If the Indiana Pacers, now sitting at 25-6 after a frustrating loss against the Toronto Raptors, have shown any real vulnerability, it's been on the second night of back-to-backs. The Pacers latest loss drops them to 5-4 in the second game, with all four coming on the road. That's not a great sign for a team with eight road back-to-backs remaining, but if the back-to-back is an excuse for Indiana, it certainly wasn't one for the Raptors, who flat out smacked the Pacers around, especially in the second half, where they outscored Indiana 56-38.
Seconds halves have been a sizable strength for Indiana this season, but they found themselves on the receiving end of their second half showcases tonight after fighting for a 44-40 halftime advantage. They stumbled into a nine point hole in the second quarter, but were able to dig out of it, eventually leading by eight in the third quarter. From there, Toronto forced turnovers and capitalized, leading by three heading into the third quarter and turning a 74-74 tie into a 95-82 victory in the game's final six minutes.
There was a laundry list of issues that came up with Indiana tonight, but Roy Hibbert's foul trouble in the second half helped shift the tide of the game in Toronto's favor each time he went out with fouls. This partially due to Hibbert's defense and Toronto's ability to live at the free throw line in the fourth quarter (shooting 16, picking up trips to the line with every attack at the rim), but as well because Hibbert was really the only Pacers play showing any kind of offensive consistency. Hibbert eventually fouled out late in the fourth having logged just 21 minutes, but scored all over Jonas Valanciunas and Toronto's front line with a team high 16 when he was able to be on the floor.
Paul George offered up very little outside of eight rebounds on a night where he scored just 12 points on 5-14 shooting, turning it over six times. Turnovers were a crux of Indiana's offense all night, as they finished with 23 on the night, worse yet, leading to an astounding 32 Toronto points as the Raptors also killed Indiana in transition with 17 points to Indiana's four.
Indiana was also outrebounded again, though the 39-36 Toronto advantage felt much higher, mostly due to Indiana's ability to hold onto the ball and Toronto's ability to come up with every 50/50 ball all night. Indiana's ball movement on offense was another issue of concern. They assisted on just 16 of their 32 field goals while Toronto had an efficient 27 assists on 34 shots. Indiana also didn't do any favors for themselves from the line when they did get there, shooting just 13-20 on the night.
Lance Stephenson was surprisingly invisible tonight, George Hill was just 2-6 for six points, David West couldn't find a rhythm, going 3-9 for nine points. C.J. Watson had some poor decision making in the first half and Ian Mahinmi couldn't avoid the whistle in his own limited minutes. Only three Pacers reached double figures, but aside from Hibbert offensively, only Danny Granger had a solid night, scoring 11 points with three assists off the bench. Granger looked really sharp in the second quarter especially as he helped give Indiana the lead, but no one helped to pick up the extra slack for more than a basket here and there to make use of Granger's scoring.
Indiana shot the ball reasonably okay at 43.2%, just a few points shy of Toronto's 43.6%, and they were able to force 17 turnovers, but their inability to take advantage of the turnovers led to Indiana putting up a season low in points. In Toronto's case, they did play extremely well, and are 9-3 since trading Rudy Gay, including road wins at Dallas and Oklahoma City along the way. DeMar DeRozan scored 26, hitting some big shots down the stretch as part of his less than stellar 9-24 shooting night. Terrance Ross on the other hand had a tremendous game, doing a great job frustrating George throughout the night as he scored 18 with three steals, including a late one where he just took George's pass from him.
The overall sample size of Indiana's season suggests this was just "one of those nights," one of those "sometimes you get bored of success" nights as Quinn Buckner noted. When Indiana moved up eight in the third quarter, it certainly looked like they were going to do their thing and move towards the win column with relative ease, but these are the night to night rigors of a long NBA season. Sometimes going through the motions won't be enough and sometimes the team on the other side has enough to do something about it. Indiana didn't have the extra step necessary to extend their winning streak, and they'll take a loss heading into Saturday night, and the first of another back-to-back.
Saturday night's home game against the New Orleans Pelicans will cap a busy sports day in Indiana, with the Hoosiers making their Big Ten home opener, Butler tipping at Xavier, and the Colts hosting their first home playoff game in three years against Kansas City. So get your popcorn ready and hope the Pacers can hold up their end of the bargain for Indiana's top tier Saturday, at least better than they did tonight.