The Toronto Raptors finished a short, two-game road trip as they took on the Indiana Pacers on the second night of a back-to-back for both teams. This was a matchup of opposing strengths on paper, as Indiana has proven to be an offensive juggernaut this season, ranking first in the league in points per game. They have struggled defensively though, as the second worst in the league, in stark contrast to the Raptors’ current situation whose defence greatly outpaces their offensive production. Going into this game, the Raptors were a respectable 12th in the league on defence, but 21st on offence. The intrigue of watching two entirely different systems compete didn’t last long though, as the game quickly developed into more of a scoring contest, where both teams found little friction from the opposing defence at times and thrived scoring in transition. The result, despite fatigue, was a high pace, back and forth fight that ultimately ended in the Raptors’ favor.
Indiana came out aggressive, winning the tip and wasted no time in demonstrating why they lead the league in scoring. The Pacers took advantage of the Raptors’ mistakes with ease, capitalizing on unforced turnovers and staying aggressive in the passing lanes to generate opportunities on the break. The Raptors struggled to contain Indiana early, with Myles Turner and Obi Toppin flashing to the basket on every opportunity, catching perfectly placed passes from Tyrese Haliburton. Buddy Hield’s 3-point shooting contributed to their scoring, putting the Pacers up by 12 within the first six minutes of play. Not unfamiliar territory for the Raptors, but certainly nothing to be concerned about, as a quick timeout allowed for a choreographed play that saw O.G. rock the rim on a reverse dunk. Pascal Siakam was the first to pick up the pace for the Raptors, becoming aggressive and driving to the rim in an effort to get the Raptors back on track. Despite early separation, the second unit came in strong at the end of the first and put the Raptors within striking distance by the end of the quarter.
Malachi started the Raptors off strong in the second quarter, opening up scoring with a pair of well-timed 3-pointers, and a cut to the rim to keep the defence honest. Scottie’s scoring struggles seemed to continue at the beginning of the quarter, but he stayed with the play defensively. The energy shift for the Raptors was obvious in this frame, picking up their perimeter defence and hustling back to get set, making it challenging for the Pacers, who needed to play deeper into the shot clock and generate possessions off a set defence, both of which they are less comfortable doing. The change in intensity helped provide the Raptors the inertia to go on a 7-0 run, and eventually generated the first lead since the opening basket with a 3-point shot by Scottie. Indiana adjusted in kind, moving the ball effectively along the perimeter for long range shots that prevented the Raptors from creating much scoring separation. Throughout the quarter, the Pacers routinely utilized baseline drives with a pass through the paint to an outside cutter from the wing. Neither team was able to pull away late in the quarter, as offensive heroics from Siakam and Schröder kept the Raptors in the lead, but the high IQ passing from Haliburton kept the Pacers within a possession to end the half.
Limiting turnovers and staying aggressive on defence were important messages for the Raptors to take into the second half, but early in the third, neither one was evident. Schröder and Siakam continued to be aggressive early in the quarter, forcing paint touches that were working effectively in the first half. The Pacers continued to find ways to get behind the Raptors’ defence or roll to the basket, leading to even scoring for the first half of the quarter. Toronto lost a few key possessions on sloppy plays, allowing the Pacers to go on a 9-0 run, stopped only by Pascal who cashed in on consecutive trips down the floor to bring the Raptors back within one possession. On the next play, he found Gary Trent Jr. for a 3-ball that tied the game and sent the Pacers into a timeout. Pascal’s dominance was on display for the rest of the quarter, utilizing a variety of techniques to score. Indiana refused to give in, continuing to push the pace and be relentless offensively, managing to get back out in front by 1 to end the quarter.
The Raptors started the fourth with Pascal on the bench for a short break, but managed to be productive in their minutes without him. Malachi Flynn’s energy was one of the biggest contributions early, and strong effort on the boards provided second chance opportunities. Frustratingly, for every scoring possession Toronto managed, Indiana’s speed down the floor after the made basket quickly tied the game back up. Halfway into the fourth, Pascal made his way back onto the court, continuing to anchor the Raptors in the closing minutes of a game that continued to fluctuate back and forth. The Pacers managed to create a small lead, only to have it quickly erased by late game 3-point heroics by Schröder and O.G. Anunoby. The final two minutes of action followed the theme of the game, with frequent lead changes and a rapid pace. Free throws by Pascal provided a lead, but a quick time out and perfectly drawn-up play for Haliburton forced the Raptors into a timeout, now down by 1. Scottie quickly turned the corner for a wide open dunk on the Raptors’ turn to inbound the ball. Both teams exchanged free throw trips, and despite the Raptors’ continued struggles at the line, their 1-point lead was maintained to the final possession, where Buddy Hield’s inability to make a last-second deep three-point shot ensured the Raptors’ victory.
Coming away with the win after a blowout to the Magic is a step in the right direction, especially with the positive play from a number of guys tonight. Pascal was one of the biggest highlights of the game, but contributions from the bench and the developing connection between Schröder and Poeltl were also encouraging.
Pascal has since made significant strides to find his way back to all-star form. Tonight was another perfect example of that. Relentless drives to the basket and his force in the paint held the Raptors together for much of this contest. He stayed with every play, crashing the boards on both ends to generate extra possessions. By the end of the night he finished with a fairly efficient 36/10/4.
The Raptors’ bench also played a big role in this game by out-scoring the bench of their opponent. Their defensive intensity brought the Raptors back into the game early and kept them within a possession or two throughout the rest of the matchup. Malachi Flynn played one of his best games of the season, finishing with 14 points on 75% shooting. Trent Jr. and Chris Boucher chipped in as well, continuing to be contributors for the Raptors this season.
Another significant highlight from this game was the action between Schröder and Poeltl:
Crossover ➡️ Dime ➡️ Bucket pic.twitter.com/T1c8UnvWKP— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 23, 2023
Although there has been a bit of a struggle early for them, this game showed now that the connection between them is continuing to make strides, not only in the pick and roll game or on dump offs at the rim, but also with their screening action. Throughout the game, Schröder and Poeltl played a brilliant tandem that generated a solid offence for the Raptors. Part of what made it so productive was his ability to adjust and re-screen when necessary to give Schröder time and space to shoot in the midrange.
The connection between Poeltl and Schröder is certainly making strides, some nice screening action that helped get Schröder open for shots.
The Raptors return home for a single game on Friday, Nov. 24th against the Chicago Bulls.