Paul George pieced together a masterful second half to open the NBA Playoffs, leading the Indiana Pacers to an impressive Game 1 victory over the Toronto Raptors. In order to give themselves a chance of pulling a rare upset as a seven seed, the Pacers needed to pull out this win, if for no other reason than to allow doubt to creep into the minds of Toronto, whose well-documented playoff struggles will become louder after their third straight Game 1 home loss and seventh straight playoff loss overall.
The Pacers were forced to weather early adversary from the Raptors, particularly from Jonas Valanciunas, who used an eight point, nine rebound first quarter to help Toronto to an early 18-11 lead. Valanciunas dominated his matchup against Ian Mahinmi to open the game, but found himself in a real fight with rookie Myles Turner in his first postseason game.
Valanciunas found things more difficult after the first quarter, scoring just four points the rest of the way, eventually fouling out in 21 minutes of action. He'd wrap up with 19 rebounds, but Hansbrough'd his way to his final seven of the game, rebounding (and missing) off of his own misses. Turner, on the other hand, appeared tense early, missing a pair of free throws in his opening minutes, but from that point, he began to just play, proving a fighter against Valanciunas.
Turner had 10 points on 5-9 in his first postseason game, blocking five shots. He was a part of Indiana making a late first half push, scoring two and sending away a block in a 10-2 run that allowed Indiana to wipe away a 39-31 deficit, eventually falling behind by two at the half 45-43. The Pacers took the lead early in the third quarter, but the last impact Valanciunas would make on the game allowed Toronto to cap an 11-4 run that put them up 56-52, before picking up his fourth foul.
From that point, it was Paul George who made the game his. George got hot, finishing the third quarter with 17 points on 6-7 shooting with three three pointers, giving Indiana a crucial 67-65 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Pacers would sit tied 74-74 when George returned, picking up from where he left off, scoring 10 points and dishing three asissts in the final half of the quarter, as the Pacers outscored Toronto 26-16 late to win 100-90, snagging a big Game 1 victory.
George's second half was nothing short of dominant. Not only did George score 27 of his 33 points in the second half on a scorching 10-13 shooting, but he did it by taking it to DeMar DeRozan on both ends. In a series where Indiana needs George to be the best player in the series, he came through in a big way to open the postseason. On the flipside, the competition wasn't stiff, as both DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were both taken out of the game early and often.
DeRozan had 14 points on 5-19 shooting while Lowry scored 11 on 3-13. The two combined for 1-10 shooting from three point range, while also going 8-15 from the free throw line, uncharacteristically low across the board, but the Indiana defense had their say in holding Toronto to 38% shooting, forcing 20 turnovers, outscoring Toronto 25-13 in points off turnovers.
George was magnificent, but the Pacers got key contributions from the bench, not only from Turner, but Solomon Hill. Solo scored 13 points, 10 of those coming from free throws in a game where he attacked and changed the flow of the game by forcing Valanciunas out with foul trouble twice, including the sixth foul. Monta Ellis finished with 15 points, including three three pointers, with he and George combining for 10 assists and seven steals.
George Hill reached double figures with 10 points, but in general the overall play of the Pacers' individuals can improve. The game changed in Indiana's favor with Turner's entrance, which helped lead to Valanciunas's exit. His foul trouble made him a non-factor after the first quarter, but his activity on the glass led Toronto a +14, including 20 offensive boards, something Indiana can't continue to allow and expect to win with consistency in this series.
The growing availability of DeMarre Carroll could be another swing in Toronto's favor if he can be a step up defensively on DeRozan. The struggles of Lowry and DeRozan can't be expected to continue and that will set up a crucial Game 2 for of course the Raptors, but also the Pacers, who can effectively end the series with a win on Monday.
Of course that's easier said than done, but if there aren't any lingering mental issues with the Raptors and their ability to win in the postseason, the Pacers need to make sure there is. Winning Game 1 was a big step forward for Indiana in this series, but they can't turn into the complacent version of the Pacers that made them a seven seed to begin with.