The Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay has been struggling in his new role in Toronto of a starting small forward who switches to power forward for extended stretches of each game. It a role that seemed to work for the Raptors late last season, but it’s a role that has never really worked for Gay. After watching Gay’s performance in Indiana on Friday night, maybe it’s time to consider building the team’s rotation around what their best player is most successful at instead of trying to compensate for a lack of scoring with the team’s big men and forcing Gay to play out of position at power forward.
The Indiana Pacers are on another level when compared to the Raptors. The Pacers went to the NBA Eastern Conferences Finals and took the Miami HEAT to 7 games last year. They are legitimate contenders to represent the East in the NBA Finals this time around. The Raptors would be happy just to be in the running for a playoff spot in April.
All the rage in Indiana and around the league has been the emergence of Paul George as an All-Star and leader of his team. The young wing has improved his game each season and is one of the NBA’s leading scorers and better defensive players. The Raptors own broadcast crew couldn’t help themselves from gushing over him last night (get a room already).
However, last night, Rudy Gay out performed George offensively, held George to just 33 percent shooting and made key stops on George at critical points in the game. Unfortunately, Gay individual efforts were lost because the depth of talent on the Pacers won out at every other position – although, not really by all that much overall.
Gay had a great start to this game, George, not so much. The Raptors ran out to a 32-22 first quarter lead behind 14 points and 5-7 shooting by Gay. (See the full game story here.) The Pacers closed the gap in the second quarter with a 9-2 run when Head Coach Dwane Casey made the mistake (in hindsight) of putting 5 reserves on the floor together at the same time. When Gay returns, he blocks Ian Mahinmi in the paint, blocks George’s layup attempt and scores 8 more points to help the Raptors hold onto their now merger lead.
The third quarter started out bad for Toronto. The Pacers turned it up a notch. Starting at the end of the first half, the Pacers run up a 13-0 run before Gay stopped it by blocking a George layup attempt, drawing a foul on George to get to the free throw line for the Raptors first 2 points of the quarter and then stealing the ball from George on the next play. About the only thing that went right for the Raptors in the third quarter was when Gay stepped up his game to stop the Pacers run. Unfortunately, no one else followed suit.
The third was George’s quarter to score. George put in 17 of his 23 points in that quarter.
The 2 free throws were Gay’s only points in the third quarter, but Gay didn’t stop playing and scored 6 more in the fourth. A stepped up Pacers defense and the fact Gay was the Raptors only real scoring threat in this game meant things got a lot tougher on Gay after the first half. Playing almost 10 minutes in the fourth quarter, George somewhat disappeared and scored only 1 more point on a meaningless free throw with 11 seconds left.
The tail of the tape between these two small forwards with similar size, build and style of play was:
George had 23 points on 7-21 shooting, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 3 turnovers in 39 minutes.
Gay had 30 points on 12-26 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks and 2 turnovers in 35 minutes.
The Pacers were -3 points with George on the court. The Raptors were +3 points with Gay in the game.
The lesson in Indiana isn’t about which young small forward had the better game or might be the better player. The lesson is that Rudy Gay is a very good small forward who can score and defend against other very good small forwards. Perhaps Coach Casey should let his best player play the position he will be most successful at most of the time.