The Toronto Raptors are better than the Indiana Pacers. By points per possession the Raptors were sixth in the NBA in net rating while the Pacers were eleventh, and accordingly Toronto earned the home court advantage as the second seed in the Eastern Conference in this first round matchup. This isn’t new information, it’s just a necessary reminder that Indiana probably should have been sent home by now. Instead, we get the treat of an elimination game in Toronto that threatens to cut the heart right out of every basketball-loving Canadian around.
A competitive series like this has the benefit of being nearly a large enough sample size to draw conclusions. When a series becomes closer than it ought to, the typical narrative that emerges is that the better team is just missing their shots, but Toronto’s recent playoff failures have made it quite difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt. In order to check out whether the Raptors are choking or not, I built a rudimentary shots-based expected points model and applied it to the six games this series has provided. Information was taken from NBASavant.com on shooting percentages for each player by area and shot location data was taken from the box scores provided by ESPN. Since you’re probably already bored by this, let’s cut straight to the conclusion; the Raptors are taking the shots they need to be winning this series, they’re just not able to hit them.
Over the six games so far Indiana has outscored the Raptors by 16 points, perfectly in line with this series being all tied up, but expected points tells a different story. By that measure, Toronto should have outscored the Pacers by 45 points in the aggregate, and have ‘won’ every game but the fourth, which they ‘lost’ by less than a point. This series could and probably shot be all over, but the better team has spent this entire series shooting like shit.
The discrepancy between Toronto’s expected and actual points scored is 70 over just six games, and most of that can be attributed to their All-Star backcourt. Given their shot selection and year-long shooting percentages, Kyle Lowry would be expected to have averaged 18.8 points per game and DeMar DeRozan 20.4, but instead the two have 14.8 and 15.3 respectively. That accounts for a whopping 54 of the missing 70 points for the Raps, with the rest mostly being made of small discrepancies dotting the roster.
The Pacers, on the other hand, are shooting almost completely in line with where they were all season long. Normally that wouldn’t be good enough to beat a team as good as Toronto was, but it has been good enough to hang with the team that Toronto currently is. Of their regulars, only CJ Miles is losing more than 2 points per game off their expected, and Paul George has managed to outperform his own splits despite being responsible for over a quarter of Indiana’s total offense.
Obviously this is an incomplete picture of each game - not all shots from each area are created equal, and I don’t have data for whether each individual shot was contested - but it still paints a definite picture of how this series has progressed. In spite of their most successful season in franchise history, Toronto has been haunted by their recent playoff collapses, and the last few months have been spent wondering if this would be the year they finally broke through their personal glass ceiling. Six games against Indiana have shown that Toronto can get the shots they want, but the seventh will show whether they have gotten over their propensity to choke.
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