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Where would the Toronto Raptors be without Fred VanVleet?

He’s been Mr. Reliable for the Raptors this year. He’s the man who night after night does the little things for the team. He runs the offense, plays elite point-of-attack defense, and may very well be the most important player for Toronto. And yet, there’s nothing exciting about him. His greatness has become commonplace, accepted as ordinary, just a typical VanVleet performance. But without him, the Raptors would be in trouble.

Ask Raptors coach Nick Nurse who couldn’t let his lead guard take an early second-half fourth foul and immediately called for a coaches’ challenge knowing without VanVleet things would deteriorate quickly.

Or take Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle’s word for it.

“I don't think it's any stretch to say that he's a great player and I don't use the word great lightly,” Carlisle said prior to Friday’s game. “He's absolutely unafraid when it comes to big shots, big situations, and he has an impeccable sense of timing for when they need a big shot, even if it's sometime during the non-crunch time art of the game. So, I’ve just got a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

Friday night was another typical VanVleet performance as he tried repeatedly to will Toronto back and clot the bleeding whenever the Pacers went on a run, but the Raptors’ defensive problems persisted and a lack of depth cost them in a 114-97 loss to Indiana.

It’s clear how much VanVleet learned playing alongside Kyle Lowry for so long. Every time the Raptors found themselves in trouble, VanVleet seems to be there to calm things down.

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When Toronto’s bench went through a brief lull in the first quarter, VanVleet called his own number, getting to his mid-range jumper to pull Toronto to within one. A possession later, he got downhill again, attacking the rim and converting a free throw to tie things up. A quarter later, he ended a 9-0 Pacers run with a herky-jerky layup just before halftime. In the third, he did it again, nailing a 27-foot three-pointer to end another Pacers run.

"That’s one of the first notable traits, I think going back all the way to when he was a rookie, that when the offense was in trouble and the shot clock was late, he was always making shots to kinda keep the offense ticking over or almost bailing out the offense late in the shot clock," Nurse said. "That just kind of shows his championship pedigree, his winning pedigree."

The problem for the Raptors was the minutes without VanVleet who finished the night with 26 points on 10-for-21 shooting to go with four assists. Toronto’s undermanned bench couldn’t find any sort of groove save for some early second-quarter minutes. Svi Mykhailiuk and Malachi Flynn combined to shoot 2-for-12 from the floor.

Early Defensive Struggles Inside

After surrendering 42 points in the paint in the first half just two nights ago to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Raptors’ interior again underwhelmed in the first half on Friday. The Pacers tallied 38 points in the paint in the first half as Domantas Sabonis and Kelan Martin killed Toronto at the rim.

"Tonight, as soon as Precious needs to come out of the game, they’ve got two big, strong bigs so one of them’s going to be out there all the time, there’s just not a lot of size to sub in tonight," Nurse said. "With three guys with considerable size out of that game, that was hard tonight. That was the first thing I felt."

Barnes Aggravates Thumb

Scottie Barnes appeared to reaggravate his right thumb injury late in the first quarter going up for a shot. He stuck around for a few minutes before heading to the locker room just before halftime. He did, however, come out to start the second half and didn’t appear to have any issues, racking up 12 of his 17 points in the third quarter alone.

GTJ Exits Early

Gary Trent Jr. exited the game in the fourth quarter after suffering a strained calf in the first half. He played through it for a while but couldn't get right and left once the game got out of hand.

"I think that we'll cross our fingers on Gary, but we've got to get some of these guys back," Nurse said.

Up Next: Boston Celtics

Toronto concluded their West Coast road trip 4-2 and will now return home to take on the Boston Celtics on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.