One of the comical things about last night’s comeback in Toronto was always the idea that in just over 24 hours the Raptors would have to take the court again in a different city. The NBA world is cruel, so when it looked like the Raptors were about to fold it was completely understandable. Of course, instead of doing that, they decided to give it their all, and now we have to consider what tonight’s game against the Pacers in Indiana will look like.
That’s a roundabout way of saying: the Raps are probably really tired. Toronto currently has ten healthy full-time players (plus their two 2-way guys), and is coming off a 30-point comeback victory that required the application of a full-court press. These are the things that wipe out teams on the second night of a back-to-back. Factor in the notion that this is the prelude to Toronto’s starring moment on Christmas Day and it’s easy to see how things could get a little phoned-in on the night.
The Pacers, for their part, continue to be a solid team. Not as good as they could be in the absence of Victor Oladipo, but with enough talent — in Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis in particular — to make things tough for most opponents. While they’re not often mentioned in the same breath as the Sixers, Bucks, Heat, Celtics, and, yes, Raptors, they’re a dangerous team.
So can the Raptors will their way to a sixth straight win or will the Pacers prove to be just a bit too much? Here are your game details and some things to watch for.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One at 7pm EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka
Indiana — Aaron Holiday, Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner
Toronto — Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, Dewan Hernandez — out, Stanley Johnson — doubtful
Indiana — Victor Oladipo, Jeremy Lamb, Maz Mitrou-Long — out
What’s Left In The Tank?
We know what happened. Last night against the Mavericks, the Raptors gave themselves a few minutes to see if they could right the ship after being down by as many as 30 points. To do so they relied on two things: the absolute mastery of Kyle Lowry, and an insane full-court press that most NBA teams would never even think to try for longer than, say, a minute.
The good news: both things worked. Lowry played out of his mind for 41 minutes and the press — anchored by the long limbs and insane energy of Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Malcolm Miller — pressured the Mavs into enough mistakes and misses to turn the tide in Toronto’s favour. But here’s a reason why most teams don’t employ a full-court press; it takes a lot out of both the team it’s being applied to and the applier. With the Raptors already down to ten men, it’ll be worth noting who gets minutes tonight, and how they look when they’re on the floor. (On the brightside: because the starters — except Lowry — didn’t play much beyond the third quarter, they’re still fresh!)
For me, Brogdon occupies a very specific space in the NBA, one that is to be both feared and respected. Unlike those players in the league who are annoying because they’re bad in most other contexts (random Raptor killers, for example), and unlike the more fearsome players in the league (your LeBrons, and Stephs, for example), a player like Brogdon flies under the radar.
But then, when a game gets tight, Brogdon is ready to make the big play on either side of the ball. He’s a gamer, a player you always have to keep an eye on. It’s not nothing that Brogdon was the guy I most feared in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals showdown. (The other really scary guy in the playoffs: Jimmy Butler, another legendary gamer.) He’s one of those players I would most love to have on the Raptors for all the things he does — both big and little — to help teams win games. Toronto has at least one of those guys (Lowry), so tonight’s game could very well come down to who plays better between the two of them, and who makes more of those necessary plays than the other.
Maybe Let’s Just Take It Easy
While it feels wrong to say this, and there’s even less of a chance of it playing out this way, the Raptors may want to consider not destroying themselves in the process of trying to get a win tonight. It may just not be worth it. Last night’s game against Dallas ranks up there with the road win over the Lakers and that raucous victory against the Sixers as the best of this regular season so far. It was the kind of outing that deserves a night off — and I suspect no one would be mad if the Raptors had nothing left for this evening.
On top of that, the last thing the Raptors need is another insane effort that somehow ups the risk of injury. Toronto is already about to limp into their Christmas Day showcase minus three of their better and more electric players. Maybe caution should be practiced here, or some sort of discretion — or something!
Ah, who am I kidding. Let’s get after it!