The Raptors might not be as talented as they were a year ago, but they are every bit as fun to watch, and arguably even more resilient.
Toronto has gone from NBA champion to underdog in a matter of months and that appears to suit this squad just fine. Every time this team gets written off, it shows up the next day and somehow finds a way to get the job done.
The Raptors seem to play best when their backs are against the wall. That was true after early-season injuries to Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. It was true again with the countless number of ailments that have come since, but never was it more apparent than Sunday afternoon when Toronto pulled off the largest comeback victory in franchise history.
Without the services of Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Norm Powell and others, Toronto rallied from 30 points down in the third quarter to steal a 110-107 victory over Dallas. Lowry saved 20 of his game-high 32 points for the fourth to extend the Raptors’ winning streak to six games while leaving the Mavericks shell-shocked.
“Piece of cake,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said jokingly after the game. “(Lowry) was unbelievable, right? And he really didn’t have that good a game going until that point, too. Then he started firing and making and driving and and-one-ing, he was doing it all. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it.”
How improbable was this victory? Well, consider when the score was 85-55 in favour of Dallas midway through the third, the Mavericks had a 99.7 per cent win probability. The last time an NBA team overcame a deficit that big was way back on Dec. 31, 2009 when Sacramento beat Chicago. If you switched channels or turned off the television, don’t worry, you weren’t the only one.
The win was possible not only because of Lowry and a franchise-record 47 points in the fourth quarter, but also because of their defence. Toronto opened the quarter with a full-court press to increase the tempo and make one last-ditch effort to get back into the game before shutting it down.
The decision by Nurse worked to perfection. Dallas turned the ball over seven times during the final frame and only once broke through the press for an easy dunk. As the lead started slipping away, so too did the Mavericks’ composure, with Dallas hitting just five of its final 18 shots.
“Just like when we go into the zone and other teams get tentative, I think that’s what happened to us,” Mavericks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. admitted after the game. “We didn’t attack it like we should have. It helps when they’re making baskets and the crowd is getting into it, the court starts to shake a little bit, so it gets pretty intense.”
The Raptors opened the fourth quarter down 23. Lowry was on the floor alongside a group of reserves including Terence Davis, Malcolm Miller, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher. The game appeared to be over and it seemed like only a matter of time before Lowry would be removed to rest up for the back end of a back-to-back, with the Raptors set to play Indiana on Monday.
The plan changed in a hurry.
Toronto cut the lead to 18 barely a minute into the fourth. By the eight-minute mark, the deficit was 10, and suddenly a crowd that had little to cheer for all day was sent into a frenzy. The tension only escalated from there, and with 5:30 to play the comeback was complete as Hollis-Jefferson hit a layup to tie the game at 95.
Lowry then hit two more shots as the sides started going back and forth. The late effort was at risk of going to waste with the Raptors trailing by one with less than 30 seconds remaining. Lowry took care of that, too, as he found a slashing Chris Boucher for a vicious one-handed slam that would give the Raptors a lead they would not relinquish.
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Vintage Lowry and apparently vintage Raptors. No Siakam, no Gasol or Powell. Heck, no Matt Thomas, Stanley Johnson or Dewan Hernandez either. Everyone keeps waiting for these undermanned Raptors to fall flat on their faces and yet they somehow keep doing the unthinkable. This is as gutty as a team gets.
“I was taking what was given to me, just being aggressive,” said Lowry, who was the only starter on the floor in the fourth until VanVleet checked in with less than two minutes remaining. “These early games, they’re early, so I had to get my legs and my body right and get going. (In the second half) I just was like, be aggressive, and going into the fourth quarter, you know: Listen, go out there and go play and be free and whatever happens happens.”
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