April 09, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers shooting guard Leandro Barbosa (28) shoots the ball against Toronto Raptors power forward Amir Johnson (15) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeated Toronto 103-98. Mandatory credit: Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE
Something set the tone early. Maybe it was Paul George missing a dunk that could've given the Indiana Pacers an early six point lead. Perhaps it was the early Roy Hibbert turnovers that set a sloppy offensive tone. Most likely, it came down to an utterly resilient Toronto Raptors team that brought a level of energy Indiana had a difficult time holding down. It wasn't even so much a kind of energy where the Raptors were slaughtering the Pacers and hanging tough; Indiana was playing a solid game once they gained a shred of offensive competence late in the first, but it was a somewhat familiar script the Pacers have been on the losing side of at points this year: unable to get over that wall, unable to get enough plays successively to turn the game around.
There were a lot of stretches tonight where Indiana was right on the verge of turning this game into a blowout, but at no point did Toronto allow that to happen and for that they deserve a ton of credit. The Pacers struggled with turnovers out of the gate, but the second unit, fueled by A.J. Price, getting playing time due to a groin injury holding out Darren Collison and moving George Hill to the starting lineup, exploded into Lob City territory with Price throwing up a couple of alley oops for Lou Amundson to track down.
The highlight reel was part of a run that seemed to put Indiana in control, the Pacers jumping out by 13 early in the second quarter before the Raptors responded with a 7-2 run that helped set the tone for the rest of the night: every time the Pacers pushed, the Raptors pushed right back. The starters finally found a groove in the late stages of the second quarter, building their lead back to 14 at halftime despite solid play from Alan Anderson and Gary Forbes.
The Raptors were able to get just about everything they needed out of their cast, and it created a ton of opportunities for them to stay in the game. When Danny Granger got the Pacers started in the second half, it turned into the Anderson and Amir Johnson show, with the pair split scoring duties with Anderson leading the way to not only keep Indiana's offensive damage at a minimum, but to draw the game to single digits with two minutes left.
It was certainly no gold standard defensive effort from the Pacers, but an up in defensive effort with some timely misses from Toronto allowed Leandro Barbosa to change the complexion of the game at the end of the third with five quick points against his former team to put Indiana up 15. The five points felt like a huge swing for the Pacers, a monumental shift that would allow the Pacers to finally draw the game to a close, but they became important for a completely different reason when Ed Davis and Linas Kleiza exploded in the fourth to draw the Raptors within 2. A combination of poor defense, timely Raptors offense, and putrid Indiana execution (leading to four points from a goal tending call and a pair of free throws), it was quite easy to see the Pacers were about to suffer the same fate they handed the Knicks just a week ago.
Danny Granger drove in for a rare dunk that created some Pacers opportunity on both sides of the floor, allowing them to simply survive and hold on against ten free throw attempts from Kleiza and timely buckets from Amir Johnson that made every Pacers dagger irrelevant. In the end, it was simply a game the Raptors ran out of time in, as Paul George finished the game off with a fast break dunk to put the Pacers back in the win column.
While it's easy to write off the Oklahoma City Thunder's 24-point comeback as a great team making their run, it didn't quite feel so good to simply survive when the Toronto Raptors all but erased a 17-point deficit of their own. The Pacers up and down defense was on full display. They helped seal the game late with defense, but it was their lack of defensive consistency that put them in their situation to begin with. The Raptors went 10-20 from three point range to help further expose Indiana's most dangerous weakness. With a potential first round matchup against the three point happy Orlando Magic, it's certainly unsettling to give up ten to Toronto.
Leandro Barbosa was a huge asset for the Pacers tonight. His 14 off the bench all came in the second half with 12 in the final 13 minutes of game action, each basket helping to push the Pacers helping to keep Toronto at bay. It wasn't even so much a night where each basket killed the Raptors' chances at a comeback. Toronto was able to get what they wanted in the fourth quarter, but Barbosa's timely offense really helped stiff arm the Toronto comeback.
Despite the early ball control issues (which weren't a result of him), George Hill played surprisingly well with the starting unit, but after the night he had against Boston, it was hard to imagine him not coming out with a chip on his shoulder. Hill racked up 18 on the night, grabbing 7 boards in the process. Also rebounding from a poor shooting performance, Paul George totaled 15 on 5-9 shooting, the same as Hill. George's game was a bit slow to start, but the second year wing did well to fight and came up with some superb shots on offense.
With the absence of Darren Collison, A.J. Price was given some rare game time burn and played a smart, focused game, putting forward a quietly solid 5 points and 4 assists. Price enjoyed exploiting the Raptors D for some high flying highlight plays, most of which worked anyway. The Pacers relied on a balance scoring attack to dispatch the Raptors, with the bench having a much better showing than they had against the Celtics. The Pacer bigs were largely MIA offensively, but Tyler Hansbrough, Lou Amundson, and Roy Hibbert each gave the Pacers some quality minutes even if they don't show a lot in the box score.
With the win, the Pacers drop their magic number for a playoff berth to 3 with the Milwaukee Bucks dropping at home to OKC. Indiana can clinch a playoff spot as soon as Friday if they can win their upcoming home-and-home against the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers, but a Saturday matchup against the Bucks can also be the clincher. Elsewhere in the league, the Orlando Magic, short Dwight Howard and Chris Duhon (who was ironically suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team") dismantled the Detroit Pistons to remain a game back of the Pacers in 6th.
Indiana gets the night off tomorrow as Orlando and Boston each hit the road against Washington and Miami respectively. The Pacers will be focused on the home-and-home against the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers.