Raptors see Game 6 as a 'must-win' - for good reason

The Toronto Raptors have played like two different teams at times in their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers.

There was the squad that looked bewildered in Games 1 and 4, and there was the team that resembled the side that won 56 regular-season games in Games 2 and 3. Game 5 had a bit of everything — a brutal start, flashes of brilliance, frequent lulls, a stirring comeback and a nailbiting finish as the Raptors barely hung on for the win.

Now armed with a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, head coach Dwane Casey will have his players treat Friday's Game 6 as if it's a must-win contest.

"We can't go and get ambushed," Casey said. "We've got to go in with our high-beams on, laser-like focus from the start of the game to the end of the game."

An Indiana win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse would put the pressure squarely on the Raptors, who do not exactly have a glowing playoff history. Toronto made its first post-season appearance in 2000 and has been eliminated in the first round on six of seven occasions and the franchise has never won a best-of-seven series.

The Raptors' lone second-round appearance came in 2001 after they beat the New York Knicks in a best-of-five series. Toronto was swept out of the first round by the Washington Wizards last year and fell in seven games to the Brooklyn Nets in 2014.

"What happened two years ago is in the past. As well, what happened last year is in the past," said Raptors forward Patrick Patterson. "So to think about it, to dwell on it, none of us really do that. We're focused on this opportunity that we have now with this new team, these new faces, this new coaching staff and this brand new opportunity."

The players seemed loose and relaxed during a lunch-hour practice session at BioSteel Centre on Thursday afternoon before their flight to Indianapolis. Game 7, if necessary, would be played Sunday at Air Canada Centre.

Several Toronto players have taken a turn in the spotlight over the first five games.

Toronto centre Jonas Valanciunas posted strong numbers as the Raptors split the first two games at home. All-star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry rebounded after slow starts to help Toronto take Game 3 while forward Bismack Biyombo was one of the few bright spots in a Game 4 loss.

Biyombo, DeRozan and rookie Norman Powell helped the Raptors complete a comeback win at home in Game 5 to regain control of the series.

"One night, one guy might not have it," Casey said. "But that doesn't mean you give up on him and throw him in the waste bin. We've got to be consistent."

Toronto was a solid favourite entering the series. The second-seeded Raptors had 11 more regular-season wins than the Pacers.

However, Indiana has shown that it can hang with Toronto. The strong play of Paul George — who's averaging 28.8 points a game in the series — has kept the Pacers in it.

"We know it's not going to be easy," said Lowry. "We know how hard it's going to be. But we've got to go in there and play and be the more assertive team and just go out there and be more physical and just fight for it. Just fight for every inch on the floor."

With a 3-2 lead, Toronto has an 83 per cent chance of winning the series, according to basketball-reference.com.

"The opportunity is upon us and I think we just have to take advantage of it," Lowry said.

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