From the depths of defeat, the Raptors crawl their way out to victory.
Plain and simple, Toronto’s basketball team has many Raptor fans on life support. Winning a playoff game in the manner that your usual two seed has to beat a seven seed is never an option for the Raptors now is it? No, of course not! Have you ever even watched Toronto sports? Why show up for 48-minutes when you can just show up for 12 and still pick up the ‘W’ and nearly give heart attacks to thousands of fans in the process? Quality entertainment, is it not? Sprinkle in some Drake theatrics and we had ourselves the typical playoff game.
In the playoffs all that really matters is getting the job done by all means necessary. Were the Raptors the better team? For a quarter they looked like the Raptors team of old. The team we’ve seen play 82-games this season and rack up a franchise record 56-wins over that span. A hard-nosed team playing a scrappy style of basketball, attacking the paint, kicking the ball out to the open man, and essentially being the better team as advertised going into this series.
And finally, DeMar DeRozan broke out! With the team’s success hinging on the backs of their two All-Stars, DeRozan dropped 34-points on 10/22 shooting (and 12/13 from the charity stripe). Quite frankly, last night the Raptors got the DeRozan deserving of the maximum contract. Attacking the basket, drawing contact, showing off his midrange game, hitting a couple of key three balls and contributing on the defensive end is what made DeMar an All-Star. His three-ball late in the fourth quarter gave the Raptors their first lead of the night and they did not look back on their way to a 102-99 Game 5 victory! The star has to take the big shots in crunch time and DeRozan did not shy away from the spotlight.
Whether we get the same DeRozan come Game 6, your guess is no better than mine. The same goes for this entire Raptor team. What we have grown all too accustomed to with the Raptors on the playoff stage is we really do not know what team will show up on a nightly basis. Say what you will on Game 5 as a whole, because for the most part it was a brutal beat down at the hands of Paul George and the Pacers, but ultimately the Raptors took care of business. Looking back, no one will pay attention to quarters one through three.
A big part of the playoffs is momentum and a big part of sports in general are in-game adjustments. It was only a few seasons ago when the San Antonio Spurs had the NBA championship in their clutches until they let Game 6 slip away at the hands of a Ray Allen three-pointer. In Game 7, the Heat had all the momentum on their side and lay waste to the Spurs who offered zero resistance. In this case, obviously on a much smaller scale, the Raptors carry a huge wave of momentum into Indiana, while the Pacers, with their backs against the wall will need to erase all memories of their Game 5 collapse and focus on their Game 6 elimination match-up. The Raps are no Heat and the Pacers are definitely no Spurs, but the point is, it is incredible tough to refocus after such a heartbreaking defeat. The Raptors must keep the pressure on this weaker Pacers team.
As for in-game adjustments, it was no secret that Frank Vogel had the coaching edge coming into this first round battle. At the start of the fourth quarter, Vogel threw out a bench group that has gone a combined -30 in the playoffs, while Dwane Casey used an interesting group consisting of Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, DeRozan, and Bismack Biyombo. Talk about a bad time to experiment line-ups, eh? What followed was a 21-2-run punctuated by a momentum-shifting dunk by rookie Norman Powell.
It may have very well been luck, but Vogel’s mistake may go onto haunt the Pacers. The Raptors had no answer to Paul George. He dissected the Raptor defence, finding the open man as the Pacers hit 13-three-pointers in Game 5. A near triple-double, George went off for 39/8/8 on the evening and even still, the Raptors found a way out. At the end of the night, it was the spark provided by likes of Powell and Biyombo that turned out to be the difference. Hard-noised defence, a couple of shots, a couple of fierce dunks, and some key rebounds was all that the Raptors needed.
So now as the series shifts to Indiana, what do the Raptors need to do to close it out? They can try using the same line-up, but the Pacers will be more prepared the second time around. They have to make necessary adjustments and knowing Frank Vogel, he will. Despite that, the blueprint for the Raptors stays exactly the same. Rotate effectively on defence, slow down Paul George as best as humanly possibly and attack the paint.
The Raptors shot 6/26 from behind the arc in Game 5. That’s 23% and that will not cut it. The entire league is addicted to three-pointers and I get that. The game has changed. But all that being said, the Raptors strength has been attacking the basket. Myles Turner is a rookie and Ian Mahinmi has been hobbling on a sore back all series long and do not get me started on Lavoy Allen. The paint is where the Raptors must live. What we saw last night in the fourth quarter is exactly that. Inside-out offence. Attacking the paint at will, drawing fouls and when the opposing defence was drawn in and collapsed, the ball was kicked out to the open man. Although Ross missed three go-ahead threes, he made a big shot earlier in the quarter to bring the Raptors within two, and DeRozan and Joseph hit two huge, open threes to build the Raptors lead to six. Notice I said open. When the Raptors cause the Pacers’ defence collapse, there is really nothing they can do to stop the Toronto offence.
That is how the Raptors get it done – gritty defence and smooth-flowing offence.
The ball stops too often when the Raptors play, especially in the playoffs. Too much isolation, too little movement – it is almost like the Raptors forget what got them to the playoffs to begin with. If the Raptors take anything out of Game 5, it must be the fourth quarter because no matter what line-up Casey throws out, when the Raptors play to their strengths, they are an NBA finals-worthy team. When they revert to their Washington Wizard series style of basketball, they are an isolation team without a Kobe Bryant in his prime controlling the ball.
Depth is going to be an issue for the Pacers. The Raptors can always shuffle up their line-ups and still get offence and productivity even when one of their All-Stars are on the bench. For the Pacers, it’s a different story. They literally ride and die with Paul George. When he is out, the Pacers have no talent to speak of and are in serious trouble.
The Raptors have notoriously not been able to close out series. In Game 6 and Game 7 if necessary, the Raptors cannot afford to come out flat. They must carry over their momentum and keep the pressure on the Pacers. Everyone knew who the pressure was on in the opening minutes of Game 5. The Raptors must come out and show that they are the better team and attempt to translate their success from the last 12-minutes of Game 5 into a complete four-quarter effort in Game 6. That all starts with a good showing in the opening minutes of Game 6 – an effort that they are capable of.
Oh and the Solomon Hill three as the buzzer sounded? Let’s forget that ever happened because no Raptor fan can really handle all this emotion anymore anyways.