Indiana Pacers coach Nate McMillan might face a classic choice many have confronted over the past decade: Do you double-team LeBron James?
The Pacers’ game plan through the first five games has been to play James within their standard defensive system. They have altered pick-and-roll schemes at times but generally have played James straight up, relying on conventional help defense to try to make things tough while also taking care of his teammates.
The series has stayed close, but James has tortured Indiana yet again. He’s averaging 35 points, 11.4 rebounds and 8 assists while also shooting 55 percent. In Game 5, he crushed the Pacers’ interior defense for 12 baskets within 5 feet of the rim on his way to 44 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers took a 3-2 series lead.
It’s a poison-picking scenario, which is commonplace with high-level stars in all levels of the game. Interestingly, the Cavs have used a trapping defense on Pacers star Victor Oladipo, most aggressively in Games 3 and 4. Oladipo has slumped the past three games, shooting a combined 12-of-49.
While he wasn’t willing to give away game-plan adjustments before Game 6, at the very least McMillan said his team has to limit James’ space. He says he believes his defenders have been allowing James to create angles to get momentum to the basket and then been sluggish in helping one another. As a result, James has had room to maneuver.
“Those guys have some ugly possessions, but most of the time, they figure it out,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said about his bench players, who overwhelmed Washington’s in points, 21-6, and rebounds, 15-3, in the second half. “We trust them. We trusted them all year.”
Toronto fell behind by 12 points in the first quarter and by 53-50 at the end of the second.
The Raptors’ first lead did not come until the third quarter, and they were back down by five points entering the final period.
Never in franchise history had the Raptors won after trailing at halftime in a postseason away game, the team said, citing the Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s a different year. It’s a different team,” VanVleet said. “We’ve just got to keep our composure going forward and leave the past in the past.”
With star guards Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who had a personal series-low 16 points, resting to begin the fourth, VanVleet steered the turnaround, and the Raptors outscored Washington 29-14 in the last quarter. Bothered by a bad right shoulder, VanVleet had played a total of three minutes in the series until Friday, but he was just what Toronto needed in this game, with five points, four assists and four rebounds.