The positives in place for the Indiana Pacers in much of tonight's game in Toronto took a nosedive in the game's final four minutes, with the Toronto Raptors thoroughly clobbering the Pacers in Winning Time as Indiana falls 102-94 to lose their sixth straight road game and fall to 19-19 on the season away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It's hard to call tonight's showing a moral victory given how it ended and given how tough a loss is for a goal of the top seed in the East, but for 44 minutes, they were in place offensively to keep up with a well positioned Raptors team, who found plenty of offensive success on their end.
One of the big advantages Indiana had throughout the night was their ability to limit second chance opportunities for Toronto and control the rebounding game. The Raptors had survived thanks to hot shooting early, big shots all night from Terrence Ross, and an inordinate amount of and one plays to go with 10 three pointers. With Indiana leading 94-92 at the 4:24 mark, Toronto came up with a pair offensive boards on two Patrick Patterson missed threes.
Greiviz Vasquez would put in a bucket to tie the game at 94-94. After a Roy Hibbert miss on the other end, the Pacers forced a miss only to have it come up in the hands of Jonas Valanciunas, who scored off the rebound. Another Pacers brick allowed the ball back into Toronto's possession, who after another miss of their own, tracked down the long rebound from Ross, who set up Valanciunas for the 98-94 lead with 2:03 left in the game.
Toronto, who had five offensive rebounds to that point, nearly doubled their total with four in a two minute span. Meanwhile, Indiana was one and done in each of their two opportunities. Down four, Lance Stephenson dialed his own number for a layup attempt with a minute left that didn't go and after grabbing a rebound, flew down the floor, failing again to have a difficult layup go.
Ross at the line hit two free throws to help seal the win for the Raptors, who would go on to win by eight, outscoring Indiana 10-0 in the final 3:42 of the game. The Pacers went scoreless for the final 4:24, shooting 0-7 from the floor and coming with just two rebounds. The final run dipped Indiana's shooting percentage down to 42.3% and they would end up losing the rebounding battle 42-39, with Toronto pulling in 11 rebounds in the final stretch.
Paul George would lead all scorers with 26, overcoming poor shooting early as he caught fire at the end of the third and into the fourth quarter, going 5-6 from the floor in that stretch for 14 points as he helped push into the lead multiple times. George would only get one more attempt with the game actually in reach, a miss with 2:43 remaining before a desperation heave with 22 seconds left. George did well getting to the line, going 9-10.
Lance Stephenson was quite for most of the night, but came up with two big misses down the stretch that did little to help Indiana's case in the closing minutes. Neither of Stephenson's two layups with under a minute to go were particularly good looks and they were ill advised shots in both situations despite's his ability to put in shots in unorthodox ways. While Stephenson can absolutely change the flow of a game for the better as he did against Detroit on Wednesday, he did just the opposite with his drives at the end of tonight's game.
While Stephenson is hardly the only player to blame for Indiana's collapse late, it seemed like he took the game upon himself rather than continue to work though the two best players on the floor for Indiana in George and David West. Not only was George playing well in the fourth quarter, but West had just put in a key jumper to put the Pacers up a pair in what would be the team's final basket.
West was 9-15 at that point with 21 points, having found success for himself and others with his ability to move the ball throughout the night. It's fair to point out that George and West each missed their next attempts, but with Toronto pushing, owning the offensive glass, and taking a four point lead, two straight drives from Stephenson while failing to come up with a really solid play at the basket looked to play right into the Raptors and their ability to close out the win.
It certainly didn't help matters much that Roy Hibbert was wildly ineffective in the second half. After an efficient scoring first half (despite them coming off less than optimal shots), Hibbert had a second half line of three points on 1-3 shooting with three fouls and a block. Hibbert's lone field goal attempt in the fourth quarter wasn't even a real attempt as he threw it towards the basket in an attempt to draw a foul, I guess.
Compared with Valancuinas, who played the second half strong with 11 second half points on 5-5 shooting with four rebounds, including one of Toronto's key offensive rebounds down the stretch. Hibbert had two rebounds for the game, none coming in the second half and not even getting a good look for his one attempt in the fourth quarter. Ian Mahinmi didn't provide much more off the bench with just four points in 16 minutes, but Mahinmi found better position in his lone field goal than Hibbert seemed too all night.
The bench as a whole had a rough night for the most part, with Luis Scola struggling for his six points on 3-7 shooting and Evan Turner falling hard on a 1-8 shooting night, but doing a great job at crashing the boards, coming up with five, including three on the offensive end. Donald Sloan salvaged an otherwise lackluster bench performance with nine off the bench, with three assists, but ultimately succumbing to Nando De Colo, who led Toronto's bench with 10.
While things didn't end up the way for Indiana they had hoped, they did continue to see positives in the right direction despite allowing over 100 points and allowing Toronto shoot nearly 48% on the night. While it still ended in a loss and in such a sour way, things don't feel nearly as dire as they have in recent road losses. Though, Indiana's road struggles continue to be a problem that could prove troublesome as the postseason nears.
For Toronto, Ross shot well from three point range with five going in and Valancuinas was 10-14 for the night, including his strong second half. DeMar DeRozan was there to put in 20 as the third leading scorer for Toronto, more than enough for the Raptors with Indiana stumbling down the stretch.
The Pacers were gifted another stay of first seed execution with the Miami Heat falling in double overtime to Minnesota, losing a 122-121 thriller at home to a Timberwolves team on their last gasp. The Pacers stay locked in at second by percentage points as they will host their penultimate home game of the regular season against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday evening with a 6 p.m. ET tip.