INDIANAPOLIS - Coming off a pair of disappointing losses, the most recent ending in controversy, the Raptors look to put an end to their first skid of the season Friday while handing the Pacers their first loss.
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Toronto's most recent loss, a 92-90 defeat to the Bobcats Wednesday, came down to a divisive final possession in which Dwane Casey and the Raptors chose not to foul the home team, down two with less than 27 seconds remaining and a 1.9 clock differential. They had a second opportunity to commit the foul on a reset with five seconds left, after the Bobcats retained possession on an out of bounds play and called a timeout. That's where Casey acknowledges his team made a mistake.
"I'll take responsibly for miscalculating on that out of bounds play, not the 27 seconds because you still have a differential going back," Casey said Friday after his team's shoot around prior to a meeting with the undefeated Pacers.
Casey felt and still believes it was best to play out the possession once Charlotte rebounded a DeMar DeRozan miss with 27 on the clock. Instead of extending the game Casey said he was confident in his team's ability to get one final stop having shut the Bobcats down on the previous possessions. The foul, as he revisited the scenario, should have been given when Charlotte caught the ball off the inbound pass.
"We talked about it as a staff," Casey continued. "We gambled and we missed. I stand by not fouling once they got possession in that situation."
As Casey pointed out Wednesday, the Raptors would not have been in that position if not for a slow start in that game and hope to bounce back right out of the gate against much stiffer competition Friday evening.
Although they played the Pacers (5-0) competitively last year, having had some recent success in Indiana, the Raptors (2-3) face another tough test on the road against the NBA's last remaining undefeated team.
Indiana is off to its best start since beginning the 1971-72 season 5-0, en route to an ABA championship, and can match a franchise record - set the year prior - by opening the season with six straight wins.
The teams split their four-game series last season, each winning a couple on the road with three meetings - including both in Indiana - decided by two points. The Raptors overcame a five-point fourth quarter in Indiana Nov. 13 of last year to win 74-72 and came away with a 100-98 overtime victory on Feb. 8 after Rudy Gay hit a game-winner in the final seconds.
"We match up with them pretty well," Casey said of the Pacers. "I love the way they play. That's the way I want to play. That's what wins in the NBA and it's a great challenge for us. We've got to come in with that mindset, the way they play, and take it right back at them because if we don't it's going to be a long night."
Fresh off an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals where they took the Heat to seven games, the Pacers have picked up right where they left off. Although they still haven't scored 100 points in a game - ranking 21st in scoring, averaging 95.4 per - they also haven't allowed more than 91. Giving up just 84.4 points per game and holding all five of their early-season opponents below 40 per cent shooting, Indiana's defence, once again, is the best in the league.
Trends and Tidbits
The Pacers have also had to overcome slow starts, trailing at halftime in four of their five games but that hasn't been a problem for them so far. After falling behind 43-37 at the break on Wednesday, Indiana outscored the Bulls 60-37 in the second half, including a 34-18 advantage in the final quarter to remain unbeaten.
Toronto has out-rebounded each of its opponents to begin the season, ranking fifth in the NBA averaging 45.6 boards per game. Through five games they have a plus-45 rebounding differential.
Jonas Valanciunas has scored 30 points on 28 shots in 47 first-quarter minutes. He has totaled just 19 points, launching only 16 shots in 72 minutes combined in quarters two through four.
Although Toronto's bench has been a pleasant surprise, helping the team narrow large deficits both in Charlotte and Atlanta early in the season, that hasn't been reflected in the box score. The Raptors' bench has been outscored by the opposition's reserves in each of the first five games, 162-113 overall. Toronto ranks 27th in the league in bench score with its second unit averaging 24.6 points per contest.
Toronto is 9-24 all-time against the Pacers in Indiana.
Who to Watch For
Hansbrough has had an immediate impact off the Raptors bench after signing with the team as a free agent during the summer. The Raptors' super sub was drafted 13th overall by the Pacers in 2009 and spent his first four seasons playing in Indiana, where he averaged 8.9 points and 3.6 rebounds.
In five games as a Raptor, Hansbrough has brought his trademark energy and physicality to Toronto, traits his new team are going to need Friday against his old one.
"I'm trying to get a win tonight so that's the only way I'm looking at it," Hansbrough said, downplaying his return to Indiana. "I'm not looking to catch up with friends."
Signed to an extension in the summer, coming off a breakout year last season, George continues to take his game to the next level and put himself in the conversation with the league's best. George has scored at least 21 points in each game this season and is averaging 25.8 per contest, good for fifth in the NBA. A dangerous two-way player, George averaged 18.5 points, 12.0 rebound and 4.3 assists, going 11-for-23 from three-point range in the four meetings with Toronto last season.
"It's very difficult," Casey said of George's rare ability to dominate at both ends of the floor. "That's why he's one of the top players in the league. He's playing at a very high level on both ends of floor. We've got to get ready for him, not only his offence but his defence."
Raptors' forward Steve Novak has been inactive for four of the team's first five games nursing a sore back. His status is unknown ahead of Friday's game.
Starting point guard George Hill has missed the Pacers last three games with a sore left hip but participated in shoot around Friday morning and is a game-time decision. Back-ups C.J. Watson and Donald Sloan have combined for 51 points, 25 assists and just five turnovers in Hill's three-game absence.