NBA playoffs: Raptors vs. Pacers
1st-round matchup a story of conflicting styles
The Toronto Raptors want to keep making history.
Fifty-six wins in the regular season, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and a third consecutive playoff appearance are nice, but the team is aiming higher. Winning a seven-game series for the first time in franchise history would be a defining moment for the Raptors.
To do that, they'll have to defeat the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers.
Game 1 goes Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET in Toronto.
The Pacers, who went from the top of the East in 2014 to missing the 2015 playoffs on a tie-breaker, have regained their form somewhat this season. A healthy Paul George and the promotion of centre Ian Mahinmi following the off-season trade of Roy Hibbert have been instrumental in the Hoosier State renaissance.
The Raptors have a winning record against all of the playoff teams in the East, so they may have caught a break when the Chicago Bulls (4-0 against Toronto) failed to sneak into the post-season.
But as fans in the 6ix know painfully well (see: the first-round losses to Brooklyn and Washington in the last two years), anything can happen in the playoffs. Here's a look at the matchup between the Raptors and Pacers, this time without the presence of perennial villain Paul Pierce.
1-on-1: DeMarre Carrol vs. Paul George
The Raptors need their best defender to lock down Indiana's most prolific scorer. George, who missed all but six games last season with a broken leg, set a career high in points per game with 23.1 and matched his career best in assists (4.1) and steals per game (1.9).
The recently rechristened No. 13 is the focal point of Indiana's offence, a task Carroll was brought in to handle. The heir to Jerome Williams's Junkyard throne had a trying first season in Toronto, dealing with a right knee injury and setbacks after the January surgery.
In 26 games with the Raptors, Carroll has shown glimpses of why Toronto signed him to a four-year, $60 million US deal last summer, averaging eight rebounds and nearly three steals per game to go along with 39 per cent shooting from behind the arc.
Carroll and George have met in the postseason before, when Carroll and the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks pushed the Pacers to seven games in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. However, Indiana won the series, giving Carroll some added motivation for the rematch.
Toronto's playoff hopes depend largely on the performances of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The two guards, with back-to-back first-round exits fresh in their minds, combined to average 44.7 points and 10.4 assists per game this season.
The Raptors finished the season ranked fifth in offensive rating this season, according to Basketball-Reference.com. The Pacers finished 24th.
However, Indiana excels on the defensive end, finishing third in defensive rating this season. While the Raptors are steady on defence, ranking 11th in defensive rating, they will need to find a way to solve the Pacers' strong team defence.
The only way to settle the offence versus defence debate? Fervent online debating!
I get what he's saying, but the Raptors should beat the Pacers. Indy has never found any consistency this season. <a href="https://t.co/KVBaS2aAQ7">https://t.co/KVBaS2aAQ7</a>—@ZachLowe_NBA
So it will be <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Raptors?src=hash">#Raptors</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Pacers?src=hash">#Pacers</a> in the first round - as the past has shown... FORGET WHAT HAPPENED IN THE REG SEASON VS INDY...—@meghanmcpeak
I think the <a href="https://twitter.com/Pacers">@Pacers</a> gonna beat <a href="https://twitter.com/Raptors">@Raptors</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Yg_Trece">@Yg_Trece</a> is about to go off this series—@mrronald216
Pivotal role players
George Hill is an established floor general for the Pacers, while Toronto's Jonas Valanciunas continues to develop into a reliable post player. However, this series will be heavily influenced by both teams' supporting casts.
Indiana will need to rely on journeyman guard Monta Ellis for some extra offence and forwards Jordan Hill and Myles Turner for enforcement down low.
For the Raptors to advance, they'll need contributions from the following players:
Norman Powell: Worried that the rookie will succumb to playoff jitters, also known as Terrence Ross Syndrome? Not likely. Powell is an explosive player who fits in well with the starters and the reserve unit. As for the last time he played the Pacers, he had a career-high 27 points.
Luis Scola: El Gaucho Viejo has been efficient and versatile for Toronto this season, leading the Raptors in three-point percentage (40.4) and contributing 66 assists. Scola, who was chosen over Patrick Patterson to start this season, has been a steadying influence among Toronto's other starters.
Jason Thompson: Players like Patterson and James Johnson will need to play well, but Thompson's importance cannot be overlooked. The reserve centre will need to step up in the event of fatigue, foul trouble or injury for Valanciunas and the dynamic Bismack Biyombo. Thompson, who averaged 15 minutes and four boards per game in 18 appearances, will be relied on for similar numbers this postseason.