One would think that the Toronto Raptors and the Indiana Pacers are in the midst of a playoff series considering tonight is the third time (!) they’ll meeting in as many weeks. That’s obviously isn’t the case — but the two teams are still jockeying with each other for playoff position. That’s why tonight’s game matters.
The Raptors are fresh off the NBA All-Star break with a blowout win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night. It was their eighth straight win at home and it put them up to 41-15 on the season, continuing their best start in franchise history through 56 games.
There is something about Pascal Siakam having big games against the Suns at home. Last year, he scored the game-winning layup.
This year, Siakam had himself one of his best games of the year, recording his fourth 35-plus point game of the season, finishing with 37 points on an efficient 12-for-19 shooting from the field to go along with 12 rebounds, three assists, and three blocks. He was in the right spots both offensively and defensively and the Suns just didn’t have an answer. The new NBA All-Star is going to need a similar performance against a feisty Pacers team.
For Indiana, they come into tonight with a record of 33-23 and will look to inch closer to the fifth seed tonight after the Philadelphia 76ers got clobbered by the Milwaukee Bucks last night. Toronto could catch a break as Victor Oladipo is listed as questionable with back spasms.
Vic says his back was spasming and he couldn’t return. He’s hopeful to be available Sunday in Toronto.— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) February 22, 2020
He’s only played in 10 games this season after returning on January 29 from a ruptured quad. It’s been a challenge for Oladipo to get back into the flow of things. In the home-and-home series Oladipo played against the Raptors, he was in a limited role and on a minutes restriction. If he does end up suiting up tonight, that could be the case again.
Regardless, the Pacers are getting a boost from T.J. Warren, who missed the two games earlier this month as he was dealing with a concussion. He did, however, play in the first meeting back on December 23, leading his Pacers with 24 points in the 120-115 OT win. Warren is averaging 18.7 points per game with an efficient 60 percent true shooting percentage. The Raptors will have to keep an eye on his number as well as Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and new All-Star Domantas Sabonis,
Gear up, folks! This is going to be a big game. Let’s jump into the details followed by the three keys to the game
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 6:00 PM ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Indiana — Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner
Toronto — Marc Gasol (Hamstring – Out), Norman Powell (Finger – Out), Patrick McCaw (Illness – Doubtful), Dewan Hernandez (Ankle – Out)
Indiana — Victor Oladipo (Back spasms – Questionable), Edmond Sumner (Left hip – Questionable)
The KLOE and Fredrico Show!
The backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet have played excellent through these 56 games of the season. Freddy in particular is having a career year, but when it comes to playing the Pacers, both of Toronto’s guards have lit it up. Even though VanVleet did struggle with his shot in their second meeting, going 4-for-10 from the field, his playmaking and defense helped them secure that big win.
Toronto’s one loss to the Pacers came without Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell on the floor. Lowry went into Indiana and tried to will a win for the team anyway, putting up 30 points, nine assists, six rebounds with VanVleet stuffing the stat sheet with 21 points, 11 assists, 3 steals, and two blocks. These two did mount a 35-24 third-quarter output to go in the fourth up by one after being down by as many as 15 earlier in the game. They did run out of gas and ended up losing in OT but their efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
Then KLOE had one of his best games of the year in the unreal fourth comeback, putting up 32 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds. He was masterful down the stretch draining a clutch three-pointer to cut it to four points with 1:16 left and then delivered the game-winning assist to Serge Ibaka to hit the game-winning three-pointer.
Serge Ibaka with the game winner against the Pacers pic.twitter.com/twnWbsLHyp— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) February 6, 2020
The third meeting was no different from the two backcourt mates, playing a complete game to help give the Raptors a 115-106 win in Indiana. Lowry did a perfect job orchestrating the offense and VanVleet hit timely baskets to keep the Pacers from storming back.
The Raptors will know exactly who to call tonight as KLOE and Fredrico have answered tremendously well against the Pacers.
Watch for the Other Guys
It’s going to take a complete game from the Raptors to win and that starts with putting the same amount of attention on the Pacers’ top guys (assuming Oladipo doesn’t play) in Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Myles Turner and on down. In the first meeting, T.J. McConnell got off for 12 points and while that isn’t staggering, he was pesky in the 24 minutes he played on both ends of the floor.
In the second meeting, Justin Holiday poured in 22 points and recorded three steals, while notable Raptor Killer Doug McDermott put up 19 points and drained four treys from deep. It’s these types of performances that hurt the Raptors the most. But luckily, they were able to pull off that miraculous 11-0 run in the final 2:25 of the game to win 119-118.
The third meeting just about solidified McConnell as one of the more annoying players the Raptors have ever gone up against. He was everywhere on the floor and disrupted the Raptors flow, from scoring and creating plays to forcing turnovers and his on-ball defense. If McConnell’s 12-7-6 wasn’t enough, Holiday became a defensive menace on Siakam at times, helping to hold him to 15 points on 6-for-20 shooting from the field.
Pat McCaw is getting sized up and roasted by the likes of TJ McConnell. Players lick their lips when they see him guarding them. #Raptors— Travis Foster (@TFos11) February 8, 2020
These “Other Guys” are just as important than the Pacers’ top four so the Raptors have to buckle down on D no matter who it is.
Tighten the Play
Rust and getting back into rhythm is expected coming out of the All-Star break. Other than Siakam, the Raptors showed just that in the second half against the Suns. It was mainly ugly turnovers and silly fouls, which tend to be uncharacteristic from this team, that got the Suns coming back from a 93-78 deficit down to 96-90 in the fourth quarter. Ironically, it was the veterans, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, who had the toughest time of it (mostly with the refs), but their frustration was somewhat understandable.
In any case, Toronto did pull away midway through the fourth but the Raps cannot have a repeat performance like that against this Pacers team. They’re too sharp and too hungry right now.