Can the Pacers pull off a major upset?
1. Home-Court Advantage : Although they were blown out in Game 6, the Raptors will return home in a deciding Game 7 on Sunday. There have been 121 Game 7’s in NBA Playoff History, and the home team has won an astounding 80% (97-24) of the games. Major advantage, Toronto.
Both teams have played Game 7’s in recent memory. The Pacers won a home Game 7 in 2014 against Atlanta in the first round, while the Raptors lost a Home Game 7 in that same season against the New Jersey Nets.
2. A Breakout Game For Kyle Lowry: Kyle Lowry has had an unusually quiet playoffs so far. After having a career year, averaging 21.2 points, 6.4 assists, and 4.7 rebounds, and being named the starting Eastern Conference point guard for the 2016 All-Star Game, he has had major trouble through the first six playoff games.
Lowry has shot under 40% for each game in the 2016 playoffs, and needs to get back on track to help the Raptors avoid an upset on Sunday.
3. Paul George’s Superstardom: In his first playoffs since a horrific injury that looked career-threatening, Paul George has been nothing short of spectacular. He has averaged 27.5 points per game through the first six games, tying first place in points per game so far. George has been pretty efficient as well, shooting 45.7% from the field. In Game 7, look for George to take over, as he will need to be big down the stretch if the Pacers are going to pull off the upset.
4. Solomon Hill: Who? You may not have heard of him, but this third-year man out of Arizona has provided a huge spark for the seventh-seeded Pacers. Hill is 11 for 18 from three-point line in the first six games, a staggering 61.1%. In fact, 69% of his shots in the series have been three-pointers, as he has turned into Indiana’s most effective catch-and-shoot guy this series.
Hill was about .1 seconds away from knocking in a game-tying three-pointer in Game 5 in Toronto, but it was waved off after official review said it was on his fingertips with 0.0 on the clock. Hill’s looming three-point threat can spread the floor for Indiana and allow Paul George to penetrate, which could cause major issues for the second seeded Raptors.
5. Myles Turner Defense: The rookie out of Texas has provided the Pacers with a huge boost on the defensive end throughout the season and playoffs. Remember, just a few years ago the Pacers were seeded first in the East, partly due to the impressive defensive acumen of then all-star Roy Hibbert and David West.
Turner has been able to block shots throughout the playoffs in a variety of ways. You can see in the video below that he is able to alter shots in one-on-one defense in the post and in weakside help, and he also does a fabulous job jumping straight up to avoid fouls calls. Turner is leading the 2016 Playoffs in blocks with 3.2 a game and is a major reason why both Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry have been struggling to finish at the rim.
6. Toronto’s Rebounding: While Toronto has shot worse from the field, three-point line, and foul-line, it has been able to keep this series close because of a positive rebounding margin. The Raptors have averaged four more rebounds a game than the Pacers through the first six games, which may not seem like a lot but can prove to be the difference in games decided by one or two possessions. Look for Jonas Valanciunas, averaging 11.3 rebounds per game through the first six games, to come up big for Toronto.
7. Coaching Experience: Dwayne Casey, the coach of the Toronto Raptors, has not gotten past the first round since he arrived in Toronto after the 2011 season. But Casey was an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, the team that defeated LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh in their first year together in Miami. Casey has improved during his five years in Toronto in terms of winning percentage, and is definitely due for a major victory.
But Frank Vogel has recent big-game playoff experience, as his Pacers had some brutal battles with LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the past couple seasons. In 2013, the Pacers took the Heat to a seventh game before losing in Miami. In 2014, Vogel again led the Pacers past the first round, only to fall again to Miami in six games.
It’s difficult to say which coach has the edge going into Game 7, but the outcome could have a serious affect on someone’s job. Both coaches have just a single year remaining on their contract, and a loss could bring out a coaching change for the 2017 season.
*All statistics courtesy of NBA.com/stats, Basketball-reference.com, and VegasInsider.com
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