All it took to take away from three of the most satisfying quarters of Indiana Pacers basketball all season was the single worst fourth quarter in Indiana postseason history. The collective playoff lives of both the Pacers and the Toronto Raptors turned on a dime when the Indiana bench watched a 90-77 third quarter lead evaporate in six minutes, leading to a numbing 102-99 loss in Game 5, pushing Indiana to the brink of elimination at 2-3.
The Pacers were not only in control, but entered the fourth quarter more or less on a coronation. Indiana jumped ahead by 17 in the first quarter and led by 13 point heading into the fourth. Indiana built on their tremendous Game 4 performance with three more outstanding quarters of basketball, particularly in the first half when Indiana led 61-52. In the first half, Indiana shot 52%, hit 11 of 17 from three point range and had 17 assists on 22 baskets.
One caveat that led to pause was DeMar DeRozan finally having a solid game, scoring 34 points on 10-22 shooting with 13 trips to the free throw line. It was the first game of the series that free throw advantage favored the victor, and a 30-20 advantage at the line becomes absolutely glaring in retrospect, especially as Kyle Lowry went 7-8 on his own to overcome another terrible shooting night.
The other lingering concern was how Indiana started the second quarter. The Pacers led 35-20 after the first quarter, but Dwayne Casey's decision to start DeRozan to begin the second led to him scoring eight as part of a 13-1 run in the first three minutes of the quarter, trimming the lead to three. Paul George returned to the game to continue what was his own explosion to help push the game to 61-52 at the break. George was stellar in the first three quarters, scoring 37 points to help give Indiana their 13-point cushion.
Frank Vogel cautiously opted to trust his veterans to start the fourth, relying on Ty Lawson, Ian Mahinmi, C.J. Miles, and Rodney Stuckey alongside Solomon Hill. That unit was -12 in their first run, but it ended up being even worse when the Raptors came out firing in the quarter, outscoring Indiana 6-0 in the opening 3:30 minutes. George was inserted as Stuckey went to the line, subsequently bricking two consecutive free throws.
Vogel sat George Hill in favor of Stuckey with 3:28 in the third, but for some reason chose not to return to him to start the fourth. Hill was huge in the first half, going 4-4 from three point range and scoring 15 points, but missed all three of his second half attempts. Stuckey being at the line, not to mention missing the free throws, may have been the worst outcome for the Pacers as they begin to shift back to the starting lineup in the fourth.
Stuckey played an extra minute in a crucial stretch that saw a pair of turnovers, including Stuckey's third and final turnover as he just fell out of bounds. Meanwhile, Norman Powell would intercept a pass to George leading to a ferocious dunk that would complete Toronto's comeback, tying the game at 92-92 with 6:31 and the momentum swinging entirely with Toronto.
The Pacers had six turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, the last leading to the first of back-to-back threes by Toronto that pushed their lead to six in an instant. It wasn't until the 2:27 mark when George scored his 39th and final point to cut the lead to 98-94 that Indiana scored their second bucket of the quarter, ending a 21-2 start to the fourth quarter.
Myles Turner completed his solid 14 point, eight rebound, three block night with a put back to pull Indiana to within four after a pair of Lowry free throws, but Toronto completed their edge on the offensive glass with a big offensive board by Lowry that would take an extra 24 seconds off the clock though Indiana did manage to come up with a stop and the ball.
On the other end, Solomon Hill would sink in a huge three pointer to bring Indiana to within a point. It was his third of the night as he led the bench (far and away) with 11 points. DeRozan free throws would push the lead back to three, and a series of fouls-to-give and inbounds would set up Indiana with a chance to tie with under three seconds. The ball inbounded to George found its way to Solo again, who hit a potential game tying three pointer.
Unfortunately, the three was reviewed and found to have left Hill's hands less than 0.1 second too late, resulting in a crushing 102-99 defeat in which the Raptors outscored Indiana 25-9 in the fourth, not surprisingly the worst fourth quarter in Pacers postseason history. After a stellar first half, Indiana had just 11 second half field goals, assisting on five of those.
The Raptors had 12 offensive boards on the night, seven coming between Bismack Biyombo and Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas was surprisingly poor tonight despite an 11 point night, committing four turnovers in the opening minutes, four of Toronto's seven on the entire night. While Indiana didn't need it early, their inability to force turnovers was a factor that kept Indiana from sinking a dagger into Toronto, though a 13-point fourth quarter lead should have sufficed, especially with how George was playing entering the fourth.
Unfortunately, George had just two fourth quarter points on 1-3 shooting with a pair of turnovers, taking away from an otherwise superstar performance from Indiana's best player. Vogel's trust in his bench backfired in a big way tonight, with Stuckey and Miles combining for seven points and 3-18 shooting. Lawson meanwhile, was back to over-deferring, his only field goal attempt blocked, and his fourth quarter minutes a complete shock given he showed nothing of note in his second quarter run.
Ian Mahinmi had just four points with early foul trouble pushing him to the second unit, where he really seemed to be struggling with every ache and pain that would've sidelined him if not for the postseason nature. The result was a unit that should've never seen action in a time when Indiana could've nursed their lead.
But a combination of utter incompetence from the bench and a sense of rejuvenation for the Raptors landed Indiana their most perplexing loss of the season in a season that's had nothing but perplexing losses. It's a loss that pushes the Pacers to the brink of elimination, now trailing the best of seven series 2-3 with a do-or-die Game 6 on tap for Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.