After a sickening fourth quarter in Game 5, the Indiana Pacers responded with a stellar second half, including a leave-no-doubt fourth quarter of their own, to force a decisive Game 7 against the Toronto Raptors. Though while Indiana flourished in the second half, they were forced to slog through a murky first half where they shot just 32.5%, just looking to stay alive in the first 24 minutes.
The Pacers started slow, falling behind 20-8 with the Raptors shooting hot and punishing Indiana on the glass. Solomon Hill and Ian Mahinmi would lift Indiana's offense to close the quarter on a 12-2 run, helping Indiana to within two heading into the second. Indiana tied the game up at 30-30 in the second quarter, but the Raptors quickly pushed the lead back to eight on a 10-2 run.
Through the first half, the Raptors had 14 second chance points, using them to keep the Pacers at arm's length, but despite that, the Pacers themselves kept the lead manageable, trailing 44-40. Throughout the first half, Indiana was a step slow, not only on the glass, but in regards to hustle plays. Through the first half, Toronto was the aggressor, making sure the game worked in their favor.
A 7-0 run for Indiana early in the third quarter shifted momentum towards the Pacers, however. It gave Indiana their first lead at 47-46, a lead that slowly grew throughout the third, thanks in large part to their starting backcourt of Monta Ellis and George Hill. The two combined for 19 of Indiana's 31 third quarter points as Hill scored 10 of his 12 by working his way to the free throw line as Ellis slashed his way to nine of his 14.
Indiana closed the third on a 6-0 run, one that would extend into the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter as Indiana blew the game wide open, finishing a 32-5 run that pushed a 65-64 lead to 97-69. The Pacers got big quarters from Paul George and Myles Turner. George overcame a slow start and despite a 5-14 shooting night, scored a game high 21 points with 11 rebounds and six assists, coming up with 12 in the run, including 6-6 from the line on a night he was 10-10.
Turner had a breakout of his own, scoring seven of his 15, but also being a force defensively with four blocks on the night to go with nine rebounds. The energy of the Pacers shifted the game in their favor in the second half, helped out by 63.6% shooting in the second half. Turner was a big part of that, as was Solomon Hill, who had nine points on three three pointers.
Ian Mahinmi reached double figures with 12 points, helping the Pacers stay in the game early, but the real hero of the game was Rodney Stuckey, who overcame one of the all-time worst playoff games in Game 5 to help step on the throats of the Raptors late in the game. Stuckey had all eight of his points in the midst of the 32-5 run, including a pair of three pointers in the fourth.
Even though Indiana could never break through in the first half, the game itself was one waiting for someone to take control of it. The Pacers predictably struggled with Jonas Valanciunas (14 points) and Cory Joseph (15 points), but neither was able to explode. It wasn't until Hill and Ellis exploded in the third that the game had individual players swing the flow of the game and Toronto had a difficult time grasping hold once the game shifted towards the Pacers.
As has also been the theme of the series, the struggle of the Raptors has come down to the struggles of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. While Ellis and Hill combined for 19 in the third, Lowry and DeRozan combined for 18 in the game. The duo shot 7-27, with Lowry shooting 1-7 deep, and just four combined free throw attempts. At no point were either a factor in the outcome of the game, which of course works in Indiana's favor.
Indiana had deceptively solid ball movement all night, though their struggles early masked that. Indiana finished with 21 assists on 35 baskets, with four players reaching four assists. For Toronto, however, they totaled just 14 assists, with Lowry dominating 10 of them as the Raptors shot 36.7% on the night. Indiana did a much better job tonight forcing and scoring off of turnovers, forcing 17 Raptors miscues and outscoring them 20-12 in points off turnovers.
The good news is of course that the Pacers will force a Game 7, but more than that, Indiana has largely been in control of the series since Game 4. Indiana had tied or outscored Toronto in 8 of the 12 quarters, and only have their worst quarter in franchise history standing in the way of it being potentially three consecutive wins to close out the series.
They'll be faced with a tough task of winning Game 7, however, but given the circumstances, this is the best possible outcome for Indiana to even have a chance of doing so. The Pacers will have to play another solid game to win the series, though can hopefully use that positive play to force Toronto into considerable self-doubt given their past postseason failures.
Game 7 will be played on Sunday on TNT, with the two teams tipping off at 8 p.m. Eastern in Toronto. The series will take front and center as the headliner after being well-hidden for the past two weeks. Win or lose, Indiana has had a successful playoff bid in recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the franchise moving forward and getting the rookie Turner valuable playoff experience, but it's hard not to get greedy with a second round date with either the Miami Heat or Charlotte Hornets just 48 minutes away.
Besides, as Myles Turner stated after the game, "It's not time for summer yet."