Just as the Pacers have started rolling, winning three of their last four (including a huge win over the Cavs after trailing by 16) to move over .500, they had to embark on their longest road trip (six games) of the season. And the road has not been kind to Indiana. It had lost four straight away from Conseco Fieldhouse before pulling into Toronto for an afternoon clash today against the Raptors.
Of course, playing agains the Raptors — struggling along at 3-9 heading in — doesn’t exactly intimidate anyone. On the plus side, before their win last night, the Bulls were also 3-9, and they are supposed to be good.
Well, the Raptors did their darndest to try, but even they couldn’t throw away a 27-point lead, hanging on to beat Indy 92-83, sparked by a very promising defensive effort.
Stopping a super hot Jermaine O’Neal was going to be a key for this game for the Raptors. Coming off a season-high 29 points (on 8-for-15 shooting) and four blocks on Friday, O’Neal arrived in town riding a streak of four straight games with at least 20 points. He had even pitched in with eight assists in the past two games. Like I said, scorching.
Toronto did a solid job slowing down Indy’s power forward, holding him to 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting. O’Neal still pitched in with 11 rebounds, three assists and a steal, but he was unable to stop the Pacers’ road woes, now stretched to five straight losses.
Another concern for the Raptors was point guard Jamaal Tinsley, averaging over 17 PPG in the past five thanks to back-to-back 19-point games. The always injury-prone Tinsley (knock on wood, healthy so far this season) managed 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, but he had seven turnovers against just four assists, so he wasn’t exactly a positive contributor.
Even back-up guard Sarunas Jasikevicius was a big factor on Friday, pouring in 15 off the bench. This afternoon, however, as he is wont to do, he disappared (0-for-6, one point in 24 minutes).
Toronto, meanwhile, needed this win badly after a tough four-point loss in Atlanta on Friday (in which the Raps somehow got robbed of two key points by a scoring error late in the game), its seventh setback in the past eight. The Raps needed some home cooking to stop the bleeding, and that’s what they got, snapping a two-game skid against the Pacers. They are now 4-2 at the ACC. Just bottle that and get it through customs, please.
It was very encouraging that the Raps managed to win without a big effort from T.J. Ford. After just missing a triple double Friday (25 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds), Ford was very quiet this afternoon, managing just six points, six assists and four boards.
New starting centre Jorge Garbajosa continued his solid play, following up Friday’s 15-point, 12-rebound showing with 13 and six.
Chris Bosh, meanwhile, rebounded somewhat after Friday’s season-low 11-point game. He managed 17 today — better, but still not up to his standards. He’s really struggling from the field since Wednesday’s hard fall to the court, and he says he’s okay, but that brace on his knee suggests otherwise.
Morris Peterson, who had his NBA ironman streak of 371 straight games snapped on Wednesday, missed a third straight game with a partial tear in his left elbow. Toronto could really use some contribution off the bench from its seven-year veteran, yet strangely, it’s won two of three since he went down.
- O’Neal came into the game second in blocks and added another three rejections. He’s having his finest season yet in this department.
- It was all about a balanced offense for the Raps today. In addition to Bosh and Garbo, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Joey Graham all reached double figures in points.
- With MoPete out, Fred Jones needed to step up — especially considering this was his first game against the team he spent 245 games toiling for. He didn’t. Despite playing in a game-high 36 minutes, Jones was just 3-of-11 from the field for seven points. He did pitch in with five boards and three steals, but the key number here was zero, as in no free throw attempts. Jones is shooting 91.4 per cent from the charity stripe and he needs to be putting the ball on the floor, taking it to the hoop and drawing contact to taking advantage of that skill. Jones has been trigger happy from downtown, and last time I checked, that doesn’t often result in trips to the line.
- Bosh did manage another double-double, pulling down 11 boards. Again, good stuff, but below our expectations at this point. He starts 3-for-13 and goes just 6-for-18 from the field and didn’t play a big part in Toronto jumping out to the big early lead. The team’s hopes are riding on that right knee. Just how sore is it?
- Indy was horrible to start this game, but rode a 12-1 run to get back to within four in the third quarter. I was opening my window and had one leg on the ledge before the Raps sealed the deal with a big run of their own. At the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, they outpace Indy 17-4, thanks to the second unit, specifically Graham and Calderon. Toronto never trailed in this game. Gotta love coast-to-coast wins, rare that they are in the NBA.
- How about Bargnani? Toronto leads 32-17 after one, but goes insane to start the second, with Bargnani scoring eight of his 14 points to key a 14-2 run. Have you noticed what he’s done the past four games since the organization has decided he needs PT to develop? That’s 46 points in the past four, or 11.5 PPG for those of you who dig averages. The Italian prodigy has been showing off that sweet shooting touch. He nailed two 3-pointers and sunk 5-of-11 overall. His upside is tremendous. At this point, it’s all about learning the D. That will influence the number of minutes he gets going forward. Don’t be shocked if he starts regularly getting 30 MPG.
- Rick Carlisle doesn’t get enough credit for how much he gets out of the Pacers year after year. Now in his fourth season at the helm of the team, he is a master of using the time out to stem opposing teams’ momentum. Basketball is such a game of runs and it seems so simple, but it’s amazing how few coaches are really good at using the TO as a weapon. Carlise is a genius when it comes to this, and that’s one of the reasons he has a winning percentage just a tick under .600 for his career.
- In addition to O’Neal, containing Pacer centre Al Harrington was going to be necessary to win this game. The Raps did a great job there, holding him to 4-of-15 shooting for 11 points. He had 14 rebounds, but if he is not providing interior scoring, Indy is a lot easier to beat.
- Stephen Jackson showed signs of life for Indy, pouring in 18 on 7-for-12 shooting. His shooting (both on and off the court) has been horrific this season. Jackson came in averaging just over 34 per cent from the field, and you have to wonder how much his head is in the game given the legal issues he’s currently facing. Still, this was a nice performance and perhaps will provide the impetus for Carlisle to give Jackson his starting two-guard job back. The Pacers need to have better starts, having trailed after one quarter in 11 of their first 14 games. If Jackson is finding his stroke, that will be a big help. He’s as streaky as they come, but can be so explosive when on.
- Danny Granger also scored 18, after basically disappearing on Friday night. If he can get hot, that will provide another huge boost for the Pacers. Coming out of college, he slipped in the draft because of concerns over his knee. Granger had a decent rookie year and has stepped up with more responsibility this year, although his shooting has been poor. Maybe both he and Jackson should hit the shooting range, er, I mean take extra shots, er, I mean basket attempts, at practice.
- The Pacers are shooting 36.4 per cent after one; Toronto is at 60.9 per cent. For the first half, Indy shoots just 32 per cent. The final tally? The Pacers are just over 37 per cent. Now that kind of defense will win Toronto some games.
- With under six minutes to play in the opening quarter, the Pacers have already turned it over five times compared to just one by Toronto. For once, turnovers don’t kill the Raptors. They give up just nine points off of fumbled balls for the game.
- Graham has definitely taken advantage of the extra time with Peterson out. He had 12 points and eight boards despite going just 1-for-5 and being mostly invisible in the first half. But Golden Graham sure picked up his play down the stretch today.
- Calderon’s big performance — 13 points and five assists in just 24 minutes — was just what the doc ordered with Ford off his game. He’s taking high percentage shots and is having a huge impact off the bench. On one inbounds play, Calderon went around and talked to each of the other four Raps on the floor, providing them with instructions from coach Mitchell. He’s becoming a leader on this team, certainly of the second unit.
- The Pacers next five games are on the West Coast. Yeah, we’ve done that. It ain’t pretty. Indy could find itself falling well behind the Pistons and Cavs by the time it gets back to its little field house.
- We had a Rasho sighting. After a pair of DNP-CDs, Nesterovic played 20 minutes, the most action he’s seen in over three weeks. He was active on the glass with seven boards and came up with a sweet rejection midway through the second quarter.
- Indiana didn’t get to the free throw line until there was just over six minutes to play in the second quarter. That is not going to get it done. Especially on the road, getting easy points at the stripe is vital. The Pacers bounce back and wind up with 20 trips for the game. Not great, but better than Toronto today.
- Ford and Calderon are doing a great job protecting the pumpkin. They have combined for seven assists without a turnover in the early going. For the game, try 11 dimes against two turnovers for this pair. Oh, man, it is so sweet to have some real point guards. Calderon, by the way, is just so impressive in his ability to turn the corner on defenders. He’s so much more comfortable this year after enduring some struggles — especially with an injured foot — last season.
- Ford was just 3-for-8 from the floor, but we’ll let it slide. His shooting has been much better of late, 15-of-24 in the previous two games. He started the game well with four points and five assists with under a minute left in the first quarter, but kind of disappeared for the rest of the day.
- A reminder is in order that it takes time for a team to gel. Consider how much playing time is being swallowed up by new Raptors. Ford leads the way with 33.3 MPG heading in, but all told, 63 per cent of the team’s minutes are being logged by new faces. That is by far the highest percentage in the NBA (the Bucks are a distant second at 35 per cent). We simply can’t expect instantaneous results with such a new group.
- Toronto needed to continue to be selective with its shots and distribute the ball well in the second half. It didn’t until it was almost too late. In fact, the Raps don’t record their first assist of the second half until less than a minute remains in the third quarter. Why do they go away from what makes them successful? I suppose I answered that question already with the point above, didn’t I?
- O’Neal and Harrington combine for just 11 points in the first half. O’Neal is hobbled in the third, clearly favouring his right hip after some serious contact. He winds up playing 38 minutes, so I guess he’s okay but, man, will the Pacers be screwed if this acts up on the Western swing. What a battler he is under the boards, by the way. He was taking a pounding all game, yet there he was, late in the fourth, fighting for position and corraling a loose ball, not once but twice.
- Garbajosa doesn’t look the part but he can actually beat opponents off the dribble.
- At one point in the fourth, it’s small ball time for the Raps. Ford, Calderon and Jones are out together. The bigs are Bosh and Nesterovic.
- Next up, the Raps head back on the road where they are winless. It’s just a two-game trip, but oh man, not only is it back-to-back, but it’s against the Hornets and blazing hot Mavs. Great. Are the Raptors ever going to have a winning streak?