Despite the final run that nearly gave the Indiana Pacers an impressive come-from-behind win over the Toronto Raptors, it was the first 40 minutes that showed how far away they really were. With their season on the line, the Pacers were a step slow all night, falling behind by as many as 16 in the fourth quarter. Indiana got to that deficit by struggling on the glass, in a huge way.
Indiana was outhustled on the glass by 11, but even worse on the offensive glass where they were waxed 18-5. Bismack Biyombo and Jonas Valanciunas, who each had double figure rebounding nights, with a combined 10 offensive boards between the two. This opened things up for second chance points, where Toronto sunk in daggers behind second half play from Patrick Patterson and Norman Powell, who had six of Toronto's eight three pointers.
All of this play was the crucial advantage for Toronto, who were able to hide a passive Kyle Lowry, who had 11 points on 5-14 shooting and weren't harmed by the volume shooting of DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 30 points on 10-32 shooting. DeRozan did work his way to the line, however, outshooting the entire Indiana Pacers team 9-8 in a game Indiana just couldn't get anything going in the free throw department.
The Pacers relied heavily on jump shots in the first half, but even increased attacking in the second half didn't benefit Indiana much at all, with four free throws a half being all they could muster in that department. To further dampen Indiana's chances, they were outscored 18-9 in points off turnovers. Even with all of those shortcomings, the Pacers had a chance to win this game late.
Indiana staged a 17-4 run after trailing by 16 in the fourth, cutting the lead to three after a big time Monta Ellis three, but crucial opportunities kept the Pacers from ever capitalizing, from bad turnovers to offensive fouls. The lead would sit at three with 26.9 seconds remaining. Paul George drove towards the basket and tossed it up for Ian Mahinmi, but DeRozan would get away with a shove in the back, sending Toronto the other way to seal the 89-84 victory.
The no-call (which will almost certainly see a league apology) and struggles to execute late all summed up nicely the 2015-16 Indiana Pacers, who lost the only two games in this series decided within ten points. The Pacers outscored Toronto 20-11 in the fourth, but unlike their own loss in Game 5, their offensive output couldn't overcome Toronto's incompetence late in the game.
Paul George was exceptional from the get-go in the deciding game, scoring 17 first half points on 6-10 shooting. Toronto made things more difficult in the second half for George, who had just three in the third before scoring six in the fourth to finish with 26 on the night. While George left the court the best player in the series, it wasn't enough from his supporting cast to come away with the win.
While Toronto had five double scorers, Indiana had just three. George Hill had 19 points, including three three pointers and Monta Ellis scored 15 with seven assists, but to the very end, the Toronto bench simply had the biggest advantage in the series, outscoring Indiana 24-14. Rodney Stuckey scored nine, but had to contend with eight points from Cory Joseph and 13 from Powell.
The Pacers enter the offseason with much work left to do. Despite nearly advancing, the seven postseason games, as the 82 before it, illustrated that this is team that's very much a work in progress. There's no question Indiana is set at the top with Paul George and rookie Myles Turner will be a crucial part of the team moving forward as he looks to improve this summer following his first taste of postseason basketball.
Beyond that, however, there's a lot of uncertainty. The talent level needs to improve beyond players like George Hill and Monta Ellis, and free agency will force decisions for Ian Mahinmi, who hopes to remain with the organization, and Solomon Hill, who may have played himself out of Indiana's pay range with a good series against the Raptors.
Unfortunately, these topics will become the norm as summer begins for the Pacers after their first round loss to the Raptors. But there's room for optimism heading into the summer and next season as Indiana will look to take a huge step forward in the 2016-17 season.