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10 things: Serge Ibaka nails the dagger in thrilling comeback vs. Pacers

William Lou
NBA reporter

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 119-118 win over the Indiana Pacers.

One — Adventure: This was one of the most satisfying wins of the season, and that’s saying a lot. It’s not just that the Raptors overcame 19 3s and a 19-point deficit to win it in the dying seconds on an improbable 3. What made this result so cathartic was the sheer frustration of having to repeatedly make comebacks to come within a possession of tying or going ahead, only for the Pacers to rattle off a series of triples from unheralded bench players.

Two — Comeback: Indiana had the game under wraps after Justin Holiday sunk two free throws to establish a 10-point lead with 2:27 left in the fourth. What happened next was a product of sheer determination and some dumb luck. Pascal Siakam led the charge by cutting behind the defence for a layup, drawing two defenders and kicking it out to Kyle Lowry for 3, slashing inside for a pair of free throws, then stealing the inbound for another layup. That trimmed the lead to two and the final dagger came from Ibaka — who hit the go-ahead 3 (despite an uncalled, yet blatantly obvious foul by Pacers center Domantas Sabonis). Indiana still had final possession, but they collapsed under the pressure of Toronto’s swarming defence and couldn’t get their hands on the ball as time expired.

Three — Determination: For Siakam, this game was a testament to his mental toughness. Indiana neutralized him early on with aggressive double teams and while he made some good passes to his teammates, it put a pin in Toronto’s offence as a whole. Siakam then took it upon himself to be more aggressive, but he missed a string of easy looks and was 1-of-8 from inside the paint at one point. To recover from that awful start and to finish strong in the fourth shows growth from earlier in the year, where Siakam was absent in losses to Houston, Philadelphia and Miami. That determination must always be there from your star player and Siakam showed it tonight.

Four — Throwback: Lowry provided consistency while Siakam righted the ship and put together one of his finest performances of the season with 32 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists. Lowry paraded to the rim all night in spite of all of Indiana’s formidable shot blockers and found an incredible groove on his jumper as he nailed three treys in the second half. The noticeable difference in Lowry is that he’s become unflappable since the championship. No matter the odds, no matter the situation, Lowry keeps his cool and wills his team back into the game.

Five — Clutch: Ibaka was nothing short of immense and his effort was rightly rewarded on that game-winning 3. Ordinarily it would be Marc Gasol’s responsibility to bang against a low-post brute like Sabonis, but Ibaka held his ground against the All-Star center. Ibaka was steady all night with his scoring, and he was instrumental in keeping the Raptors afloat in the fourth quarter when it was just him and Fred VanVleet carrying the load. All the heavy lifting seemed to be taking a toll, as his legs looked to be heavy on a few short jumpers, but he made the final shot that counted.

Six — Switch: Nick Nurse made a crucial adjustment in the third quarter after the Raptors fell into a 19-point deficit. Nurse shifted Siakam to center after Ibaka landed in foul trouble and it immediately sparked a 13-2 run. The paint was less cluttered without Ibaka on the floor and the Pacers played into the trap by going away from their dual-center lineups. The added bonus is that it also got Siakam going, as he was much more effective attacking bigger defenders off the dribble as compared to quicker guards like Malcolm Brogdon. Siakam at center is a weapon that the Raptors rarely use since they have two quality centers, but it’s definitely a good look to have in their back pocket.

Seven — Brave: Terence Davis’ best attribute is that he’s not afraid. Maybe he’s just too naive to know better, but pressure doesn’t seem to phase this rookie. Davis nailed three triples and hit a tough layup in transition to fuel the Raptors’ comeback. The next step for Davis is to improve his awareness on defence, as he’s sometimes slow to read the situation.

Eight — Weakness: The bench becomes a liability each time the Raptors suffer injuries, which is hardly a surprise. Norman Powell’s absence is massive and resting Gasol pushed Ibaka into the starting five, which leaves the second unit without a focal point. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson recovered from an ankle injury and much of the offence funnelled through his post-ups, but that’s just not going to cut it against most defences. Pat McCaw’s inability to create open shots is also an issue, as it necessitates one of Lowry or VanVleet to always be on the court. What the Raptors need is just to get healthy, but the front office should also look to add another creator at the deadline just in case.

Nine — Worrisome: Give OG Anunoby credit for working his tail off on defence. Brodgon and Sabonis gave everyone else problems except for when Anunoby covered them. But the simple fact is that he’s just not making enough of an impact on offence. Could he get some more looks? Absolutely. But only taking one shot in 28 minutes is also a reflection on Anunoby’s activity. Nurse benched Anunoby yet again in the fourth and this time there wasn’t even Powell to outshine him. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the front office made an upgrade at the small forward position, especially if they have ambitions of making another deep playoff run.

Ten — Streak: The Raptors have now set a franchise record with 12 straight wins. They have overcome injuries to every piece of the rotation, withstood the loss of a Finals MVP and still they persist. Their success is a testament to their development, to their ingenuity and to their stubborn determination to never say die. The Raptors are the best story in the NBA and the best is yet to come.

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