We the Midwest: How the Indiana Pacers Took Game One from Toronto


The Paul George playoff comeback tour has begun. After starting game one of the Eastern Conference first round series on a bit of a low note, George erupted in the second half to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 100-90 victory over the Toronto Raptors. George scored at will against the Raptors' defense no matter who was guarding him, and he made life miserable for Toronto on the other end of the ball. 

In my playoff series preview, I identified what all would need to happen in order for Indiana to win the series, focusing on player matchups and key statistical categories. Throughout the game, it was evident that those factors could easily swing the series one way or the other, and Saturday, most everything swung the way of the Indiana Pacers. 

Paul George and Monta Ellis Scoring

As noted in the series primer, Indiana was 17-8 when both George and Ellis scored at least 15 points in a game. On Saturday, George scored 33 and Ellis reached the 15-point target. Ellis was only 5-12 shooting the ball, but his efficiency was bolstered by an uncharacteristically good three-point shooting day. His first two three-point baskets came at crucial times, the first being before halftime to eliminate an early deficit, and the second early in the third quarter when the Pacers and Raptors were trading buckets. The collaborative effort from these two today was what team president Larry Bird envisioned when the team offered Ellis the four-year contract in the offseason. If Ellis can complement George this well for the rest of the year, Indiana will be a very tough out.

Forcing Turnovers

Advantage: Indiana. The Pacers forced Toronto, a team who averaged just 13 turnovers per game in the regular season, into 19 giveaways Saturday. The Pacers, like they have all year, took advantage of their opponent's miscues and converted those turnovers into 25 points. George himself accumulated 4 steals and 8 points off of turnovers.

Avoid Fouling

Advantage: Toronto. In the first quarter of Saturday's game, it looked as though Indiana was hell-bent on sending Toronto to the free-throw line as much as humanly possible. The Pacers committed five fouls in just over three minutes of game time, and overall the Raptors attempted 10 free throws in the opening period. Things didn't get too much better from there, as Toronto wound up shooting 39(!) free throws in the game. Indiana caught a break, though, as Toronto shot very poorly from the line, only making 26 of their attempts. There are too many other factors in a basketball game to definitively say that the missed free throws were the difference in the game, but Indiana must be more disciplined early in quarters to avoid giving Toronto opportunities for free points.

Paul George vs. DeMar DeRozan

Advantage: Indiana, Indiana, Indiana. Playoff Paul George was on full display Saturday, and he absolutely dominated this game the way superstars should in the postseason. DeRozan, DeMarre Caroll, and Norm Powell stood couldn't slow George in the second half, and he held DeRozan to just 14 points on 5-19 shooting. The entire second-half offense of Indiana worked through George, whether it was from him scoring, directing on the wing, or driving and dishing, such as on this fantastic drop-pass to Myles Turner for the layup:

 

George Hill vs. Kyle Lowry

Advantage: Indiana, Indiana, Indiana. Even more so. Hill's scoring wasn't as needed thanks to Paul George, but he still chipped in an efficient 10 points. On the other end, Toronto absolutely needs their All-Star point guard to generate more offense. Lowry had a dreadful afternoon, just scoring 11 points on 3-13 shooting. The Pacers did a remarkable defensive job on Lowry, but he made life even harder for himself by missing free throws and open three-point shot attempts. When it wasn't Lowry shooting himself in the foot, it was Hill sticking to Lowry outside the three-point line and leading his drives right into a waiting post defender, such as this play where Ian Mahinmi forces an awkward running shot:

 

If the Pacers can stay this disciplined on Lowry for the whole series, Toronto might be starting their summer break earlier than anticipated. 

Ian Mahinmi and Myles Turner vs. Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo

Advantage: Toronto early, Indiana late. If Valanciunas had stayed out of foul trouble, this game may not have ended with a Pacers victory. Valanciunas was a monster in the first quarter, ending with 8 points and 9 rebounds in the opening period alone. He finished with 11 offensive rebounds, which kept multiple possessions alive for Toronto and usually resulted in a tip-in layup. He coaxed Mahinmi into 2 quick fouls early in the game and three in the first half. As a result, the Pacers' center only played for 6:32 in the first half. This opened the door to Turner's first playoff action, and he shined. The rookie immediately drew the task of slowing Valanciunas and recorded a block on his first attempt. Turner's block party didn't end there, either. He closed the game with 5 rejections to go along with his 10 points. Mahinmi was more disciplined in the second half, and he and Turner held Valanciunas to just 4 more points after halftime. The main issue for the Pacers in this matchup is the rebounding disadvantage. Valanciunas and Biyombo combined for 27 rebounds, and Toronto as a whole out-rebounded the Pacers 52-38. The Pacers must remain stuck to Valanciunas to ensure he doesn't extend any possessions for the Raptors, as was the case for much of the first half.

In hindsight, despite Paul George's heroics and Lowry's abysmal performance, the Raptors were still within 3 points with 4 minutes to go. This loss wasn't as bad as some initial reaction might lead one to believe. What was most shocking was the role reversal the two teams performed in crunch time, as Indiana, a notoriously poor team with a late lead, out-executed Toronto, a fantastic late-game team, down the stretch. If the Pacers have finally developed a late-game strategy, they might have a significant chance at advancing to round two.

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All stats courtesy of stats.nba.com

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