Game Preview: Raptors at Pacers
The Toronto Raptors begin a two-game road trip in Indiana to take on the Pacers for the final time this season. Toronto is coming off a 113-105 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers while the Pacers dropped a 135-130 double-overtime battle against the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road on Sunday.
Tip-off: 7:00 P.M. ET
Broadcast info: SN1 / SN590
The Pacers and Raptors have seen plenty of each other recently. Tuesday's game will be the third meeting between the two teams in the last three weeks. Toronto has won the previous two match ups, earning a 116-91 victory and then a 111-100 victory, both on the Air Canada Centre floor. In the most recent win, DeMar DeRozan scored 40 points to go with nine rebounds and four assists as Toronto had five players in double figures. Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points and 17 rebounds for the Raptors while the Pacers were led by Paul George's 28 points and nine rebounds.
Ibaka flawlessly fitting in
Joining a new team can be challenging. Joining a new team midway through the season without training camp is even more difficult. When Serge Ibaka came to the Raptors at the trade deadline, he was joining a team that had its core in place for a handful of years. He was joining a system where everyone knew their role as well as the role of the player beside them.
Less than two months later, Ibaka is showing just how well he fits with Toronto. In Sunday's victory against the Philadelphia 76ers, Ibaka led the Raptors in scoring, while also making his presence felt defensively as he had 24 points to go with six rebounds and six blocks despite resting the entire fourth quarter. Teammate DeMar DeRozan had a season-high nine assists and Ibaka talked about DeRozan's leadership after the win.
"It's big-time, you know?" Ibaka said. "He told me earlier, one time I passed him the ball and told him to finish it and he passed it back to me and asked my why I didn't finish it? 'You're hot, keep shooting.' When you here something like that from the best player on your team it gives you a lot of confidence."
With Kyle Lowry out rehabbing from wrist surgery, DeRozan has become more of a distributor. He's still scoring, of course, but his expanded game is allowing his teammates to flourish. Dwane Casey is pleased with DeRozan's growth, as well as with how Ibaka is settling in. Not one to look too far into the future, he can't help but think about the day when he'll also get to add Lowry to the mix.
"[Ibaka is] one of those guys that's a threat from wherever he is, mid-range, there-point shot," Casey said. "Now we've got another guy when Kyle comes back, you've got another shooter over there, so I think at that time, teams are going to have to pick their poison on how they want to guard DeMar DeRozan
When asked about joining a team midway through the season, Ibaka acknowledged that it is often difficult to enter a new situation. What's helped him, he says, has been the support of his new teammates and their shared goal.
"It's a group of great guys, they're really unselfish guys here," Ibaka said. "Nobody really cares about nothing just everything about the team, playing basketball. They just make everything easy for me since Day 1. Sometimes it's tough when you come to a team that has been together for a long time. It takes [time] for them to give you your spots, you know? But these guys, they really don't care. They understand we're here for one thing, for one reason: to win."
Holding the lead
With five games remaining in the regular season and the postseason kicking off just days later, any opportunity for rest is appreciated. Thanks to a 14-point lead heading into the final quarter against the 76ers on Sunday, Toronto was able to rest its starters for the entire fourth, save for a three-minute stint for Cory Joseph.
Sunday's fourth quarter rest was only possible because of the second unit's work to hold the lead. After a disappointing outing from the reserves in a loss against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, the bench has now had two solid performances in Toronto's previous two victories.
Cory Joseph, playing more minutes than usual starting in place of the rehabbing Kyle Lowry, was thankful for their efforts.
"You definitely got to appreciate it," Joseph said. "Being able to build a lead and get some rest is huge. It's been a long season for us. A couple of guys are banged up and what not, so whenever you can get that rest it's definitely beneficial for us."