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Paul George Is a Problem for the Raptors

There are two all-star swingmen in this series. On Saturday, one looked like an elite two-way player, while the other looked like a guy who just happens to take a lot of shots.
Photo by John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

This is the fourth time that the Toronto Raptors have had homecourt advantage in a playoff series. Yet, it feels entirely new. Generally, the team that has more home games is the clear favourite to win the ensuing series, but that has not been the case for this franchise. In 2007, the Raptors had an out-of-nowhere season of success, but had to play a more experienced Nets team. Ditto in 2014. Last season, the Raptors were probably expected to win against Washington, but it was essentially a coin flip of a series.


Raptors fans had a right to walk into the Air Canada Centre on Saturday afternoon figuring the Raptors would win—not just Game 1, but the series. They won 11 more games than the Indiana Pacers this season, are far more balanced than they were last year, and have the disappointment of the last two years to lean on. Nearly every NBA observer and expert had the Raptors winning this series.

It was a weird feeling, right? There was still a subsection of the Raptors' fan base anticipating a disaster—old habits die hard, no matter how many writers are telling you that this is totally different—but it was frankly a little forced. The Raptors were the better team coming into this series, full stop.

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And then came the most familiar script you could write. Hackneyed, even. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan shot a combined 25 percent from the floor. They did not move the ball with any crispness. A team that did not turn the ball over much at all during the regular season seemed to hate the basketball. When asked about the offence, the Raptors claimed that they merely missed the shots they always take, and often make. There were questions about the team's rotations. The 100-90 loss was almost a stereotype of the type of game designed to frighten the hell out of the Raptors and their fans.

"I knew we were going to have some (tightness)," coach Dwane Casey said. "I didn't know it would go on so long. I knew we were going to be a little tight… Our guys are prideful, they understand the moment. I haven't seen us play that tentative on the offensive end all year."


Toronto's all-star backcourt must do better. –Photo by John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

And then there was the other bench. While Casey fielded questions about how rookie Norman Powell would respond to his first playoff game test before Saturday's game, Indiana coach Frank Vogel did not get a query about Myles Turner—a player more crucial to his team's cause than Powell. Turner played just one college season, unlike Powell and his four years at UCLA, and is only 20.

After bricking a pair of free throws, he was awesome, owner of the game's second-best plus-minus behind only Paul George. Turner had five blocks, too.

"He looked comfortable out there," Vogel said. "The first taste of playoff basketball, you expect to see a ton of jitters. He missed his first two free throws, and beyond that he looked like he'd been playing in the playoffs for 10 years."

For the Raptors, it looked like they had never seen any of this before. Again.

Turning point

With 4:20 left in the second quarter, Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas was called for a loose-ball foul, his third. At that point, he had eight points and 15 rebounds in 12 minutes of play. The Raptors could have used some of his tips on the offensive glass, ones that count as rebounds, to go in, but he was still the most notable force in the game until that point. After that, he could not find a way to play in foul trouble—he managed just 10 minutes in the second half, fouling out in the fourth quarter. From then on, it was the Paul George show on defence, and the Raptors' offence withered and died.

"Jonas getting in foul trouble really (hurt)," Casey said. "He had it going early, 11 offensive boards. We didn't get to utilize him enough, and it allowed them to do some things. They were able help on Kyle and DeMar off of (Bismack Biyombo)."


The key matchup

There are two all-star swingmen in this series. On Saturday, one looked like an elite two-way player, while the other looked like a guy who just happens to take a lot of shots.

George was the best player on the floor by a wide margin. He scored 33 points and had six assists, five of which came in the second half. He also was the primary defender against DeRozan, helping to coax him into a brutal 5-for-19 night.

George's length was a problem for DeRozan, which was a predictable. His comfort level on the other end was the real problem. DeRozan guarded George for most of the game, and George alternatively got around him, freed up by sharp screens, and shot over him. Once the Raptors started collapsing on him, George cut them up with three assists in the final four minutes, including two easy drop passes to Turner.

"We've got to find a way to win with him scoring," Luis Scola said. "He's gonna score."

And so much more. What a player.

The stat

This is easy: The Raptors turned the ball over 20 times. The Pacers turned those into 25 points. Indiana is the most productive team in the league in that category. The Raptors, on the other hand, have the eighth-lowest turnover rate in the league. If the turnovers were not a fluke, but a product of the Pacers' defence, the Raptors are in deep trouble.

The talking point

Following arthroscopic knee surgery, DeMarre Carroll is on some kind of minutes restriction. We don't know exactly what the number is. He played 19 minutes in Game 1. The most he played in the three games following his return was 21.

The key is maximizing those minutes by having him on the floor when George is, so DeRozan does not have to check the Pacers all-star (it must be noted that in his brief time on George, Carroll was not effective in slowing him down, either). The solution seems easy enough, and it will not interrupt the Raptors' bench rotation, which has been effective all year: start Carroll, either in the place of Powell or Scola. Have him play the first six minutes of the first quarter, the first six minutes of the third quarter and then keep him available for the end of the game, if needed.


How Raptors coach Dwane Casey uses DeMarre Carroll in Game 2 will be key. –Photo by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

"Yeah, it's tough," Carroll said. "I've just got to trust (the Raptors coaching and medical staffs), you know what I mean? It's tough, real tough when a guy like Paul gets it going and you're not in there. But it's not an obstacle I've never been through, so I'll figure it out and we'll go from there."

"I thought our normal rotation was a little skewed, having that extra player (in Carroll) in there," Casey said. "But at the end it was kind of searching for someone to stop Paul George. It wasn't really fair to DeMarre to put him in there after (George) got it going and try to turn the water off.

"We'll come up with a rotation in that situation."

Carroll's minutes should not come at the expense of Patrick Patterson, however. Patterson barely played in the third quarter, as the game swung in the Pacers' favour. Patterson was likely the Raptors' third-most important player this season, and probably their steadiest. His ability to run the floor, swing the ball and move defensively are crucial to the Raptors.

He played 28 minutes in Game 1, behind just Lowry and DeRozan on the Raptors. However Casey decides to use Carroll for the rest of the series, that number cannot go down.