Pacers looking to take Raptors out early, again, in Game 5

Pacers coach Frank Vogel held Paul George back in Game 4. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Pacers coach Frank Vogel held Paul George back in Game 4. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

How will the Pacers respond, now?

On Saturday, down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, team leader Paul George wanted to see his team played pissed off. And that they did, for they knew what kind of trouble they would be in if they failed to match the level of intensity, and the moment. It was Game 4 of their first-round series against the Toronto Raptors and they looked terrific.

Not George, but George Hill and Ian Mahinmi, who played hurt but had the best game of his career statistically, each scored 22 points in the win.

But that’s been the trouble with this team all season … never sure which team will show up. The series is back in Toronto for Game 5 Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., and we can only wonder about what we’ll see.

Will we see guys going through the motions, get beat on boards, get beat to the 50-50 balls, and get “outworked,” as Pacers coach Frank Vogel put it? Or, will it be a group that comes fired up, playing with this Us-Against-Them mentality. This team is a whole lot better when they aren’t comfortable and are instead feeling the pressure.

“I thought our defense was phenomenal, Paul George,” said after their Game 4 win. “We had a great stretches throughout this game where I thought we were at peak, and that’s what we need and that’s what we got to travel on the road to Toronto. Everything about this game was great for us.”

At the Buzzer: R1 G4 — Pacers 100, Raptors 83

The Raptors were held to 36.5 percent shooting and turned the ball over 19 times (leading to 25 Indiana points). For the first time in the series, the Pacers had the advantage on the glass and in points scored in the paint (50-26!)

Rookie Myles Turner was shuffled back into the starting lineup and, despite his 2-for-13 shooting night from the floor, he impacted the game with his intensity and energy level. He also pulled down more rebounds (7) than all but one Raptors player.

“I thought, ironically as a rookie, he set the tone as much as anybody with a pass early in the game,” Vogel said. “He was hot-potatoing and we were making pocket passes to him and every time he touched it he was looking for teammates more than looking at the rim. He took the message as well as anybody to share it.”

The Raptors are after their first playoff series victory since 15 years. The Pacers are looking to spoil that and see just how far this group can go. Experience, after all, is what they are gaining as a group.

The Air Canada Centre will be sold out Tuesday, just as it had been for the 41 regular-season games and two playoff games. They have a rowdy, passionate fan base. We all saw that Saturday when hundreds made the eight-hour drive down from Toronto.

“It’s a very hostile environment, hostile crowd,” George said of what he’s expecting. “Game 5 is going to be about taking their crowd out of the equation; that would help us a whole lot.”

There are two things mighty impressive about this series.

One, the games have felt relatively close despite every game being decided by 10 points or less. The average margin of victory through four games is 13.5 points. The winning team has reached the 100-point mark in three of the games. And, both teams lost its first home win and we now have a 2-2 tie.

Through all of that, strangely enough their overall point totals are exactly the same: 372-372.

Secondly, the defensive job the Pacers have done on the Raptors’ All-Stars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, has been nothing short of outstanding. Those two combined for over 45 points per game during the regular season.

In this series, they have been kept to an average of 28 points per game on 30.8 percent shooting — the worst of any backcourt during these playoffs. Forget hitting half of their shots, neither one of them has shot even 40 percent in a game this series.

George is averaging a series-best 26.3 points per game. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

George is averaging a series-best 26.3 points per game. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

“We’ve done a great job,” George said after practice on Sunday. “Those two aren’t easy guys to guard for individuals. The good thing about us, we have great defenders and we have pretty good team defense. Everyone is helping out. Everyone is in their spots where they’re suppose to be. We know if we cut the head of the snake off, it gives us a chance in the series.”

The Pacers have been picking up the ball handler at mid-court, making things more complicated from the jump. George Hill, an underrated defender who can bother opposing guards with his length, and George have done a great job. Also, a lot of credit goes to weak-side defenders and even the bigs inside for their assistance. It’s seems like nearly every one of Toronto’s shots has been contested.

“It’s not just our backcourt, it’s our whole team,” said Hill, not wanting to take all the credit. “We can’t take full credit for what we’re doing. Our bigs are doing a great job and are other wings are doing a great job being in gaps so it’s a team effort.”

A great start isn’t everything, but it does set the tone for what could be a hard-fought battle. In each of the last three games, the team in front through one quarter has held on and gotten the win.

“With us it’s about how we approach it, and how we approach it early,” said George. “If we take them out early, the game becomes a little easier for us.”

More than their defense, the Pacers’ offense was free flowing in Game 4 and everyone benefitted. They shot better than 47 percent, assisted on 24 of 40 field goals and only turned the ball over 13 times.

“The way we moved the ball and played defense, we need to carry that into Game 5,” Hill said after Game 4.

The Pacers plan to start with the same group as they did in Game 4 — the usual four starters with rookie Turner at power forward.

“It comes down to defense,” George said. “If we can hold this team to under 100 (points), around 90 or 80 points, we’re in for a good game.”

Game 6 will be Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The game time and networking broadcasting the game are still to be determined. Every fan at Game 6 will receive a gold rally towel.

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