By Frank McLean
Now it’s down to a best two out of three games in this first round best of seven playoff match between the Raptors and Pacers.
The mystery is what the heck happened between games three and four? Why did the Raptors look so good in game three? DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry each scored 21 points and looked like they were getting out of there scoring funk. Jonas Valanciunas was rebounding as usual and Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph were scoring taking pressure off DeRozan and Lowry. They followed up a great road game after statement win at home with a dud.
In game four, the Pacers started on a 7-0 run and led wire to wire in a 100-83 win. DeRozan and Lowry combined for just 20 points and turned the ball over 17 times. Valanciunas scored 16 points, but only managed 6 rebounds as Indiana outdueled the Raptors on the glass for the first time in this series.
First you have to give credit to Pacers coach Frank Vogel who finally figured out how to stop Valanciunas from dominating under the basket. He made rookie Miles Turner a starter for the first time in the series pairing him with Ian Mahinmi giving them two bigs to stop Valanciunas from dominating on the glass where he had been averaging 16 rebounds a game.
But the Raptors just looked flat like they thought a win was inevitable and they would go home up three games to one. If they thought that the Pacers would not come out mad and hungry and play physical, not wanting to be down three games to one, they were stupid.
At Sunday’s practice back in Toronto, Raptors coach Dwane Casey explained how a team looked great in games two and three and played a stinker in game four.
“I know it’s simplistic and it’s probably too simple for me as a coach to explain, but the team that played the hardest in the two games that were won, they out-fought the other team,” Casey said. “They scrapped, they fought, their backs were against the wall, they played in desperate mode. And I don’t think we played in a desperate mode (Saturday). They did and I’ve said it all year, if we don’t play desperate, if we don’t play hungry, if we’re not the hungry team, we struggle. And we gotta play the desperate team, the hungry team, and (Saturday) should have been a good lesson for that.
“I don’t care if we play on the moon if we don’t come out and play like our backs are against the wall, hit first. We got hit first all (Game 4). They pushed us out of the way. Their guards pushed us around. Everything that they could do, they did physically, they hit first. And if we don’t do that (Tuesday), I don’t care where we play, it’s not going to be an advantage for us.”
Easier said than done for Casey, but when it comes to the adjustment game, the ball is now in Dwane Casey’s court and the question is how is he going to get DeRozan and Lowry in the best position to do what they do best and that’s make shots?
Here is the duo’s numbers after four games.
Between them they are shooting 40-130 from the field or 30.8 percent. DeRozan is scoring an average of 13.3 points a game, Lowry 15.5.
Casey may have tipped his hand Sunday on what his adjustment will be to get his guards open, especially DeRozan, by getting him to be a little more of a passer.
“We took some tough shots that we could’ve made another pass, extra pass to open people and everybody tried to do it on their own instead of involving everybody, moving the basketball, sharing the ball, getting it to the weak side,” Casey said. “And when we did that, we got good looks. Not all of them went in, but we got good looks.”
The good thing is the Raptors have home court back. They don’t need to win another game in Indiana.
The worry is the Pacers have figured out how to stop one of the dominant teams in the Eastern Conference.
We will see Tuesday night if their hunger is back and Casey has figured out a way to free up DeRozan and Lowry. If not the series could be over.
Casey will receive the Rudy Tomjanovich Award trophy, which honors a coach for his cooperation with the media and fans as well as his excellence on the court, during an on-court ceremony prior to the Raptors’ playoff game Tuesday night against the Indiana Pacers in Toronto.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.
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