Views From Game 6: How the Indiana Pacers Forced Game 7


The odds were stacked against the Indiana Pacers going into game 6. After surrendering a 13-point lead in game 5, the Pacers found themselves backed up against the wall and facing elimination at the hands of the Toronto Raptors. Toronto had all the momentum heading back to Indianapolis, and they came out swinging, leading by as many as 12 points early in the first quarter. However, for every small run the Raptors made, the Pacers answered right back and kept things close. Despite shooting a paltry 32.6% in the first half, Indiana's defense never relented throughout the contest, as Toronto never quite found their shooting touch either. Once Indiana got hot in the second half, they were able to soundly close game 6 out. 

Vogel Shuffles the Minutes

The biggest head-scratching moment from game 5 was head coach Frank Vogel's decision to rest both Paul George and George Hill to start the fourth quarter. After watching his 13-point lead slip away, he reinserted both George and Hill, but by that time the momentum had already completely shifted towards the Raptors. Vogel didn't make the same mistake twice in a row, instead deciding to stagger George's and Hill's minutes during the first half so that both would be fresh enough to play extended time in the second half. As a result, the Pacers' offense never took its foot off the pedal, and Indiana ended up outscoring Toronto 61-39 in the final two quarters. The presence of George on the court has been so invaluable for the Pacers so far; he has a team-leading +48 plus-minus rating so far in the postseason, and Hill is close behind at a +38. 

PG Does it All Again

The Pacers' superstar is simply on a mission this postseason. After essentially missing an entire year of his career, Paul George is using these playoffs to show why he was considered a top player in the NBA throughout the 2014-15 season. George leads the league in postseason points per game (27.5) and finds ways to affect the game when his shot isn't falling. His shooting was not at the level as it had been throughout the series on Friday, but George was able to get to the foul line 10 times to more than make up for it. Friday was the ninth time in George's playoff career where he scored 20 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and recorded 5 assists, and his defense continues to be other-worldly as well.

Raptors' All-Stars Come Up Short Once More

After posting a playoff career-best 34 points in game 5, DeMar DeRozan once again found himself at the mercy of George's unrelenting defensive pressure. DeRozan again failed to reach double digits in scoring, only managing 8 points on 3-13 shooting. His backcourt companion Kyle Lowry was also limited to just 10 points, but he also doled out a game-high 10 assists for the Raptors. Lowry and DeRozan are a combined 9 of 52 from three-point range (17.3%), and have both only found their shooting touch in one game apiece this series. 

Share the Load

The Pacers' bench took most of the flak for blowing the game 5 lead. On Friday, bench players Rodney Stuckey and Solomon Hill were much more efficient in their scoring, and were able to complement the starters rather than hold on until they returned from rest. In addition, the Pacers' starters had their most balanced scoring game of the series thus far. Every starter scored at least 12 points, and collectively outscored the Raptors' starting unit 74-52.

Play of the Game

The Pacers wanted to ensure that Toronto wouldn't be able to replicate their fourth quarter success from game 5. On Indiana's very first possession, Rodney Stuckey held the ball at the top of the key while Paul George ran around a high screen leading to a fantastic back cut and finish:

 

What Comes Next

The first round series concludes Sunday night with game 7 in Toronto. The Raptors have still never won a 7-game series in their team history, and are 0-2 all-time in game 7's. The Pacers have played 5 more game 7's, and are 3-4 all-time in those contests. 

These teams have been gifted the Sunday night prime time playoff spot over the Hornets and Heat, so it is fair to assume that the Air Canada Centre will be the most deafeningly raucous it has been all season. Paul George has been quoted as saying he wants to "give a little speech" before the Pacers take the floor Sunday night, and has truly developed the leadership skills necessary to captain the team.

Game 7 will come down to the performance of DeRozan and Lowry. If those two can find their shot early and often, then they can draw attention away from the horribly underutilized Jonas Valanciunas, who has dominated the post this series. However, Paul George and George Hill have shown no signs of wearing down on the defensive end, and they will surely play the bulk of the 48 minutes Sunday night. This game will be similar to game 1 in that the Raptors will build a small cushion early on, but the Pacers' captain will take matters into his own hands in the second and lead Indiana to victory.

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