The Toronto Raptors are discovering the ups and downs of the NBA’s new two-game series format.
A day after Toronto’s impressive victory at Indiana, Malcolm Brogdon and the fired-up Pacers hit back with a 129-114 win that unravelled over the dying minutes.
“Teams like that, when we’re playing back to back, they’re going to come out and give us everything they have at the start because they don’t want to lose two games in a row,” said Norman Powell, who had 24 points on the night.
A day after he’d been held to just a dozen points by Toronto, Brogdon poured in a career-high 36, plus doled out nine assists.
Fred VanVleet had 25 points to top the Raptors (7-10), who beat Indy 107-102 the previous day.
The NBA has implemented a two-game series format this season to reduce travel and limit exposure to COVID-19. The Raptors benefitted against Miami, last week bouncing back after a loss to beat the Heat.
But the tables were turned Monday, and the Raptors, said coach Nick Nurse, “were half a count slow early in the game.
“We just weren’t back (on defence) and we just weren’t taking good enough shots to give our defence a chance, and our defence wasn’t quite ready enough, so that’s it,” Nurse said.
Brogdon said he’d been on the phone with coach Nate Bjorkgren, Nurse’s former assistant and good friend, after the previous day’s loss “trying to figure out how to make adjustments. I was really angry after (Sunday) night’s game.
“I was incredibly locked in today,” Brogdon said. “We both love the game, we both think about the game all the time and we both hate losing. It drove me crazy until we were able to get back on the court tonight.”
Kyle Lowry, who’d missed the two previous games with a toe infection, had 12 points on just 2-for-11 shooting.
“It was a pretty late decision for him to play,” Nurse said. “I think (the toe) is probably not 100 per cent, but I think he probably wouldn’t use that as an excuse.”
The all-star guard picked up two quick technicals and was ejected with 47 seconds to play, tugging off his jersey in frustration as he stomped to the locker-room.
A livid Nurse received a technical seconds later, and was still fuming after a game that saw the Pacers go to the line 45 times – 18 times more than Toronto.
“Obviously (the Pacers) shot a million, they called the foul every time they drove in the second half,” Nurse said. “So, it wasn’t very physical at all, they weren’t letting us play very much.”
VanVleet said the officials warned players midway through the first quarter about too many complaints, which set the tone for the night.
“You’ve got to take it in stride, the referees certainly weren’t the reason why we lost but it definitely adds a different element to the game in that sometimes it’s kinda hard to overcome – especially on a back-to-back like that,” VanVleet said.
The Raptors, who were missing Pascal Siakam (left knee swelling) for the second consecutive night, got off to a sluggish start and trailed by 14 points in the first half.
The Raptors dialled up the energy in the third quarter with a defensive effort punctuated by back-to-back Chris Boucher blocks. Boucher smashed the first block – on a Doug McDermott three-point attempt – over the Raptors bench, hollering at his teammates in celebration.
Yuta Watanabe’s sidestep three tied the game midway through the third, and the Raptors trailed 98-97 with one quarter to play.
With OG Anunoby in the locker-room for the fourth receiving stitches for a split lip, the Raptors let up on the defensive end, and T.J. McConnell’s floating jumper made it a 10-point game with 1:50 to play. Myles Turner waltzed in for an open dunk on Indy’s next possession and it was all but game over.
The Raptors’ defensive effort was an issue from the opening tipoff, and when Domantas Sabonis scored on a running dunk late in the first quarter, the Pacers went up by eight points. The Raptors replied with a 7-0 run and trailed 33-30 to start the second.
Shooting 63.6 per cent from the field in the second quarter, Brogdon connected on three consecutive baskets late in the half to give Indy a 14-point lead. VanVleet’s fadeaway shot with less than a second on the clock sliced the difference to 70-60 at halftime.
The Raptors are back at their temporary home of Tampa’s Amalie Arena to host the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.