The Indiana Pacers played complacent against a short-handed Toronto Raptors team, failing to seize an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. Toronto used a 13-0 run in the first quarter to give them a double figure lead they'd be able to hold onto the remainder of the way. The Pacers did manage to draw within five at the break, but a third quarter explosion for Toronto was too much for the Pacers to handle.
Toronto hit six three pointers in the third quarter, outscoring Indiana 32-18. More than that, however, the Pacers didn't get back-to-back buckets in the entire third quarter. Four points to open the fourth capped a 6-0 run that cut the lead to 12, but a C.J. Miles missed three allowed Toronto respond with five straight of their own to keep the game well out of reach for the Pacers.
That 6-0 run was the only time in the entire second half that Indiana completed back-to-back points as the back-ups for Toronto brought an energy the Pacers clearly weren't prepared for. Norman Powell had a career night, scoring 27, including 14-19(!) free throws. Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, and Delon Wright were explosive compliments, scoring 51 combined points.
Much as was the case against the Cavaliers, the difference was three point shooting. Toronto shot 10-22, a number that was dipped towards the end of the game, while Indiana shot just 30.8% from deep. The Pacers shot fairly well (44.6%) despite Toronto's superior defensive play, but the inability to sink in three pointers, and a healthy disadvantage at the free throw line (27-16) did Indiana in.
Monta Ellis led the Pacers with 17 points and C.J. Miles had 13, the two a combined 2-13 from three point range doing a big part in dooming Indiana to their poor night from deep. Meanwhile, Solomon Hill had another out of body experience, scoring a season high 16 points, including his second straight three three pointer game for the first time in his career.
One frustrating aspect of tonight's game came from the play of Ty Lawson, who appeared overeager to pass, stepping away from superior looks to find guys in position elsewhere on the floor. Lawson had five assists, but just two points on 1-2 shooting. George Hill had a similar night in that aspect, scoring four points and dishing four assists. Ball movement (22 assists on 37 shots) was good, but perhaps a little too much overall.
Paul George had 14 points, but struggling with his ankle was pulled halfway through the fourth, but appeared able to return despite that. The lingering issue is that ankle, however. While Indiana's chances for success in the playoffs are low as is, they're even lower in the event of a more severe injury to that ankle. Despite George's wishes to play all 82 games in his first season back from the leg injury, his availability shouldn't determine wins and losses in the final three games of the regular season.
Indiana is still in excellent shape to make the playoffs even with this loss, but a "potential playoff preview" between the Pacers and Raptors ended up dropping Indiana to the 8th seed with Detroit pulling out a win against Washington. Indiana still holds the tiebreaker over Detroit, who are down to their final two games.
On the bright side if the Pacers do happen to face Toronto the first round, tonight's game should have no bearing in the series itself, but it doesn't take away from the frustrating outcome of Indiana getting blown out by a Toronto team short DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
But whether they're back in Canada this time next week will depend on the outcome of the future games, starting with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday at home. Chicago may have handed Indiana a playoff berth by the time Indiana tips off Sunday, but Detroit will remain idle until Tuesday, forcing the Pacers to put the 7th seed back in play.