Losing the opening game in the first round series, at home nonetheless, was a punch to the stomach and the ego of the Toronto Raptors. A team backed by a franchise-best regular season. With the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, arguably the best in the league after those dudes from the Bay Area. And then came the Indiana Pacers, and especially Paul George.
The hype from George’s impressive start to the season, erasing the disappointing 2014-2015 season which he almost entirely missed due to a broken leg and most importantly, the Pacers missing the playoffs. As part of the changed concept, as Roy Hibbert was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers and David West left to the San Antonio Spurs, George was moved to the ‘4’ position, pretty much splitting his time with the ‘3’ after playing almost exclusively at small forward in the three previous seasons.
The media were on the change and complementing it while the Pacers were doing well. George had some struggles at times but overall, despite Monta Ellis taking another step towards becoming a useless, hurtful member of an NBA team, he did very well in his new role, and so did the Pacers in their new look. Not exactly a run and gun team, but their attempts at playing a different, less stagnant offense seemed to be working.
The Pacers didn’t keep it up for long. At some point it turned into what it’s always been. A lot of George isolations, and he shot just 41.8% from the field this season, his lowest in a full season since entering the NBA in 2010. The Pacers almost fell out of the top 8 at one point, but the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards being catastrophic helped the Pacers make it in. But they looked slow, lumbering and pretty much ready to get beaten up by the Raptors going into the series.
For a few moments in the first half, it did look that way as the Raptors opened up a small lead (twice getting to 8 points ahead), but their inconsistent offense kept holding them back. In the second half it changed. The Raptors kept shooting atrociously and not taking advantage of their dominance on the boards, something that was expected. Jonas Valanciunas grabbed 11 offensive rebounds. They got to the line 38 times. Somehow all those second chances and free throw weren’t enough.
It had a lot to do with individual defense by George Hill and Paul George as Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Valanciunas combined to shoot 26% from the field. But it was a lot of George finding his zone, as he has in the past against more difficult opponents in the playoffs. He finished the game with 33 points on 12-for-22 shooting. He scored 17 in the third quarter which made the Pacers grab the game by the throat. He finished with 26 in the second half.
The Pacers aren’t that good of a team to feel too confident with the 1-0 lead they have in the series. However, the Raptors need to be worried. The pressure and past failures might be creeping back up to haunt them. And realizing they might have a player on the Pacers they match up horribly with, who happens to be better than both than both of their backcourt stars, is something that might “help” them drive the wagon off the cliff themselves.