim. DeMar DeRozan made a tough clutch layup, drained a pair of game sealing free throws and then had a pick in the dying seconds of the game that he finished with a dunk. (The hypocrisy!)
Basically, after spending three quarters in nonsense land, the Raptors turned right back into the Raptors. Once that transformation had taken place the gulf in ability between these two teams was made clear. Despite 20 points and 12 rebounds from Al Jefferson and despite 19 turnovers committed, they did away with the Pacers relatively comfortably. The Raptors have now won ten consecutive games, the second longest streak in franchise history. As long as they stay themselves I don’t see this team slowing down.