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.


    Brooklyn just doesnt lose . worried about us dropping to 4th seed and playing chicago

    • Will

      You know they’re not going to keep it up. I’m not saying they’ll collapse but nobody wins 80% of their games consistently.

  • MoPeteRules

    I honestly can’t wait for a playoff series, holy shit we’ve had some insane games in the regular season. I can just imagine how god damn wild the playoffs are gonna be. By the way, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins both played like chuds in the NCAA tournament. I’m sure I’m generalizing here, but even Adam Morrison and Jimmer Fredette took their teams to the Sweet 16. They’ll likely be great players down the road, but it seemed like everyone was so arrogant as to proclaim that they were franchise players immediately, especially before they even played a game of college ball. I don’t think fans of tanking realized how many years of misery they’d have to endure before their teams could become relevant again.

    • afrocarter

      KD didn’t get out of the second round…so…there’s that.

      • MoPeteRules

        This is true. But KD was 11-24, 30 pts, 9 reb. with 2 TO.

        Wiggins was 1-6, 4 pts, 4 reb. with 4 TO.

        Parker was 4-14, 14 pts. 7 reb. with 4 TO.

        Just saying KD had a knack for shining in the big time back then, and still does now.

        • afrocarter

          Ah, good point, touche. Hadn’t been aware of the individual stats. I did catch the Mercer/Duke game on Friday. Parker looked decent; I wouldn’t simply write him off already!

          • 2damkule

            wait, so we’re NOT supposed to make sweeping generalizations/prognostications based on a small sample size? THAT’S CRAZY!

            • afrocarter


        • GetLicks

          If Wiggins took 24 shots a game, he would have averaged well over 25-30 ppg. Hell, he took half that amount and still managed to average almost 20 a game. Stop comparing the 2, they were different players who had different roles on their respective teams. Anyone who watched Kansas games knows this. People also forget he was one of the best defenders in the entire country.

    • Ghotte

      Smitch and Jack Armstrong said it best: In college it’s more about the system. Wiggins and Parker will thrive in the more free-flowing NBA game. But it will take 3-4 years before they will be dominant (if they even get that high.)

    • GetLicks

      I’m not trying to make excuses for Wiggins, but the Kansas offense was not suited to his game at all. If anything, Self played to his weaknesses (shooting off the dribble) and AW is taking way more heat than he deserves. Their whole offence was pretty much passing it around the 3 pt line and then going inside out. There were very little, if any, plays run for him. No pick and roll, no ball screens, very disappointing to see they didn’t utilize him properly.

      They basically gave him the ball at the 3 pt line for him to create, which is extremely difficult for a freshman to do against a set defence that’s keying in on him already. His options were pretty much take a long-range jumper or dribble into 2,3, sometimes 4 defenders.

      I feel like NBA scouts and teams saw this as well, and I don’t think his early exit will affect his draft stock. When the team that drafts him figures out how to use him, he will be deadly.


    if we win tomorrow we clinch playoffs

    • BlakeMurphy

      Not quite. Because of tiebreakers, the Raps need a combo of 3 Raps wins/Knicks losses.

      • FREEJV

        if we win tmr we ll be 11 games ahead of NY with 11 games left and we already beat them twice. so unofficially clinched .

        • afrocarter

          …I don’t think that’s how it works…

          • FREEJV

            how does it work then since you re so smart you can tell me

            • afrocarter

              Blake Murphy already explained it comprehensively.

              • afrocarter

                I’d agree with you in saying that the Raps have all but clinched a playoffs spot. No question about it. I’m just saying..

        • BlakeMurphy

          Raps have 2 games left vs Knicks and 5 in-division. Technically, Knicks could win both of those to split that tiebreaker AND pass the Raptors for the next tiebreaker, which is record vs division opponents. It’s incredibly unlikely, obviously, but that’s why the extra W or NYK L is needed.

  • DDman

    High volume DD who also has the #1 +/- in the WHOLE NBA in the 4th quarter. props

  • Ds

    Since we’re on the subject of numbers since the Gay trade, here are the offensive and defensive numbers for the Raptors since that trade:

    ORTG: 109.1 (that would place them 9th, right behind Phoenix)
    DRTG: 103.8 (that would place them 6th, right behind OKC)

    The only teams with top 10 defence and offence:

    Los Angeles Clippers

    Houston Rockets
    San Antonio Spurs
    Oklahoma City Thunder
    Toronto Raptors

  • archaeopteryx

    I’m of two minds on this 4th quarter stuff. Yes, it’s wonderful that they outscore teams in the 4th, but a lot of times they’re doing that because they’ve dug themselves a hole through sloppy play/lack of intensity earlier in the game. It would be nice to see a few solid games from start to finish… easier on the nerves.

    • afrocarter

      They’re just not there yet in terms of their development. Once that level of focus sets in — once they learn how to play every quarter like it’s the 4th quarter — they’ll pretty much be the Spurs. I don’t think it’ll happen by the end of this season, but goddamn things look promising.

      • Steverino

        I think what you’re forgetting, afrocarter, is that teams like the Spurs play the same way. They’ll let inferior teams stick around before putting them away. They may even trail at the half or past that.

    • Ghotte

      The flipside to that argument is that they simply put away teams they were supposed to beat and pulled away in the 4th. I can’t count how many ‘comfortable’ games we’ve viewed this year. Used to be a foreign concept.

      • 2damkule

        their record in games decided by 10 pts or more is 22-5 (best % in the L, fewest L’s when the margin is that big). point differential is a good indicator for quality of team.

  • afrocarter

    Best Raptors JPEG of the year?

  • Chris Read

    Any links to where I can watch the game/4th qtr?

  • Ghotte

    Does anyone else get the sense the Raptors have gained “some” measure of respect from other teams? The media?

    Although it would be quite easy to slip back into laughing-stock status, it appears there’s widespread acknowledgement – or at least grudging respect – when I read comments from players, columnists, or bloggers south of the border. #culturechange

  • Ghotte

    Love the Amir gif!

  • Matteemo

    There’s been talk recently of retiring Vince’s #15, but if you ask me that would be a slap in the face to Amir Johnson. It’s like saying we value a guy who abandoned our franchise more than we value the heart and soul of what may be the best Raptors squad of all time. While Vince was no doubt one of the game’s best at the time, he never committed to Toronto the way Amir has, (Giving out Drake CD’s for free to people on the street, taking part in the zombie walk, celebrity judge on top chef Canada). Furthermore, he leaves everything on the floor every single night, Vince certainly can’t say that. If we retire Vince’s number it better only happen at a time when Amir is no longer wearing it.

    • why

      If VC had Amir’s drive and toughness he really might have been the next Michael Jordan – quite frankly he has been coasting on his raw talent and athletic ability since 2001. That he is still around shows how much talent he had.
      it would also be a slap in the face to Jorge Garbajosa

    • jjdynomite

      Vince did leave his tears of faux-agony on the floor. His lack of muscle even at the height of his slam dunk athleticism says it all about his coasting nature. On the contrary, you can see the effort Amir puts into sculpting and sustaining his body through the rigours of a long season. If Amir stayed as soft as Vince on his 6-foot-11 frame he’d like be everyone’s least favourite dick swing, Austin Daye.

    • http://www.offthebackboard.wordpress.com/ Off The Backboard

      Are you kidding? Vince held an annual summer charity game in the city, and did a number of volunteer stints throughout.

  • Hassan Mehmood Khan

    gotta get 2pat back

  • Seeten

    Raptors are for real. Kevin Pelton’s per diem today gave an honorable mention to Kyle Lowry when talking about best 10 players in the NBA, and the stats actually showed him somewhere around 6th or 7th (check the graph, but it is insider only)

    I’m stoked about this team, and I love watching them. I honestly had no expectations about anything but tanking this season, and its just been so much fun.

  • Agilan Sivakumaran

    Exited for the Raps to be back in the playoffs!

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