The Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors rolled over the NBA leading Indiana Pacers 29-19 in the fourth quarter on route to a surprising 95-82 victory in front of what became a boisterous crowd at the Air Canada Centre.
Maybe someone should have seen this coming; it was only 10 days ago when the Raptors defeated the Thunder in Oklahoma City. In fact, since Toronto traded Rudy Gay, the team has only lost to the Spurs (twice) in regulation time and once to the Bobcats in overtime. Pacers Head Coach Frank Vogel definitely knew something was up with the Raptors before the game. He knew about the Raptors success on their recent Western Conference road trip.
“It was clear that they had turned the corner,” Vogel said. “They added depth to their bench and are playing with confidence.”
This game played out the way of many of the Raptors’ recent victories with Toronto finishing the game strong. This was the 10th time in 12 tries since the trade that the Raptors have outscored their opponent in the fourth quarter.
“We did a good job,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “I thought guys battled. They are one of the best teams in the league. Our guys battled. They came in hungry. They fought for 48 minutes. We stayed with the game plan and executed.
“We tried to hit first. We tried to go into the game understanding what they were going to try to do to us. They are one of the elite teams in the league.”
No one would have expected this response from Toronto prior to their recent run. As Vogel noticed, the Raptors have turned a corner.
“Last year or even 2 months ago, I don’t know what we would have done,” Casey said. “But we are meeting the challenge.”
One of the biggest challenges the Raptors faced was the dominance in the paint of Roy Hibbert. When these 2 teams first met in early November, Hibbert dominated the Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas and outscored him 20-4, however, Valanciunas, like his revamped team, isn’t the same player Hibbert faced 2 months ago.
In Toronto, Hibbert was held to just 16 points and 3 rebounds as he fouled out in just over 21 minutes of action. Valanciunas, on the other hand, had 13 points and 9 boards as he built on his recent big games against Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah. Casey can say Valanciunas is still making ‘a million mistakes’, but the second year center is getting better day-by-day.
The Pacers Paul George is taking yet another step in his game since breaking out last season and the task of guarding him fell to the Raptors other second year player Terrence Ross. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if George had gone off for 30 points, but in the best defensive performance of his brief NBA career, Ross helped hold the All-Star small forward to 5-14 shooting and 12 points. George turned the ball over 6 times to tie his season-high.
Ross scored 18 points on 6-12 shooting and grabbed a career-high tying 3 steals. It is starting to look like the light has come on for Ross. Ross isn’t just getting praise for his defensive effort anymore, this time his effort produced results.
While the Raptors have shown they can win without a big game from DeMar DeRozan, it is certainly a lot easier if their starting shooting guard can put up the points. In November, Lance Stephenson held DeRozan to 2-15 from the field and 4 points, but not this time. DeRozan had a monster game, leading all scorers with 26 points and tying Valanciunas for the most rebounds with 9.
Kyle Lowry continued his stellar play of late with 13 points and a season-high 14 assists. The Pacers ran him off his shot, so he picked them apart with his passing.
There was 1 pleasant surprise for the Pacers. Danny Granger continued his comeback, scoring 11 points on 4-7 shooting and at times, looked like the Granger of old.
The Pacers turned the ball over a season high 23 times and 6 of those turnovers came on charges drawn by the Raptors defense. The Pacers were beaten at their own game in Toronto.
Toronto has won 4 games in a row and moves to 15-15 on the season. The Atlantic Division leader now owns the fourth best record and the longest winning streak in the Eastern Conference. Indiana remains atop the East at 25-6.
The Pacers return home to play the Pelicans on Saturday and then travel to Cleveland on Sunday.
The Raptors visit Washington on Friday, Miami on Sunday and play the Pacers again on Tuesday in Indiana.