Game 7 Preview: Raptors vs. Pacers

Tonight we find out who will be advancing to the second round with a deciding Game 7 at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors were unable to close out the series Friday night in Indiana and will have another shot to win their first seven-game series in franchise history. The last time these tho teams played in Toronto resulted in a thrilling fourth quarter comeback by the Raptors after trailing as many as 17 points. The Square will once again be open to fans two hours prior to tip-off.

Tip-off - 8pmDoors open - 6:30pmBroadcast info: SN | TSN1050 Radio | NBA on TNTFord Fanzone open: 6pmPregame Show: 6:30pm on NBATV Canada

Seven months ago, the Toronto Raptors wrapped their first day of training camp. Every day since then the team has worked and prepared for the postseason. Returning to Toronto after a disappointing Game 6 loss to Indiana with Game 7 set for 8 P.M. ET, the Raptors feel that earning the opportunity to play a series-deciding game on your home floor is what the regular season was about.

"It’s win or go home and that’s the difference [of a Game 7],” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “This is the finale of this series and we’re going into this one with confidence on our home court. That’s why you compete and fight for 82 games. Bottom line: we’ve earned the right to have home court. We have it for a reason.”

For the past year Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have worked for this: an opportunity to advance to the second round after first-round exits in each of the last two seasons. While there are lessons to be learned from those postseason experiences, this is a different team. 

“It’s a lot different,” DeRozan said. “Two years ago we were playing against the most veteran team you could assemble. [That team] versus a bunch of guys who never even tasted the playoffs. And you know, we grew a lot from then. And this time around the feelings are different. We’re in a different position. But it’s a new challenge for us. It’s been a long six games of this series, now it’s an opportunity in Game 7 to put everything together that we probably were struggling with. Just put it all together. You know, the last six games don’t matter. Tomorrow night matters.”

Casey spoke with his players about the importance of coming out and focusing on Sunday. Not on what happened in Game 1 or Game 3 or Game 6 or anything in between. Each contest being so different than the last makes it easier to hit the reset button and let everything else go out the window.

“One: let’s go in with a clear head,” Casey said. “Second, I said [this] in the meeting [with the team]: Push the reset button. Flush what’s happened in this series. You’ve got to go out and do what you did for 82 games [during the regular season]. You played at a high level, you played to your personality. Don’t worry about what’s happened in this series. Just come out and stick with the process and our identity: playing hard, defence first and sharing the ball on offence. Stick with it. Third: stay together. Don’t fragment, don’t listen to the noise. Play for the guy sitting next to you and stick with him. He’s the most important guy.” 

Every player in Toronto’s locker room understands what’s at stake on Sunday night. Win or start the offseason. Win or spend the summer thinking about what ifs. Lowry said he was glad there’s only one day between Games 6 and 7, and that the rest of his day will be about clearing his mind and then preparing at night. With an 8 P.M. start, guys can stick to their usual game-day schedules and just shift things ahead 30 minutes. DeRozan, the longest tenured Raptors player, said that he will spend tomorrow’s drive to the arena thinking about the game and going over what needs to be done.

Despite the pressure that comes along with Game 7, DeRozan isn’t taking the opportunity for granted.

“[Tomorrow I will be] just really living in the moment,” he said. “Because not a lot of people get this opportunity to be able to play in a Game 7, to experience what it’s like to be in such a great moment. So many people going to be watching the game, so many people are going to be outside, the crowd is going to be amazing. That type of atmosphere, you can’t duplicate.”

Lowry said Saturday’s practice session was positive and that players were attentive and engaged going over film and looking at things they can clean up. In an up and down series, he’s glad the final meeting between the two teams will be played on the Air Canada Centre court.

“We played 82 games to have this advantage,” Lowry said. “Homecourt, our fans, we already know what our fans are going to be like tomorrow and we’re going to need it. We’re going to need them disruptive, we’re going to need them loud, we’re going need them passionate, we’re going to need everything from them no matter what happens in the game. We’re going to need them to support us at all costs.”

For Casey, the biggest thing is ensuring his team plays with purpose from opening tip until final buzzer. 

“Bring to the table what you have brought to the table for 82 plus games during the season,” he said. “Don’t overthink it. Do what you do. If you are a rebounder, rebound. If you are a scorer, shoot it. Don’t overthink it. Most of all bring your hard hat and work boots and play hard. That is one thing you can control, how hard you play and how hard your motor is going for 48 minutes - not 24, not 36, but for 48.”

Throughout this series, DeRozan has talked about the beauty of the game and playoff basketball. Shortly before he exited the BioSteel Centre media room on Saturday afternoon, he was asked about finding beauty in a series that has been filled with so many twists and turns. 

"The opportunity to still be playing,” he said. “As long as we still can put that jersey on and go in that arena and play, there’s nothing more appealing than that."