The Toronto Raptors enter game six just one win away from reaching the unfamiliar territory of the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001. After all the questions about post-season struggles and the burden of their playoff history, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan now have a chance to shut down the conversation.
But that last win is always the toughest, especially on the road. Closing out a series is hard – as the Raptors know only too well. In 2014, Toronto grabbed a 3-2 lead against the Brooklyn Nets, only to no-show game six on the road and suffer an agonising game seven loss at home.
Those memories will be bubbling to the surface as they prepare for one of the biggest games in franchise history. Indiana is the team facing the elimination game, yet the pressure on the Raptors feels just as intense.
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WIN OR GO HOME
In the Pacers camp, there are plenty of reasons to feel that they can turn things around. The Raptors’ dramatic fourth quarter comeback in game five somewhat obscured how dominant Indiana was in the first three quarters, with Paul George getting anything he wanted on offense, George Hill drilling corner threes and Toronto scrambling helplessly to plug the holes caused by dribble penetration.
For Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, there was a lot to like about how his team played for large chunks of game five, but the bench remains the big question mark. That second unit – Ty Lawson, Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles, in particular – was a disaster on Tuesday night.
Look for Vogel to give that group a far shorter leash in game six while staggering the minutes for George, Monta Ellis and George Hill so that at least one of the trio is on the court at all times. If George needs to play the full 48 minutes, the smart money says that Vogel will not hesitate this time.
CLOSING IT OUT
Despite the slow start on Tuesday, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is expected to stick with Patrick Patterson in the starting line-up over Luis Scola as Toronto tries to put the series to bed. Norman Powell, one of the game five heroes, should get the assignment on George any time DeMarre Carroll is on the bench, potentially elevating him above the erratic Terrence Ross in the rotation.
After DeRozan’s bounce back night (34 points) helped the Raptors regain the series lead, they would love to see Lowry rediscover his shooting touch and dispel concerns over lingering elbow pain. The Toronto point guard has been ice cold from the field in this series but is finding other ways to contribute. He continues to be the team’s heartbeat.
If the Raptors are going to finish the job on the road and book their ticket for round two, their all-stars will have to lead the way. They are 48 minutes away from getting the monkey off their back.