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Lowry, DeRozan help Raptors re-establish identity

Carroll provides defensive boost as Toronto contains George

POSTED: Apr 22, 2016 1:14 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Raptors vs. Pacers: Game 3

Kyle Lowry drops 21 points with eight assists as the Raptors beat the Pacers in Game 3, 101-85.

— The Toronto Raptors sent out two reminders to those watching their 101-85 victory over the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of the first round on Thursday.

The first reminder was that the Raptors are the better team in this series. They were 11 games ahead of the Pacers in the regular-season standings for multiple reasons. And the biggest is that they have multiple guys who can contribute at a high level.

DeMar DeRozan had his best offensive game of the series, Kyle Lowry finally got some long-distance shots to fall, Jonas Valanciunas continued to be a force on the glass, and the Raptors' bench -- Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson, specifically -- was, once again, terrific.

Now that the Raptors have gotten past the angst of a third straight Game 1 loss at home, they've started to play more like the team that won a franchise-record 56 games.

"We're playing more to our identity," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after Thursday's win. "I don't think we played to our identity even in Game 2. I don't think we played to our identity the way we can."

The Raptors were the more aggressive and purposeful team in Game 3. They made it tough for the Pacers to get a clean shot or drive to the paint, and played through contact on their own end of the floor.

"We're failing to be the physical team," Paul George said afterward. "They are being the physical team right now."

The second reminder that came on Thursday was that DeMarre Carroll is an impact player.

The Raptors signed Carroll to a four-year, $58 million contract last summer to provide defense, energy and some shooting. But less than a month ago, it wasn't clear if he'd even be available in the playoffs. His recovery from early January knee surgery took longer than expected and it wasn't until April 7 that he finally made a return from a 42-game absence.

Carroll came off the bench in three games at the end of the regular season and in Game 1 of this series on Saturday. He started Game 2, but was largely ineffective and limited to just 20 minutes.

Every game is a step forward, though. And Game 3 was a giant step. Carroll's minutes limit was lifted, he played more than 35 (the most he's played since Thanksgiving), and he made big contributions on both ends of the floor.

Carroll was, first and foremost, the primary defender on George, who shot just 6-for-19. The series' best player through the first two games finished with 25 points (shooting 12-for-12 at the line) in Game 3, but those 25 didn't come easy. According to SportVU, a greater percentage of George's shots (13 of 19) were contested than were in Game 1 (13 of 22) or Game 2 (six of 15).

"I tried not to let him get some feel-good shots," Carroll said. "Once he gets a feel-good shot and sees the ball go through the hoop, he's a beast."

If Carroll only contributed only on defense, his presence would have been a positive. But have gave the Raptors a lift on offense as well, scoring 17 points, hitting three 3-pointers and scrapping for four offensive rebounds.

"DeMarre Carroll was on the floor," the Pacers' Solomon Hill said. "All it takes is plays being made by guys who aren't the stars to get a team going. They played like they really wanted Game 3."

"I didn't even know he had 17 points," Lowry said. "That's a bonus with the things he's doing."

A healthy Carroll makes the Raptors a more complete team. He gives them the ability to win ugly (they shot just 42 percent on Thursday). And he makes them less dependent on Lowry and DeRozan, who have combined to shoot 31 percent in the series. And in Game 3, Carroll looked a lot healthier than he did just three days earlier.

"He's just now getting his sea legs, the rhythm of the game, the speed of the game," Casey said. "When you go from the regular season to playoff intensity, that's a huge step. But I thought, tonight, he looked closer to who he really is."

"That's probably the best I felt," Carroll said. "It's going to come in time. The biggest thing coming off of injury and having surgery is the mental state. You can get down on yourself mentally. But I think I'm strong mentally [with] all the stuff I've been through. So this is just a stepping stone for me."

It was a stepping stone for his team as well. Game 3 didn't just return home-court advantage in this series to Toronto. Carroll's 35 minutes may have completely altered the Raptors' trajectory in this postseason. There's a reason they gave Carroll $58 million, and we saw it on Thursday.

"This is what I envisioned [after signing with Toronto]," Carroll said, "but I got to build off it."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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