What looked like a schedule loss turned into exactly that last night, as the Toronto Raptors — on the road on a back-to-back — couldn’t get over the hump against the Indiana Pacers, who’d been resting at home since Sunday. Credit to the Pacers, who played their game, withstood losing their best player to an awful injury, and didn’t crumble when the Raptors rallied late.
Cold Start, Long Night
16 points in the first quarter? That’s gonna make it tough to win on the road, no matter what. The Pacers weren’t on fire either — they shot 11-for-29 in the first, compared to the Raptors’ 6-of-24 — but the real difference maker in this game showed itself early, and that was the game in the paint. The Pacers consistently got the ball inside, either with their guards slashing through or Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner pounding the rock. The Pacers had 14 points in the paint (on 19 shots) to the Raptors’ four (on eight shots) in the first.
Again — not great percentages. But the philosophies of the two teams were on full display. And since the Raptors weren’t shooting the deep ball well (2-for-11 from downtown in the first, 12-for-39 in the game), well, advantage Pacers.
The points in the paint were fairly even the rest of the way, but that first quarter made a huge difference.
Keeping the Spice in the Pantry
With their mobile big men, the Pacers appear well-equipped to handle Pascal Siakam, and he struggled last night, unable to get his game going in either the open court or the halfcourt.
One interesting wrinkle was the Kyle Lowry + Siakam high screen and roll the Raptors busted out on several occasions, something I don’t recall seeing much of before... and perhaps we saw why. On the first two occasions, both times Siakam ended up with the rock at the elbow off a Lowry pass — aka, the Serge Ibaka money spot. But it’s not Pascal’s spot; he doesn’t have a jump shot from there. The first, he gave a half-hearted pump fake, then looked to pass, then ended up driving to the rim — and getting swatted by Young. On the second attempt, he again gave a poor head fake, took one dribble, and this time ended up shooting a 12-foot jumper that hit front rim. He simply wasn’t comfortable there.
On two later attempts, Siakam got the ball on the run out of the PnR (one from Fred VanVleet) and took it right to the rim (getting swatted once by Turner and scoring on the other one).
I appreciate the Raptors trying to get Siakam going with this look. But he’s just not a threat to pop and shoot, so it’s not nearly as effective as an Ibaka PnR or even a Valanciunas PnR.
Siakam finished 5-for-16 and with a game-low -12. Oh, and his leaping into the air like a madman on a Myles Turner head fake from 17 feet in the fourth quarter, picking up a foul — and increasing the Raptors’ deficit from two to four with a minute left to go in the game — was simply the cherry on top of his tough night.
C.J. Miles With the (Unfortunate) TSN Turning Point
Late in the third quarter last night, the Raptors were finally showing some spark after getting down 15. They’d cut it to nine, and were actually getting up and down the floor quickly against the Pacers, who had done a great job limiting the Raptors’ runouts on the night.
With 3:12 to go, Norman Powell took a pass on the right wing and skipped it to C.J. Miles in the corner for a wide-open triple... and it rimmed out.
The Raptors got a stop the other way, and on the very next play, Siakam swung the ball from the left wing to Miles in the corner for wide-open triple... and it rimmed out.
Those were fantastic looks from a guy who’d been shooting the ball well the past three games, and either of them would have made a huge difference in momentum going into the fourth quarter. Alas.
Pat McCaw Getting the Call
In the third quarter last night, with the Raptors struggling, Patrick McCaw got the first call off the bench — he, Powell and Miles were the first three subs in, ahead of Delon Wright and Greg Monroe (who didn’t play at all in the second half).
I really liked this move from Nick Nurse. At this point in the game, the Raptors were down 74-59; with the game about to get out of hand, and knowing that Monroe had been ineffective, why not give McCaw some run? Why not see what he has?
Especially at that point in the game, with Lowry on the floor. As we all have seen with our own eyes, and as Blake Murphy pointed out in a piece this week with some numbers supporting it, Lowry makes everyone better.
From within this piece, I think this is a pretty remarkable graphic. Lowry's WOWY impact on teammate net rating the last 4 years: pic.twitter.com/mc4vD8tdDP— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 23, 2019
(Side note: Is there a better stat acronym than WOWY?)
So if you’re looking to try something different, and you’re going to run McCaw out there to see what he’s got, it only make sense to play him with Lowry. And McCaw was good! He didn’t do much in terms of scoring, but he was active on defense and chasing 50-50 balls, he hustled back in transition, and he didn’t turn the ball over. He ended up playing 12.5 minutes in the second half, was 0-for-1 but had five boards, two assists and a steal to finish with a +7.
Kyle Lowry’s One-Man Show (with bonus Kawhi Konspiracy Korner)
Lowry had another great game last night, but for much of the game, it seemed like he was the only Raptor making an impact. He needed help, and although Serge Ibaka came through late, and Norman Powell had a couple big buckets, for far too long this was Lowry’s show. (Add to the list of favourite Lowry plays: In the third, Lowry’s at the line trying to complete a three-point play... misses the free throw, but taps out his own rebound to Siakam, who finds VanVleet in the corner for three. Swish.)
It presents an interesting dichotomy. When Lowry is aggressive, hunting his shot, getting the rim and drawing fouls (along with his usual excellent playmaking) the Raptors look like a much, much better team than when he’s being passive and turning down shots. The question is whether Lowry can be the former when he’s sharing the court with Kawhi Leonard, because for the most part, he’s been the latter... and it hurts the team.
Obviously the gravity Leonard creates has an impact on everyone on the floor, on both sides of the ball. And Lowry’s never really played with a player like Leonard, who can shoot from anywhere and create his own shot off the dribble and outmuscle opponents in the post. So, some hesitation on Lowry’s part to take away from that isn’t that unusual.
But here’s where Kawhi Konspiracy Korner comes into play... could Lowry be intentionally sabotaging the minutes when he and Leonard share the floor? I’ve got my tinfoil hat on now, and the answer, clearly, is yes. He’s still pissed off about the trade. He’s giving Masai Ujiri and the Raptors organization the middle finger by saying “oh, you traded my guy for this chump who you think is better, eh? Well fine, if he’s that good, he can just go and win games by himself, he doesn’t need my help.”
Kawhi Leonard’s presence is making Kyle Lowry sabotage this Raptors season. You heard it here first.
So, a good fight in the second half, but what are you gonna do against Thad Young, Raptor Killer? The man cannot be beaten. Rough start to the road trip, but the Raptors should have Kawhi Leonard back on Friday night, as they face off against the red-hot James Harden and the Houston Rockets. Should be a fun one!