Despite the fact the Toronto Raptors won the Atlantic Division championship, won 11 more regular season games than the Indiana Pacers and earned a 2nd seed in the playoffs, many individuals who cover the NBA for a living believe Indiana is the better team.
The Pacers players and coaches believe that, too, and the team will have one more chance to prove that tonight when they take on the host Raptors in Game 7 of their first-round series. The series finale begins at 8 p.m. and can be seen on TNT.
Tonight’s winner will play the Miami Heat in the second round. Dates and game times will be announced.
Indiana, the 7th seed, routed Toronto in Game 6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday, winning 101-83 in a game it trailed by 12 points early but overcame by outscoring the Raptors 61-39 in the second-half, including an 18-0 run.
However, the Air Canada Centre hasn’t been nearly as friendly to the Pacers, who squandered an 18-point lead in Game 5 and lost, 102-99, wasting a 39-point, 8-rebound and 8-assist performance by All-Star forward Paul George.
George had another strong game Friday, finishing with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists, but it was a total team effort that catapulted Indiana to victory.
Rookie Myles Turner, who seems to improve each game, had 15 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks with veteran guard Monta Ellis adding 14 points, 5 assists and 4 steals.
Guard George Hill totaled 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, center Ian Mahinmi scored 12 points and forward Solomon Hill came off the bench to make 3-of-4 3 pointers to score 9 points.
Mahinmi said the Pacers have been looking forward to a game like Friday’s the entire series. “We were looking for the starting five to get going at the same time and then the bench to come in and get going, too. I’m glad it came at the biggest time of the year,” he said.
Putting the defensive clamps on Raptors All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan once again is a must. DeRozan is averaging 15.8 points and is shooting just 32 percent from the floor. Overall, Toronto is shooting 36.7 percent.
DeRozan scored 34 points in Toronto’s Game 5 comeback win but managed just 8 Friday night, missing 10-of-13 shots.
The Raptors face the added pressure of not winning a first-round series since 2001. They were swept by Washington last season and two years ago lost in seven games to Brooklyn.
“It’s win or go home. This is the finale of this series and we’re going into this one with confidence on our home court,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “That’s why you compete and fight for 82 games. We’ve earned the right to have home court. We have it for a reason.”
“We’ve got one more game to stay positive and grind it out,” said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who’s averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 assists but has shot just 31.0 percent, 17.9 percent from 3-point territory.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said his team has great respect for the Raptors, but believes Indiana is playing well at the right time.
“I really believe we’re hitting our stride at the right time and playing our best basketball of the season when it matters,” he said. “You just have to continue to believe in who you are.”
Check out some previews of Game 7 by:
Statistics and some information in this story via NBA.com.
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