Archive for the ‘Indiana Pacers’ Category

Game No. 2 – Pacers 90, Raptors 85

1- What an atmosphere. Seriously, anyone who doesn’t think Toronto can be a basketball town should have been forced to sit in the ACC for Wednesday night’s home opener. The “feels like a playoff game” line is used way too often in sports media, but the atmosphere in the ACC last night was pretty much as close as you can get to playoff atmosphere in the regular season, especially for a team who most fans have accepted will be a cellar dweller.

An intense defensive, physical matchup, a near colour-out in the stands, white towels waving, near standing ovations for every hustle play leading into a timeout, Kardinal Offishall performing at halftime and Justin Bieber sitting courtside. Just a great night of basketball to experience in Toronto.

2- Speaking of music, finally, the Raptors get the pre-game introduction song right. Drake’s “Headlines” may not be the biggest pump-up song out there, but it’s a big, recognizable track from the hottest Canadian/Torontonian music act right now. I don’t know if you caught it, but there was a noticeable buzz in the crowd as soon as the first few beats of “Headlines” played. I’ve never heard that for a Raptors’ pre-game song before. Even if you don’t like Drake, I assure you, this choice was a lot better than some of the crap they’ve come up with in the past.

3- The Pacers are the better basketball team and probably deserved to win this game anyway (and in terms of the 2012 Draft, every loss counts for Toronto), but wow, was the officiating slanted in this one? In recent seasons, the Raptors have been on the wrong end of miscalled games more often than not, but in a lot of those games, I faulted the Raps for not being aggressive and settling. On Wednesday night, the Raptors were trying to attack the basket, were getting mugged on the way there, and were rarely awarded with free throws. The Pacers would attack the basket, be gently brushed, and get the benefit of the ref’s whistle.

Could the more veteran Pacers just be smarter about how and when they use their hands and bodies on defence? I suppose, but it was a physical game that could have seen whistles blown equally on nearly every trip down the floor (and it seemed like that was the case in the first five minutes or so), and yet the Raptors end up with 25 personal fouls to the Pacers’ 16.

4- Andrea Bargnani’s butter fingers. For the most part, I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Bargnani in two games. He hasn’t forced too much offensively, he’s shown some great court vision with his passes, he’s been better defensively and he’s making a much more consistent effort to chase down and follow rebounds. It may not look like it by checking the boxscore (Bargnani has just 10 total rebounds in two games), but watching him makes it easy to see the difference. Unfortunately, Andrea seems to be suffering from a severe case of butter-fingers right now. I counted three times on Wednesday night that Bargnani got into good position and had the rebound in his hands, only to let the ball slip away. I saw this happen a couple of times in the Cavs game on Monday as well. It may not sound like much, but it’s the difference between averaging five rebounds through two games and perhaps seven or eight rebounds.

Am I defending Bargnani’s rebounding or saying he never gets out-muscled for the ball? Absolutely not. I’m just saying his low rebounding total seems to be more a case of butter-fingers right now than a lack of effort or will. I do think letting the ball slip out of your hands like that is a lapse in concentration though, and Andrea has to be better than that.

5- I’ve been disappointed with DeMar DeRozan’s start to games so far, but I’ve been equally impressed with his finishes. On Monday night, DeRozan started very slow offensively, only to hit a couple of clutch shots down the stretch to seal a road win. On Wednesday night, DeMar couldn’t hit a soccer net in the first half, but responded with 16 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Raptors’ comeback bid and finish with 22 points overall, which led the team.

What I really like, and a sign that DeMar has matured as a player from year two to year three, is that even though his shot has been AWOL early in these two games, he hasn’t tried to do too much offensively or force anything in a feeble attempt to erase his slow starts. He’s gone about things the right way. Keep playing your game, keep putting the effort in on other facets of the game and stay patient on offence. Wait for your opportunity late in the game, and make it happen. That’s what DeMar has done.

He’s come out with some poor shooting to start both games, and yet he’s still put up 37 points while going 16-of-29 from the field.

6- I’ll end on a positive note. Bar none, that was the most complete defensive performance I’ve personally seen live from the Raptors in at least seven years. If you wanted to see the “Casey-effect” in action before being convinced, seeing the home opener at the ACC probably made you a believer. Using mostly the same players that acted as defensive pylons for the majority of last season, Dwane Casey looks to have turned water into wine. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Nearly every time I thought a Pacer had too much space as he was about to receive a pass, a Raptor swooped in and closed that gap instantly. It’s hard to describe in words, but the word I keep coming back to is “smothering.”

Sure, it’s still a work in progress and I still saw too many open three-pointers for my liking, but if you saw this team live at all last season and then sat in for the home opener on Wednesday, you can’t tell me you weren’t impressed with their defensive turnaround.

The Raptors won over the sold out opening night crowd at the ACC with good old fashioned defence and hard work. If they continue to bring that effort throughout the season, the fans in Toronto will embrace them, regardless of whether they’re playing meaningful games or playing to decide lottery position.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 32 Min, 21 Pts, 9-17 FG, 1-3 3Pt, 2-5 FT, 4 Reb, 5 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 Blk

Pacers Player of the Game: Danny Granger – 31 Min, 21 Pts, 8-19 FG, 2-5 3Pt, 3-3 FT, 8 Reb, 1 Ast, 3 Stl, 1 Blk, 4 TO

Start time: 6:00 PM ET
Channel: Sportsnet
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Rasual Butler, Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson
Indiana: Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert

Injury report

Toronto: Aaron Gray has been cleared to play tonight after being diagnosed with an irregular heart rate.

Indiana: Jeff Foster is questionable with a sore back, Jeff Pendergraph is out with a sprained knee.

The Raptors showed some good signs in their first win under Dwane Casey on Monday, but the Cavs are going to be one of the worst teams in the league this season, while the Pacers might be a top-five team in the East. Their size could give the Raptors some real problems tonight — seven-foot-two Roy Hibbert should be a tough matchup for whoever is guarding him at any time, and starting shooting guard Paul George reportedly grew two inches to six-foot-10 since the end of last season. With that kind of size, I doubt the Raptors will match Monday’s nine-block performance.

While the Pacers have to be seen as the favorites tonight, the home team has won the 11 times these teams played each other. If that streak goes to 12 games after tonight, I might have to begin considering taking this Raptors squad seriously this season.

And now, some random thoughts…

  • Do you think General Managers sometimes make trades just because they’re bored? In my Yahoo fantasy league (team name: Scott Shammscott), I traded Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari for Chris Paul and JaVale McGee today. I have no idea if I came out ahead in that deal, but it felt exhilarating to click the “Accept” button on that proposal. Imagine if it was that easy to make trades in real life. Bryan Colangelo might swap Andrea Bargnani for Corey Maggette one night just for the hell of it, while he’s a little buzzed on Amarone.
  • Early-season player averages are fun, aren’t they? Rajon Rondo averaged 1.9 free throw attempts per game last season but he has an incredible 23 free throw attempts in just two games this season. I expect he’ll hit his inevitable cold streak at the line soon and his old timidity will return.
  • David Amber tweeted that Drake will be performing at halftime at the Air Canada Centre tonight. I don’t really have strong feelings about Drake, but I can’t really get behind a dude that whines so much about being famous and getting laid a lot. Blogger “Big Ghost” has some pretty funny lines about Drake in between approximately 1,200 N-words, such as: “…that cascading waterfall of invisible dicks that sons fans call his music.”

Season Two of Archer just came out on DVD so I’ll definitely be copping that as soon as I get a chance. If you haven’t caught this show yet, here’s a taste of what you’ve been missing.

Getty Images

The Raptors were looking to end a three game losing streak and add to the Pacers’ recent woes in the process. They succeeded with little resistance on Friday night.

James Johnson started the game with a hot hand to jump start the Raptors and spark what was a small but energetic crowd of 14 726. The Raps jumped on the Pacers early with a 10-0 first quarter run, and lit up Indiana for 32 in that first quarter.

Toronto continued to build a lead in the second quarter, as Reggie Evans continued to grab every rebound and loose ball in his path and Leandro Barbosa exploded for 18 first half points. On the other side, the only Pacers making any kind of impact were Danny Granger and Tyler Hansbrough. The Raptors found themselves up 14 after putting up 60 points in one of their more impressive first halves of the season.

The Raps got a little sloppy to start the second half, the pace of the game slowed down considerably and the Pacers made their move with Darren Collison taking over in the third quarter. But as was the case at various points in this game, the Raptors bent, but never broke, and were able to sustain a double digit lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Despite getting into early foul trouble in the fourth and seeing the lead dwindle to as little as six, the Raptors hung on for win no. 18. The entire game seemed like the Raptors were on the cusp of blowing the doors off, but never could. In the end though, they were always able to quickly stop a Pacers run and keep a comfortable lead throughout.

The main factors in tonight’s victory were Toronto’s advantage on the glass and another impressive performance by the Raptors’ bench. The Raps out-rebounded the Pacers 46-34, and saw their reserves outscore the Pacers’ bench 46-26. No one was more effective off of the pine than Leandro Barbosa, as the Brazilian Blur enjoyed his best game as a Raptor, pouring in 29 points in 26 minutes.

Reggie Evans and Ed Davis combined to pull down 29 rebounds, with Davis finishing with a double-double.

James Johnson finished with another solid looking, balanced stat-line in 25 minutes, DeMar DeRozan finished with 16 points on 13 field goal attempts and Jose Calderon put up 13 points and eight assists while committing just one turnover.

It really was a complete team effort for the Raptors, as even Joey Dorsey, Sonny Weems and Jerryd Bayless provided quality minutes in the limited floor time they all saw.

Really, the only Raptor who seemed to be labouring through this game was Andrea Bargnani, and that’s likely due to the fact that he is still said to be recovering from the flu. I hope that’s all it was for Andrea, because he seemed a step slow on every possession tonight.

The game even ended with a bit of drama for those who stayed in their seats. Leandro Barbosa tried to convert a layup with the game out of reach and the shot clock turned off in the dying seconds. Granger and Hansbrough seemed to take exception with this, and looked to be talking trash until Reggie Evans came over and sent them away with their tails between their legs.

Raptors Player of the Game: Leandro Barbosa – 26 Min, 29 Pts, 12-21 FG, 2-4 3Pt, 3-4 FT, 3 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl

Pacers Player of the Game: Danny Granger – 36 Min, 25 Pts, 7-17 FG, 3-5 3Pt, 8-8 FT, 7 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl

Goat of the Game: Roy Hibbert – 21 Min, 4 Pts, 2-5 FG, 0-1 FT, 3 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 TO, 5 PF

Roy Hibbert

The Indiana Pacers enter this game with a 27-37 record and having just lost by 26 points to the Timberwolves on Wednesday, and yet they are currently the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. I’ll give you a moment to process that.

OK, this Pacers team clearly isn’t very good. They’ve lost five straight and seven of their last eight games, and they’ve given up at least 100 points in seven straight contests. To be fair, Indiana has the second-youngest roster in the league and rookie swingman Paul George has showed definite promise recently. And the Raptors have 10 fewer wins than the Pacers, so it’s not like their outlook is any brighter.

James Johnson! Tyler Hansbrough! Raptors vs. Pacers: Feel the excitement!

Injury report

Toronto: Amir Johnson is out with the ankle sprain he suffered against the Jazz on Wednesday and Alexis Ajinca will continue to sit with a sore knee. Andrea Bargnani is probable for tonight with whatever weird, lingering illness he has.

Indiana: Mike Dunleavy is out with a broken thumb while Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts are both questionable for tonight.

Five questions

1. Considering Roy Hibbert’s disturbing inconsistency and the fact that the Raptors traded him during the 2008 draft, would you still want him on this team playing next to Andrea Bargnani?

2. If Ed Davis plays well while Amir Johnson recovers from his ankle injury, should Davis be given the starting PF spot for the rest of the season?

3. Whose NBA future do you think is brighter: Ed Davis or Paul George?

4. Have you heard that Jay Triano will be on Tim and Sid: Uncut on Monday at 4:30 PM ET?

5. Do you think the fact that a team 10 games under .500 could qualify for the playoffs this season is an argument for allowing the teams with the top 16 records, regardless of conference, to enter the post-season?

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: Sportsnet One
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Ed Davis, Andrea Bargnani
Indiana: Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough, Roy Hibbert

For tonight’s pregame song, I’m going to throw a bone to Score colleague, Drunk Jays Fans blogger and Score Buzz editor Andrew Stoeten and his spirited rock n’ roll outfit Action Makes. Don’t be surprised if you see theScore use this song, “Bell Hop”, as a show theme or in an upcoming promo. Also, you can catch Action Makes in Peterborough tonight at The Spill Cafe at 10:00 PM.

Roy Hibbert

I just finished watching a truly ugly, sloppy, substandard display of basketball at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors combined for 41 turnovers (25 for Indiana, 16 for Toronto) but the Pacers came out ahead because they dominated on the boards with a 56-38 advantage, because they have players who can make three-pointers (Indiana went 8-for-20 while Toronto went 1-for-6)  and because they have a true lane intimidator in Roy Hibbert — definitely the star of this game with 24 points, 11 rebounds and a couple of blocks.

It was the same story it’s been for the past few weeks for the Raptors. They missed open shots, they got outworked for loose balls, and they had very little cohesion on the court — a lot of the time, they play together like a group of guys who showed up for a pickup game and have never played together before. Also, when your supposed top two offensive players (Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan) shoot 6-for-30 combined, it’s a pretty safe bet this isn’t your night.

While Pacers interim coach Frank Vogel surely wasn’t thrilled to see his team tie their season-high in turnovers in his debut, he had to be happy with the performance by Hibbert — who looked like the dangerous Big Roy from November rather than the shell of a player he’s appeared to be throughout most of January. One game playing for Vogel doesn’t prove that fired coach Jim O’Brien was Hibbert’s problem, but if this is what it took for him to get his confidence back, so be it.

This loss makes it 12 in a row for the Raptors and I don’t see a recent end in sight unless something drastic happens. That could be a trade, a new coach, or maybe even a heart transplant for Andrea Bargnani. But this is a thoroughly discouraged and disillusioned group of young men I saw in black and red tonight.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson — 38 Min, 18 Pts, 8-14 FG, 2-5 FT, 8 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk

Pacers Player of the Game: Roy Hibbert — 30 Min, 24 Pts, 9-19 FG, 6-9 FT, 11 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 Blk

Goat of the Game: Andrea Bargnani — 33 Min, 12 Pts, 3-15 FG, 0-2 3Pt, 6-8 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Ast, 0 Stl, 1 Blk