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.
If Kyle Lowry stays in Toronto, he’ll go down as the best point guard in Raptors history.
— Navin Vaswani (@vaswani_) March 23, 2014
Potentially controversial opinion – I think Kyle Lowry is the most intriguing free agent this summer.
— Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) March 23, 2014
Kyle Lowry is a bad man. Topes win. 96-86. Amir and Jonas kept them in that one until Lowry could win it.
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) March 23, 2014
Kyle Lowry was Nikola Tesla’s mentor.
— Jake Goldsbie (@JGoldsbie) March 23, 2014
— Adam Francis (@raptorshq) March 23, 2014
The Raptors can’t not re-sign Kyle Lowry, basically.
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) March 23, 2014
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 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.
Amir should be Toronto’s most popular athlete, by a mile.
— Gourmet Spud (@gourmetspud) March 23, 2014
Amir Johnson is the goddam best
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) March 23, 2014
Amir<3 <3 <3
— Devang Desai (@DesaiDevang) March 23, 2014
Amir of course. RT @ekoreen: He’ll stay in the game. Jesus.
— Joseph Casciaro (@JosephCasciaro) March 23, 2014
Pictured: Amir Johnson (artist’s rendering) pic.twitter.com/idDrY1vg64
— Jake Goldsbie (@JGoldsbie) March 23, 2014
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.