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The Toronto Raptors Are Damn near Impossible to Figure Out

Toronto won a decisive Game 5 it should've lost, and has had serious trouble with an average Pacers team. For Kyle Lowry and the Raptors, there's still so much to prove.
Photo by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

Where to start? Well, how about with this: The Toronto Raptors used two different lineups in the decisive fourth quarter of their 102-99 win in Game 5 over the Indiana Pacers. Kyle Lowry, Bismack Biyombo, Cory Joseph and Norman Powell each played all 12 minutes. DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross split the minutes at the other spot. The Raptors won the quarter 25-9.


Neither of the groups played a single minute together in the regular season.

Another volley: Finally, after a large portion of Raptors Twitter encouraging Dwane Casey to start Patrick Patterson in Luis Scola's place for so much of the season, the coach finally made the switch. Patterson's versatility and quickness seemed to be badly needed against Pacers rookie Myles Turner, and in trapping Paul George. Patterson spent the year as the team's plus-minus king.

READ MORE: The Best Sixth Man In The NBA Is Two Toronto Raptors

Patterson ended up with a minus-20 in 26 minutes, a justifiably truncated performance. Tuesday was a bad night for figuring things out. Biyombo, maybe the Raptors' most consistent player in a game that defied consistency, credited the fourth-quarter turnaround to an increase in physicality. Joseph said the Raptors were playing more freely, because they had little left to lose after a brutal first three quarters.

"It's frustrating as a player: thinking you are doing all the right things, rotating, communicating and helping but they are still scoring," Patterson said. "Scrambling and carrying out all the defensive schemes and they are still scoring. Then on offence getting great looks and the shot is just not falling. Getting great looks and then you're watching the game. There's pretty much the same frustration but then still encouraging your teammates to keep playing well and keep fighting. Just a mixture of everything, every emotion possible."


If Game 5 played out 100 times, the Pacers probably win at least 95 of those games. It took Frank Vogel's curious rotations, benching all three of Paul George, Monta Ellis and George Hill to start the second and fourth quarters, to give the Raptors the slightest of chances. George sat for 6:55 of the game, and the Pacers lost those minutes by 18 points. Even still, the Pacers probably should have won. It seemed like they all forgot how to play at the same time.

Can DeRozan step up again in a series that Paul George has dominated him in? –Photo by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

If you are a Raptors fan, then, you have a choice: Cling to what happened in the fourth quarter—that impossible, rather inexplicable series of events—or remember what happened in the first three quarters. If the Raptors had lost that game in the manner in which most of it unfolded, the spotlight would have been on Kyle Lowry.

Lowry is now shooting 31 percent for the series. He was 3-for-11 in Game 5. Although he had five assists, four rebounds and a steal, this was not like Lowry in Game 2, doing it all in spite of a bad shooting night. This was, largely, a passive night from a player who was one of the NBA's 10 or 12 best during the regular season.

Lowry made some big plays in the fourth quarter, including drawing a charge on George, a tip of an offensive rebound to get the Raptors another possession and drawing a foul on a quick drive on Turner. Still, there was never any risk of him taking control of the game's tempo and pulse, as he did so often in the regular season. He was, very much, another guy, and the Raptors are not built to win with Lowry as another guy.


"Early in the game I was just trying to get everyone involved," Lowry said. "I wasn't being too aggressive or too passive. I was just trying to feel it out. I felt like in the first four games I was just getting a sense of the game and tonight I just let it go. I made plays late in the game and I felt good after that. I'm not playing good basketball as far as making shots but I can do everything else to help my team win a game."

If the Raptors had lost, after focusing for the first four games on DeMar DeRozan, it would have been Lowry's turn. For the better part of two seasons, the focus has also been on Dwane Casey, even though he has shown himself to be open-minded and adaptive in this series, all comments about riding or dying with Lowry and DeRozan notwithstanding. Those are, arguably, the three most important people in the Raptors organization. If the Raptors were flying to Indiana trying to save their season instead of trying to win a series, the questions would be flying about all three of them. And, again, they probably should have lost.

But sometimes weird things happen. Now Lowry has a chance to find his shot before this series is out. DeRozan has a chance to prove his Game 5 effort, with 34 points on 22 shots, was not a fluke. Casey has a chance to prove he can adjust before he is forced into it by a loss. And they all might contribute to the Raptors winning their first seven-game series in franchise history; the Pacers, as good as they looked through three quarters on Tuesday, are a fairly average team.

Should a series victory make you rethink what you have seen from all three of them this series, and over the last three years? Tuesday's improbability certainly complicated things from a big-picture standpoint. And it's only getting more complicated from here.