Pacers explode in 2nd half, beat Raptors to force Game 7
DeRozan and Lowry shooting woes continue to plague Toronto
There's been a subtext to this Toronto Raptors record-breaking season: can they win a playoff series?
They have one last game to provide an answer.
The Raptors coughed up an ugly 101-83 loss to Indiana on Friday, with a woeful second-half collapse, and now the series has come down to Sunday's Game 7.
And moments after the final buzzer sounded, and the hundreds of travelling Raptors fans had trudged out in stunned silence, DeMar DeRozan said he believes his team will rise to the challenge.
"It means everything for us to advance," DeRozan said. "The season would be a failure if we don't make it out of this first round, give ourselves a chance to play in the second round. We understand that. It's basketball.
"We love to play this game. It comes with highs, it comes with lows, but you've got to be ready for the challenge at the end of the day."
It's not a funeral
Paul George scored 21 points to top the Pacers, who evened the series at three wins apiece.
Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll had 15 points each to top the Raptors, while Jonas Valanciunas added 14 points and nine rebounds. It was yet another rough outing for all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeRozan — Lowry had 10 assists but just 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting. DeRozan had eight points on a 3-for-13 shooting night.
When asked again about Sunday, DeRozan said his team has to "respond like we're supposed to. Simple as that, man. We've got an opportunity.
"Like I said, man, we love the game of basketball. You can't make it seem like a funeral," he added — while sounding funereal. "It's a chance for us to go out and compete at the highest level, which we love to do, and an opportunity for us to do it on our home court."
The Raptors, who entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed after a franchise-best 56-win season, roared out to an early 12-point lead. But by the end of a horrible third quarter, it had turned into an eight-point deficit, and they trailed 71-64 going into the fourth.
Then things got ugly in a hurry. The Pacers reeled off a lightning-quick 13-0 run to take a 19-point lead just over two minutes into the fourth quarter.
When it seemingly couldn't get worse, it did. The Pacers continued to drop one shot after another, to the delight of Pacers fans, and the Raptors appeared helpless to stop them. When George connected on two free throws with 3:09 to play, it put the Pacers up by 28 points.
The exclamation point came when comedian Mike Epps took the floor during a timeout and led the crowd in chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"
'We will respond'
When asked if he was disappointed in his team, Raptors coach Dwane Casey said no, only "in the fact that all of us in that locker-room let this opportunity slip away. We go back to Toronto. We understand the fight and physicality we have to play with."
"I think we will respond," Casey added. "I know we will respond. I think there is fight in that locker-room."
The Raptors have just one playoff series win in their 21-year history, in 2001 versus the New York Knicks.
How do the Raptors refocus?
"By not watching this game," Patrick Patterson said. "Not watching this game and just worrying about us having a nice long conversation amongst ourselves, see how bad we want this, see how bad we want to advance to the next round.
"Each and every one of us have to step up, own up to our mistakes, own up to what we need to do in order to get wins collectively and as a team and just go out and do it. It's just a will to win. We've got to have that."
We The Gold
Once again, hundreds of Raptors fans made the trek from Toronto to Indy, and their presence made for a raucous atmosphere at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with duelling chants and non-stop noise. There was a smattering of boos before the singing of "O Canada." Large pockets of Raptors red broke up the backdrop of yellow Pacers T-shirts.
Among those in attendance: long-time Pacer Rik Smits and Brazilian race car driver Tony Kanaan.
The Pacers took aim at Toronto's "We The North" slogan with their own "We The Gold" campaign, which was written on the yellow T-shirts given to fans, under the words "UNITED STATE OF BASKETBALL."
Casey had been preaching a strong start for Game 6 after woeful first quarters in Games 4 and 5. The Raptors were clearly listening, roaring out to a 12-point lead in the first quarter behind nine points from Carroll. The Pacers pulled to within 22-20 going into the second.
The Pacers tied it up midway through the second quarter, but the Raptors would go up by eight before taking a 44-40 advantage into halftime.
The Raptors' defence disappeared in the third, as they gave up 31 points to Indiana.
The Raptors won Games 2, 3 and 5, while Indiana took Games 1 and 4.