Game No. 58: Pacers 103, Raptors 98

The Pacers are a legitimate threat to win a playoff series in the Eastern Conference, while the Raptors are a surefire lottery team when healthy, so without Andrea Bargnani on the road in Indiana, no one expected much of anything from “Toronto’s other team” playing on Monday night.

Credit the Raptors for fighting to cut a 16-point deficit down to two in the fourth quarter and making the finish somewhat exciting, but did anyone feel the result was ever really in doubt?

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- With Andrea Bargnani missing his 27th game of the season with calf issues, Amir Johnson got the nod as Bargnani’s replacement in Toronto’s starting lineup. Amir responded with a solid outing of 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go with seven rebounds, three assists and a steal. By and large, Amir has been underwhelming this season, and one of the areas of his game I would have liked to see more of was his improved offence from last season. The 16 points came in a losing effort in a meaningless April game, but nonetheless, it was nice to see from him against a good opponent.

2- The Raptors’ other power forward, Ed Davis, put up some very solid numbers in very limited minutes, again. Davis posted a double-double of 11 points (on 5-of-7 shooting) and 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes of action. As I mentioned in Friday’s recap, Davis has been quietly picking up his play of late, but hasn’t been rewarded with extended minutes yet. In his last six games, Ed’s averaged about seven points and eight rebounds in just over 20 minutes. It’s too late into the season to be convinced one way or another by a good individual stretch or a slump, but I’d still like to see Davis get some major minutes down the stretch, especially with Bargnani out.

3- One guy we know was in Dwane Casey’s temporary dog house was James Johnson, who has now played two games since his benching. Johnson was active when he hit the floor tonight in Indy, and came up with two big blocks, but he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire since his return to the lineup on Sunday in Oklahoma City. I wasn’t expecting James to put up huge numbers, but I was hoping his play forced him back into the starting five over 10-day man Alan Anderson. I don’t know that he’s done that.

4-Leandro Barbosa was a factor for the Pacers in this one, scoring 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench for Indy. When the Raptors traded Leandro at the deadline, a few people discussed the possibility of Toronto bringing him back as an unrestricted free agent this off-season, which isn’t a stretch considering Bryan Colangelo’s relationship with the Brazilian Blur and how much he reportedly loved the city. As it stands right now, the Raptors have no guaranteed guard scoring punch off the bench for next season, as Jerryd Bayless isn’t certain to be back, and you can’t count on Gary Forbes for consistent production. If the Raps are still looking for that bench production in July, I’d be fine with bringing Barbosa back at a reasonable price. As frustrating as his shot selection sometimes is and as out of control as he sometimes plays, Barbosa has game-changing offensive ability off of the bench, and that’s something teams quickly realize they need when they don’t have it.

5- 11,021. That’s how many people came out to watch this game in Indiana. That’s it. In short, this is mind boggling to me. The Pacers used to have a great fan-base during their run of contention through the 1990′s and early 2000′s, and while I know the 2011-2012 edition of the team is a mere shadow of the Reggie Miller-led squad of days gone by, they are still a legitimate playoff team and one that can make some post-season noise over the next couple of years. They may not have a superstar, but they’re talented enough, they’re deep, they work hard on the court, they supposedly have one of the nicer arenas in the NBA and they currently sit third in the Eastern Conference at 35-22, winning 19 of 27 games at home. And yet the Pacers sit 29th in the Association with an average attendance of 14,209. Is ‘disappointing’ a strong enough word to describe the lack of hometown support this Pacers team is receiving?

6- One thing I mentioned on Friday night when the Raptors blew what looked to be a sure win against the Cavaliers is how quickly a would-be four game winning streak could turn into a lengthy losing streak. Losses against the Cavs, Thunder, and now Pacers have the streak at three already, and if you look at the Raps’ upcoming schedule and consider that Andrea Bargnani is currently sidelined, you can see why Tank Nation has suddenly been reinvigorated. The team’s next five games are all against playoff opponents (vs. 76ers, vs. Celtics, @ Hawks, vs. Hawks, @ Heat) and their last road game of the season is in Milwaukee, where the Bucks could be playing for their playoff lives. From a realistic standpoint, a game at Detroit and the season finale against the Nets may be Toronto’s final two opportunities for wins this season.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson – 33 Min, 16 Pts, 7-9 FG, 1-1 3PT, 1-2 FT, 7 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl

Pacers Player of the Game: George Hill – 36 Min, 18 Pts, 5-9 FG, 1-3 3PT, 7-7 FT, 7 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Stl