After four mostly lopsided games, the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers are back where they started, with the series tied ahead of a pivotal game five. It is now essentially a best-of-three showdown, with even the smallest contribution capable of tilting the balance.
As the Raptors look to move a step closer to a first playoff series win since 2001, it is Kyle Lowry, most of all, who needs to take charge. After Toronto’s feeble effort in a 100-83 loss in game four, the film sessions cannot have been pretty, with shortcomings all over the court. But the most critical adjustment ahead of game five is engineering a vintage Lowry performance, with extra focus on attacking off the dribble, getting to the free throw line and shooting with confidence.
Lowry has averaged a respectable 15.5 points and 7.3 assists in the series, but dive a little deeper and his field goal percentage is a gruesome 32 percent. The Raptors point guard has to emerge from that slump if they are going to snatch the upcoming encounter, especially with DeMar DeRozan (29.6 percent shooting across the first four games) trapped in Paul George’s defensive web.
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TIME TO STEP UP
Though Lowry said all the right things after the loss in Indianapolis about staying positive and just needing to make shots, he has to deliver on the court. That starts with taking care of the ball – something the Raptors have struggled with in both their losses. The Pacers scored 25 points off turnovers in game one and the same number in game four. The Raptors need Lowry to settle into a rhythm while also looking for his shot.
DeRozan would benefit from doing the opposite – switching to facilitator mode in the face of George’s relentless defense. In the last outing, George was happy to slide under screens and dare DeRozan to shoot from deep. Since the creator role does not come as easily to DeRozan, Toronto has to do a better job – as they did in game three – of setting screens that force the Pacers to switch assignments, freeing up DeRozan to attack a more favourable match-up.
Another thing to look for at the Air Canada Centre – if Terrence Ross remains cold from three-point range, look for the gritty Norman Powell to get more game time off the bench.
Indiana profited from a line-up tweak in game four, with Myles Turner slotting into the starting unit. Despite Turner’s poor shooting game (2-for-13), it was a nice move from Pacers head coach Frank Vogel to give his team extra bounce and more shooting from the first whistle. It is no coincidence that Indiana had their fastest start of the series, and it bodes well for game five.
While there is no indication that the Raptors will follow suit, Toronto head coach Dwane Casey could consider starting Patrick Patterson in place of Luis Scola to match Turner’s mobility. It would also save Patterson from grueling stints off the bench – at times, he is playing as many as 16 minutes without a break.
THE INDIANA GAME PLAN
The key for the Pacers is to again outfight Toronto in the paint, grab easy points in transition and let George work his magic, especially during those stretches where DeMarre Carroll is on the bench and the Raptors have to put a smaller defender on him.
Ian Mahinmi, the star of Saturday's game with 22 points and 10 boards, must bring the same energy against Jonas Valanciunas. Then, if the game comes down to fourth quarter execution, Indiana has the more proven playoff closer.
Despite their game four no-show, the Raptors still hold the edge in terms of talent and depth. But the stakes just got a little higher for a team that simply cannot afford to blow another first round playoff appearance. Against that backdrop, Lowry has to answer the call, settle the nerves and wrestle back control of the series for Toronto.