Pacers move past memorable loss, are now 48 minutes away from series win

Are you shocked by the way in which the Pacers handled the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 Friday night?

You shouldn’t be.

This Pacers team, all season long (and even for the last several years) has rebounded well from poor showings. So, after their fourth-quarter cold spell in Game 5 where they managed just nine points, now a franchise-low total, and yet still had a chance to win, this victory looked right.

And how sweet it had to taste for the guys in the locker room. They’ve been the better team in nine of the last 12 quarters. Both teams have made the adjustments, some have worked and some haven’t, and despite the Raptors appearing to have more depth, the Pacers have played like the better team.

“I believe we can play with this team,” Frank Vogel said after their 101-83 win. “I have great respect for them but I really believe we’re just hitting our stride at the right time, playing our best basketball of the season when it matters.”

The Pacers rehashed what went wrong in Tuesday’s loss, how they didn’t finish the job. Paul George reminded the team several times Friday, and Vogel even wrote “48” on his dry-erase board during a timeout.

The crowd was electric, and looking sharp in their gold t-shirts.

“This was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever played in,” said rookie Myles Turner, who had 15 points and nine rebounds. “I know it feels like I say that every game, but the crowd was into it from the beginning and it was an exciting game. Although we got off to a rough start, we were able to come back. It was an incredible experience.”

[Quotable: Pacers and Raptors after Game 6]

Mahinmi contributed 12 points and four rebounds. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Mahinmi contributed 12 points and four rebounds. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

The Raptors came out with more fight, but the Pacers clawed their way back. Despite George only scoring two points in the first quarter – on free throws – they prevented bigger problems by running off nine straight points to make it a two-point game rather than a double-digit deficit at the end of the first period.

“My job tonight was just to be the threat, put pressure on them,” said George. He he 21 points, 11 rebounds,  and seven assists. “I tried to pick them apart with passes, move the ball, try to get them to shift their defense a little bit and my teammates, they were the ones that really did the damage tonight.”

For the first time in the series, the Pacers’ roster turned in a complete game. Every one did their part. All five starters reached double figures, Solomon Hill (nine) and Rodney Stuckey (eight) made a difference off the bench, and when the reserves were in … the score didn’t swing heavily in the Raptors’ favor.

[VIDEO: Stuckey completes fakes out Corey Joseph]

“We were looking for a game like that the whole series,” said Ian Mahinmi (12 points, four rebounds). “We were looking for the starting five to get going at the same time and then the bench to come in and get going. I’m glad it came at the biggest time of the year for us. Now is not the time to be too happy about it.”

This game changed in the second half. After getting handled on the boards and beat on the 50-50 balls, the Pacers discussed it in the locker room, down by five, and changed their attitude.

“We just had a fight in us. As a group collectively, we knew that this could have been the end of our season,” George said. “We just did a great job of battling.”

They scored on their first eight possessions of the second half and finally took their first lead in the game at 47-46. They’d eventually push it to seven by the end of the third after scoring six in a row to end the period.

“Our compete level was low for whatever reason,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “I thought we let our lack of offensive execution, our shot making, carry over to the defensive end. This game was about will, who was going to impose their will on the other team and they got us in the third quarter.

Then, they showed everyone that they truly knew how to start a fourth quarter.

The Pacers, who led by as many as 28 points, which the biggest difference in the series, laid the hammer down. They scored 12 unanswered in the final quarter with no letdown in sight to help the Raptors this time. And the starters were able to watch the final three-plus minutes from the bench.

The Pacers had 21 assists on 35 fields goals in the win. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

The Pacers had 21 assists on 35 fields goals in the win. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Before the game, Vogel told George that his rest periods would be different than he was used to and from him to plan on playing at the start of both the second and fourth periods.

“It’s tough sometimes when you put a cold group out there, five cold guys,” George said in regards to a line change between quarters.

George, who played 40 minutes, started every quarter and it worked out nicely. Even when he did sit, like in the second quarter when the team was plus-five, there was no huge drop off. Where it helped was at the start of the fourth, as George and Monta Ellis, who had 14 points and five assists, remained in.

The outside chatter suggested George should be played all 48 minutes. That they needed him to do it all for the team to have a chance in these playoffs. But that really was a silly premise. The staggered lineups, which Vogel opted to go with for the first time, was the changed needed.

“Paul George can’t beat the Raptors,” Vogel said. “The Pacers have to beat the Raptors. We need everybody and we got really solid contributions from almost everybody that played.”

That Game 5 loss is in their back of their minds for now. Not to say they’ve easily forgotten about it, but they’ve used it as fuel and as a reminder. 48 minutes. 48. Play all 48. Several players in the locker room said they were done talking about it.

The Pacers deserve credit for not falling by the wayside, for not letting it hold them down. They got back up and have extended the series once more.

Forget referring to this series as a best-of-seven or best-of-five. It’s do-or-die time now, and win or go home for the Pacers.

It all comes down to Sunday evening, in primetime (8:00 pm, TNT), the Pacers and Raptors will meet for one last time this season in Game 7. It is the eighth time in Pacers franchise history that a series stretched to a seventh game. The Pacers are 1-11 all-time in best-of-seven series when trailing 3-2.

That one time, though? Back in 2014, with several players still on roster, in the first-round series with Atlanta.

“We’re both different looking teams than when we started the series,” Vogel said of this Round 1 matchup. “We kind of understand every move they can make, they understand every move we can make and it’s going to be about will and execution.”

“That’s what you dream about,” Solomon Hill said of playing in a Game 7. “When you’re a little kid and you are watching it on TV, and your on the playground and out in the front yard playing basketball, you dream of moments like this. We have to leave it all our there.”

For the third time over the last two weeks, the Pacers are headed to Toronto. Both times, they’ve returned with a loss (in Game 2 and 5). This time better be different, for their season’s sake.

“It’s the final game, it’s win or go home,” said George, who was excited about the opportunity. “There’s pressure on both teams to come out with a win. It is an added pressure on them, being at home and the [franchise’s] trouble getting out of the first round. It comes down to who wants it and we feel good about it.”

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