Game 3 was in many ways the quintessential showcase of the 2015-16 Indiana Pacers. A team that in crucial games has repeatedly allowed the opposing team to set the tone and control that tempo from the outset, forcing the Pacers into impossible situations given the lack of execution the team often has. That made the Toronto Raptors seizing control of Game 3 halfway through the first through better hustle and better execution no surprise, albeit disappointing all the same.
The Raptors jumped ahead 17-11, leading by eight after the first quarter, and pushing the game to 17 on a 14-4 run to start the second quarter. Before the Pacers could get righted, they trailed 38-21, and it didn't get much better from there. Indiana found themselves down 53-30 late in the second, but used a 10-0 run late in the second and early in the third to cut the lead to 13.
The improved defensive effort for the Pacers in the third quarter created opportunities for Indiana, but while Indiana may have played like the 3rd best defensive team, they responded by playing like the 25th ranked offensive team, struggling to threaten Toronto, heading into the fourth down 71-59. Indiana within 12 surrendered back-to-back threes to the Raptors, effectively ending their bid for a comeback, eventually falling 101-85 in a disappointing Game 3 loss that dropped Indiana behind 1-2.
The Indiana defense did its job in the third quarter, but faltered around it, especially in the fourth quarter. The Pacers had chances to cut into single figures, but timely shots by Toronto killed any sense of momentum by the Pacers. Toronto hit 10 three pointers on the night, four of those coming in the final quarter, each a bigger backbreaker than the last.
Two of those were from Kyle Lowry, who once again overcome a terrible shooting night to will Toronto to a win in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 points. Lowry shot a series best 8-21, but five field goals came in the fourth and four three pointers equaled Indiana's total until some garbage time stat padding (Indiana finished 6-22 from deep), finishing with 21 points and eight assists.
DeMar DeRozan on the other hand opened hot on a three point play, but also stumbled to a series best 7-19 shooting effort, but shooting 7-9 from the free throw line helped push him to 21 points on the night. By no means efficient or pretty, the Raptors got what they needed from their two best players as their role players once again made up the difference.
DeMarre Carroll had a breakout night of sorts, scoring 17 points on 7-16 with three three pointers and the Pacers were once again tortured by Cory Joseph, who had 10 points off the bench. Indiana would hold the Raptors bench to a series low 30 points, but it was the second unit of the Pacers that would allow the Raptors to blow the game open at the start of the second.
While fatigue may have played a factor late in the game, Frank Vogel was given no choice after his all-bench rotation flamed out, highlighted by non-highlights from C.J. Miles and Ty Lawson, both going scoreless, both picking up a turnover. The play of Myles Turner was the only encouraging thing to come from the second unit, with the rookie scoring 17 points with eight rebounds and three blocks.
The only problem with Turner is that he is a rookie. As well as Turner played offensively, he has a lot of work to do to get to the level of Jonas Valanciunas, who spent much of the night setting up camp against the rookie, picking up four offensive rebounds on a night the Raptors had 15, simply outhustling Indiana on every type of rebound.
Regardless of whether the Pacers ultimately win or lose this series, getting Turner this type of postseason experience was the biggest advantage towards getting into the playoffs this season, and against a player like Valanciunas, he's learning first hand exactly what he needs to improve on to be a force, beginning and ending almost entirely with strength.
After a blistering Game 1 & 2 performance, Paul George came back to earth in a 25 point, 10 rebound, and six assist night with a stat line that looked better than it was. George was just 6-19 from the field, missing his first seven three point attempts along the way. Carroll occasionally got enough on George to make him reconsider some looks, but the number of open looks George missed were staggering given how well he shot in the first two games.
George did manage to work to the line for 10 attempts, making all 10, but he had four turnovers along with Monta Ellis, flinging away about half of Indiana's 17 turnovers on the night. The first half turnovers especially, stemming from frustrating at the officials, allowed Toronto capitalize, outscoring Indiana 17-2 in points off turnovers in the first half, and 26-10 for the game.
So like that, the Pacers give home court advantage back to the Raptors, but in true Pacers fashion, it's hard to get a feeling on what will happen in Game 4. Things coming together for Indiana in a confident win wouldn't be any more of a surprise than the Pacers flaming out for a third straight game. What is obvious is that Indiana will need to continue working with their lineup.
That's of course easier said than done given the limitations of the roster. Lavoy Allen had zero points, which while somewhat expected, isn't exactly optimal in a matchup against Luis Scola. Though in watching the second unit, it's hard to really find a player who's going to help out. Perhaps C.J. Miles can find some life in the starting lineup, especially if Dwayne Casey is committed to Scola starting. At the very least, starting Miles doesn't take away from bench scoring.
As well, the lower back to Ian Mahinmi may give pause to starting him in Game 4. Slow starts have plagued Indiana in this series, and perhaps Turner can alleviate that early. Whatever happens, Vogel will need to look at changes in a do-or-die Game 4 that will tip off Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.