Raptors 96, Hawks 86 – Box

With 10:52 to play on Sunday, the Toronto Raptors trailed the Atlanta Hawks 74-63.

The game had been, to that point, infuriating, a second consecutive outing against a struggling Hawks team where the Raptors looked disinterested and ineffective. The Raptors were shooting 37 percent against a defense that has ranked in the bottom-10 since Al Horford’s injury, the Raptors were losing the battle on the glass, being careless with the ball, and ice cold from long range.

And then, as it feels like has happened so many times this season, the Raptors decided they weren’t going to lay down.

Atlanta didn’t score for a 4:01 stretch, allowing Toronto to slowly trim the lead to just a point at 74-73; the Hawks wouldn’t extend that lead past four the rest of the way. Trailing 84-81 with just three minutes to play, Kyle Lowry came off the bench – where he’d spent three minutes to rest what appears to be a nagging groin issue – and hit a 10-footer. DeMar DeRozan followed with a long two, and the defense once again locked down to hold Atlanta scoreless for 2:50.

With 2:31 left to play, the Raptors went ahead 85-83, their first lead since Jonas Valanciunas opened the game with a pair of free throws.

From there, the Hawks didn’t stand a chance. In all, the Raptors held Atlanta to a 5-of-21 mark from the floor in the final 11 minutes of the game, allowing them a lone free throw attempt and just a single offensive rebound. The Raptors, meanwhile, caught fire to shoot 11-of-18 and got to the line plenty, shooting 8-of-11 and adding triples in triplicate for good measure. The earlier rebounding disparity? Erased and more by a 16-5 edge down the stretch.

Lowry, in particular, was fantastic late, which now seems to be his modus operandi. He went 5-of-5 and while he had just one assist, who wants to step up and argue with 13 points and a +17 mark in the final 11 minutes of the game? I love this guy, and I’m not alone.

 

 

 

 

 


There are more, but needless to say, Lowry’s performance got noticed. And how could it not? KLOE has been in full effect for most of the season, and while the team still turns to DeRozan for to carry the scoring load late, Lowry’s defense, intensity and leadership late in games has been paramount to this team’s success.

And the success has been resounding. Everyone knows the story by now: since trading Rudy Gay, the Raptors have completely turned things around, posting the league’s seventh-best record at 33-18.

Did you realize, though, that in that time, the Raptors own the league’s second-best fourth-quarter offense, trailing only San Antonio? Or that they own the league’s best fourth-quarter defense in that span, significantly better than number two Indiana? Put those together, and the Raptors are outscoring teams by 18.8 points per 100 possessions in fourth quarters since the trade. The next best mark? Miami…at plus-8.6 points per 100 possessions. Said differently, the Raptors have won fourth quarters by an average of four points; nobody else has averaged a margin better than 2.1.

In short, the Raptors are the league’s best fourth-quarter team since the trade, and it’s not even close. Consider the following fourth quarters (they include overtime), games I found in which the Raptors had impressive final frames:

Date Opponent Type 4th Quarter Margin Final Final Margin
Sun, Mar 23, 2014 Atlanta Hawks Comeback 21 W 96-86 10
Fri, Dec 27, 2013 New York Knicks Comeback 17 W 95-83 12
Sat, Dec 14, 2013 Chicago Bulls Pull-away 15 W 99-77 22
Sun, Dec 22, 2013 Oklahoma City Thunder Comeback 15 W 104-98 6
Mon, Jan 20, 2014 Charlotte Bobcats Fell short 13 L 95-100 -5
Wed, Jan 22, 2014 Dallas Mavericks Comeback 13 W 93-85 8
Sat, Jan 11, 2014 Brooklyn Nets Pull-away 12 W 96-80 16
Wed, Feb 5, 2014 Sacramento Kings Fell short 12 L 101-109 -8
Wed, Jan 15, 2014 Boston Celtics Fell short 12 L 83-88 -5
Tue, Dec 31, 2013 Chicago Bulls Comeback 11 W 85-79 6
Wed, Jan 8, 2014 Detroit Pistons Pull-away 11 W 112-91 21
Wed, Mar 19, 2014 New Orleans Pelicans Comeback 11 W 107-100 7
Wed, Jan 1, 2014 Indiana Pacers Pull-away 10 W 95-82 13
Fri, Mar 14, 2014 Memphis Grizzlies Pull-away 9 W 99-86 13
Sun, Mar 2, 2014 Golden State Warriors Comeback 9 W 104-98 6
Wed, Mar 12, 2014 Detroit Pistons Pull-away 9 W 101-87 14
Fri, Jan 24, 2014 Philadelphia 76ers Pull-away 7 W 104-95 9
Sun, Dec 8, 2013 Los Angeles Lakers Pull-away 7 W 106-94 12
Tue, Feb 25, 2014 Cleveland Cavaliers Comeback 7 W 99-93 6
Sat, Feb 1, 2014 Portland Trail Blazers Fell short 6 L 103-106 -3
Tue, Jan 7, 2014 Indiana Pacers Fell short 6 L 79-86 -7
Wed, Feb 19, 2014 Chicago Bulls Fell short 6 L 92-94 -2
Fri, Dec 20, 2013 Dallas Mavericks OT win 4 W 109-108 (OT) 1
Fri, Mar 21, 2014 Oklahoma City Thunder OT loss 0 L 118-119 (2OT) -1
Mon, Jan 27, 2014 Brooklyn Nets Hold tight 0 W 104-103 1
Thu, Feb 27, 2014 Washington Wizards Force OT 0 L 129-134 (3OT) -5

While I heaped plenty of praise on Lowry above, he’s not the only one contributing late. Everyone, in particular Dwane Casey, deserves credit for the late-game defense, while the late-game offense has been spread out well, too (again, this is since Dec. 8; as a reminder, the league-average true shooting percentage is 53.9 percent, and in fourth quarters it’s 54.4 percent):

Player 4th Pts NBA Rank 4th TS% 4th +/- NBA Rank
DeRozan 293 2 51.5% 191 1
Lowry 205 21 59.9% 156 2
Vasquez 162 48 56.1% 148 3
Johnson 125 89 60.0% 127 4
Valanciunas 121 93 60.3% 120 6
Patterson 87 n/a 57.8% 94 10

DeRozan is second in the NBA to only Kevin Durant in fourth-quarter scoring in that stretch, Lowry is 21st, and the team has six players in the top-10 for plus-minus, none of whom, save for the high-volume DeRozan, are any worse than “well above-average” in terms of scoring efficiency.

Johnson, in particular, deserves credit here. Per beat writer and all-around good guy Eric Koreen, Johnson has been dealing with a number of minor injuries this season and hinted he and others might be sitting out if the games didn’t mean so much right now. Sunday’s win gave the Raptors a half-game edge for third in the East and pushed the gap for home-court advantage to a game-and-a-half (they’re also just a game from clinching a playoff spot).

To wit, with two minutes left in the fourth it looked as if Amir had been Garbajosa’d, with his knee buckling in unsightly fashion as Shelvin Mack rolled into it. As has been the case all season, Johnson then did this:

He somehow stayed in the game, because he’s Amir Johnson, bad ass heart and soul of the Raptors.

 

 

 

 


I realize this post-game doesn’t have much in terms of Xs and Os, but I didn’t come away from this one (which I had the pleasure of watching twice since my initial viewing was while working March Madness – I highly recommend re-watching this fourth quarter) feeling strategic. I was emotional. The Raptors should handle the Hawks, sure, but they didn’t on Sunday, until they did.

It’s getting to the point where my faith in this team will be hard to shake, and I don’t think I’m alone. I was at Friday’s game, which was incredible. The ACC crowd is ready for playoff basketball, and people legitimately believe in this team. Raptors Twitter isn’t an echo chamber of snark anymore; people are genuinely excited, and they’re no longer waiting for the other shoe to inevitably drop. This is a damn fine team, and they’re a damn pleasure to cheer for.