Believe it or not, the Raptors haven’t lost a game since a one-point loss to the Spurs back on January 12. They’ve won 13 of their last 15 overall and it is almost certainly true that — as ESPN’s Zach Lowe put it earlier this week in a tone that made me weak in the knees — “the Raptors are the best story in the league, full stop.”
It’s interesting to note that the Raptors have gone on two 11-game win streaks before, and that both have come in this era of success. The first was in January 2016 and the latest was two years ago, in an extended run from late February to March 16 in 2018.
The continued success of this franchise is something worth going back to over and over, because it seems that Toronto has been bulletproof when it comes to regular season success. They won games when Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were the only stars left after a fire sale Rudy Gay trade. They won games when the supporting cast included a lack of production in the starting four spot. They won games with Kawhi Leonard sitting out due to load management.
Twelve games is a long time to keep winning, but it’s starting to feel like nothing can really stop this team from 50-win seasons. It’s how they perform after that that remains as the only question, and even that they answered definitively just last spring.
With that in mind, let’s look at the game details and explore the keys to breaking a record.
Where to Watch
TSN, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Indiana — Aaron Holiday, Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner
Toronto — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (questionable - ankle), Marc Gasol (out - hamstring), Norman Powell (out - finger), Dewan Hernandez (out - ankle)
Indiana — T.J. Warren (out - concussion)
Push The Pace
All season, the Raptors have been a ruthlessly efficient team in transition. While only 15th in the NBA in terms of pace (100.63), they’re third in the league in fast break points per game at 17.8. In a modern league, it’s no surprise that the only teams above them are the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers — you need have great transition finishers in order to succeed.
What might be equally impressive is that the Raptors are 11th in opponent fast break points, giving up just 12.6 per game — that matches them up nicely against the Pacers who are bottom five in pace, but top five in opponents’ transition points.
Getting out and running early and often against this team, or at least taking advantage of fast break opportunities, will be key. Undermanned in their first matchup with Indiana in December, with Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, and Pascal Siakam all out of the lineup, the Raptors still won the fast break points battle 24-12. That nearly balanced a lopsided three-point shooting differential, where the Pacers went nutty in overtime and finished 18-for-42 from outside, and Toronto would do well to rack up their transition advantage margin even further tonight.
Siakam and Sabonis
Of course, the marquee matchup is one of two All-Star power forwards in Pascal Siakam and Domantas Sabonis. While some may be upset that Sabonis is in the All-Star Game to begin with, there’s little arguing with his credentials. Averaging a monster double-double of 18.3 points and 12.7 rebounds, his energy was on full display in the December 23 game, where he didn’t light up the Raptors from the field but tore down 17 rebounds — five of them offensive — to extend possessions and, yes, help Indiana’s nutty outside shooting.
This time, though, the Raptors have Siakam back in the lineup. Having Pascal attack Sabonis on the other end of the floor and put him to work will be critical, as the last Raptors frontcourt he saw was Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, and Serge Ibaka. With the outside attention needed for Myles Turner, Siakam’s rebounding will be equally crucial to his scoring in this game — with some help from the Raptors guards, finishing with defensive rebounds will be important for Spicy P.
Another key to watch for in this game is how each team performs when they go to their bench. While the Raptors are coming off a game where they got 31 points from Terence Davis, it would be shocking to expect 20+ point production from the rookie on a nightly basis with Norman Powell out of the lineup.
The Pacers, meanwhile, boast a bench that includes some of the team’s most efficient shooters, with three-point bombers Doug McDermott (44.9%), Aaron Holiday (42.4%), and Justin Holiday (41.7%) all participating in the win back in December. McDermott in particular has been on a hot streak of late, hitting six three-pointers three times in a five-game stretch in late January.
Without Powell, the defensive end may be more important for the Raptors bench than trying to match the scoring output of Indiana’s second unit. Getting out to shooters, making life difficult, and trying to disrupt the flow of the Pacers’ offense will all be important aspects of winning Toronto’s 12th straight game.