What they lacked in energy two days ago, the Indiana Pacers exerted in abundance Saturday afternoon as a successful game of “hot potato” sent a clear message to the Toronto Raptors.
This playoff series is far from finished because the Pacers remembered how to share a basketball.
“It’s going to be a long series now,” Pacers center Ian Mahinmi said after scoring a playoff career high 22 points in Indiana’s 100-83 rout of the Raptors in Game 4 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Never get too high. Never get too low.”
Each team seems to be accomplishing that, in mind-set and performance. All four games have been decided by double digits. The seventh seeded Pacers prevailed in Games 1 and 4 by 10 and 17 points. Second-seeded Toronto won Games 2 and 3 by 11 and 16 points. Game 5 is Tuesday in Canada. Game 6 returns to Indianapolis on Friday.
Who knows what will happen next.
“Right from the start, from the first quarter, we were playing for each other,” said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel.
Mahinmi found point guard George Hill for the game’s first basket, a 3-pointer from the corner. It was the first of the Pacers’ 24 assists. Hill became an aggressive scorer for the first time in this series as he matched Mahinmi with 22 points. Mahinmi, bad back and all, also grabbed 10 rebounds, had five assists and blocked a shot.
“Guys like me and George Hill, we play our best when the ball moves like that,” Mahinmi said of the Pacers’ passing.
Finally, after three games of carrying the Blue & Gold on his back, three-time All-Star forward Paul George had help. He had expressed the hope after Game 3 that his team would “respond pissed off.” That the Pacers did. Unlike in the previous three games, when the Raptors led after the opening quarter, Indiana scored the game’s first seven points and was ahead 28-16 at the first break.
“Yeah, this is how I wanted us to respond to the Game 3 loss,” George said.
Vogel inserted rookie forward Myles Turner into the starting lineup, and although he didn’t shoot the ball well (2-of-13), his rebounding, passing and blocked shots were like continual bursts of adrenaline. Turner had seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
Hill, shooting guard Monta Ellis, Mahinmi and Turner typically made the extra pass. Perhaps most importantly, George was unselfish, too, in a 19-point effort. The Pacers had twice as many assists as the Raptors. Hill had averaged just nine points in the previous three games, so this was the kind of outburst the Pacers desperately needed.
“When he’s going,” George said of Hill, “it just makes us so much better.”
Mahinmi had been dominated by Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, so his playoff career high was an eye opener to say the least.
The Raptors’ All-Star backcourt of Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry continued their surprising stretch of cold shooting — head coach Dwane Casey says he can’t remember a cold spell of this length — as they finished 8-of-27 for just 20 points.
“We knew their backs were against the wall and would come out swinging,” Casey said. “We didn’t respond in the proper way.”
If Toronto is going to win its first ever seven-game playoff series, it will need more from the dynamic duo, who are shooting 40-of-130 (30.7 percent) in the series. They’ve combined to score 115 points. George leads all scorers with 105.
Another new wrinkle to this series saw the Pacers outscore the Raptors 50-26 in the paint and outbound the visitors 43-40.
Back to Canada the teams go. Again, who knows which team will show up and play well Tuesday.
“Tonight was a good game,” Mahinmi reminded, “but it don’t mean next game we’re going to win by 20.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.