One — Heart: There are no such things as moral victories for defending champions. The Pacers held the lead early, and nailed four huge threes in overtime to win the game. Both sides were shorthanded and both teams were playing on the second half of a back-to-back. But the bottom line is that the Raptors never had any business being in a game like this, yet they fought tooth and nail down to the very end of overtime. This team is brimming with heart, and at least you’ll always know that they didn’t lose due to a lack of effort.
Two — Sensational: It’s unfathomable that Kyle Lowry is dominating games despite being three months away from turning 34. If anything, he looks as spry as ever. Lowry is getting to the rim with reckless abandon, and is somehow getting floaters to drop over 7-footers at the basket. His pull-up threes come and go, but when he is hot, Lowry is able to turn the momentum of a game on a dime. Fresh off leading the biggest comeback in franchise history last night, Lowry willed the Raptors back to life and nearly won it in the end.
Three — Swagger: There was some Monday morning quarterbacking following the loss with the decision of having Lowry attack in isolation instead of calling a timeout on the last play of regulation. But that’s really besides the point. What’s great is that Lowry took over the game, put the team on his back for a second-straight night, and he fully deserved that chance to end it. Lowry heard taunts from Pacers fans for much of the second half, and he finished overtime by reminding the crowd that he’s a champion. All in all, it was a badass performance from Lowry, even if it came in a loss.
Four — Tough: Midway through the fourth quarter, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson went up for a layup under the rim and was undercut by Domantas Sabonis. Hollis-Jefferson was airborne at the time, and so he fell straight on his back. Not only did he get up to shoot the free throws, but he immediately followed that possession by blocking Myles Turner at the basket, and won several offensive rebounds over Sabonis, many of which led to massive shots that kept the Raptors in the lead. Hollis-Jefferson is tough as nails, and his mentality fits in perfectly with this team.
Five — Mentality: Fred VanVleet is clearly not 100 percent despite returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for five games, but he’s giving it his all. VanVleet struggled to start, but he came alive in the fourth with back-to-back layups to push the Raptors ahead, along with a deep three and a spinning bank shot in the lane over the fourth quarter and in overtime. VanVleet also picked off Jeremy Lamb at half court to cut Indiana’s lead to one, before they responded with yet another dagger three. VanVleet has an uncanny knack for elevating his game according to the stakes.
Six — Unfazed: Terence Davis was scoreless heading into the fourth quarter, including 0-of-5 from deep. None of that appeared to bother the undrafted rookie, as he hit consecutive threes in the fourth to keep the offense afloat while Lowry got a quick breather. Similar to VanVleet’s early years, Davis has no appropriate fear of the moment for a player of his inexperience, and it’s a rare trait.
Seven — Misfit: Serge Ibaka was good on the whole, as there’s no way to argue with his 23 points and nine rebounds. Ibaka was the only player on the roster with enough strength to keep Sabonis and Turner out of the paint, which is why he played 42 minutes to 14 for Boucher. However, there’s just something off about Ibaka’s energy relative to the rest of the team. Everyone else flies around at such a frenetic and chaotic pace, whereas Ibaka is just who he is. There’s a reason why the Pacers targeted Ibaka in the pick-and-roll, and it’s because he wasn’t willing to come out to the three-point line to chase the Pacers around like Toronto’s other defenders.
Eight — Flexible: Ibaka somehow managed to kick Hollis-Jefferson in the face on a dunk in the third quarter. The two joked about it after the game, but at the time it looked to be yet another unfortunate injury as Hollis-Jefferson stayed down and was dazed on the play.
Nine — Furious: Nick Nurse had a mind to swing at the officials by the end of overtime. Toronto was getting whistled for moving screens and loose-ball fouls, while the Pacers’ bigs were free to maul everyone in their way. It wasn’t the officiating that ultimately did the Raptors in, but Nurse is trying his best to will his shorthanded team. The Raptors have only been blown out one time all season — in Kawhi Leonard’s return to Toronto — and that’s a credit to Nurse’s ability to motivate.
Ten — Concession: The Raptors had to play a fair bit of zone on defense to keep Sabonis and Turner out of the paint. The trade-off there is that the Pacers were left open for three, and they capitalized. Indiana hit 18 threes, which is double their average of nine makes per game on the season. The strategy made sense, but the Pacers made shots. Just tip your hat to them. Until Gasol, Pascal Siakam, and Norman Powell return to the lineup, the Raptors will always be fighting an uphill battle.
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