Raptors host Pacers haunted by third-quarter woes
TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors will have the third quarter on their minds Friday night when they play the Indiana Pacers.
When the teams played last Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Raptors took a 10-point lead into the second half and watched it dissolve as the Pacers outscored them 31-20 in the third quarter and went on to a 107-104 victory.
It was the second straight game in which the Raptors had blown a significant halftime lead. They led the New York Knicks by 11 on Nov. 22 before being outscored 41-10 in the third quarter on the way to a 108-100 loss.
The Raptors have won their past two games, but the third quarter was cause for concern again Wednesday in a 126-113 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
The Raptors led by 19 points entering the second half and had the lead shrivel to two points four minutes into the third quarter before regaining control late in the game. They were outscored 33-22 in the third quarter. They have been outscored in the third quarter in nine of their past 11 games.
Toronto had no trouble in the third quarter Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, outscoring them 32-19 in the third quarter in a 112-78 victory.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey was furious about the third-quarter lapse after the game against the Hornets, however.
“We have to fix it,” he said after the game. “Other than starting five other people, I don’t know what to do.”
After the team had its practice Thursday, Casey talked about focus in the third quarter, particularly in three of the past four games.
“I do know in the third quarter, we’re 30th in defense and in the fourth quarter we’re first,” Casey said. “That tells me something right there from a defensive standpoint where we stand. It’s about focus. It’s on your starters to have the focus, the energy to come out in the third quarter. It’s in those three games, it was the biggest problem.”
There were some positives in the game Wednesday. Point guard Kyle Lowry had a career-best eight 3-pointers in 11 attempts against the Hornets and reserve point guard Fred VanVleet had eight points and a career-best nine assists in 18:31 of playing time.
Reserve center Lucas Nogueira was having an MRI on Thursday after leaving the game Wednesday with a strained right calf.
The win over the Raptors last week gave the Pacers a five-game winning streak, but they are 1-2 since, including a 118-97 loss to the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center on Wednesday.
The Pacers had only six free throws in the game against the Rockets, betraying a lack of aggressiveness in going to the hoop.
“That’s just playing into their hands, not being aggressive enough,” said Pacers center Myles Turner, who had 15 points, 10 rebounds and blocked four shots. “They really don’t want to defend, they want to score. We played right into their hands by settling for jumpers and not attacking the basket.”
Turner, who had seven points and 10 rebounds against the Raptors last week, is questionable for the game Friday because of a sore right knee. He has scored in double digits in his past three games.
The Pacers figure to be more aggressive going to the basket against the Raptors compared to their effort against the Rockets.
“I thought we settled (Wednesday) on the perimeter with only six free-throw attempts by us,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “We shot 7 for 28 from the 3-point line and just not enough attacking the basket. When we did attack the basket, we scored and had 60 points in the paint, but we settled a little bit too much on the perimeter.”
And the Raptors will be paying special attention to the third quarter.
“It’s just something we have to figure out as a team,” VanVleet said. “There are going to be nights where obviously we are up and we have to do a better job of coming out and sustaining that lead a little bit better.
“Teams are going to make runs, we understand that. It’s the NBA, they are just not going to lay down, but there’s a way to do it without the way we’ve been doing it, so it’s something we have to clean up. It’s something we have to look at and we will do it going forward.”