TORONTO – Down 26 points with 43 seconds left in the third quarter to the Dallas Mavericks Sunday afternoon in a game that saw them trailing by as many as 30, Malcolm Miller checked in for the Toronto Raptors.
Miller replaced OG Anunoby – who struggled Sunday, going 3-for-8 from the field for six points and a team-worst minus-27 on the day – took his spot in the bottom left hash marks and watched as Canadian Dwight Powell converted his second free throw attempt to pump the Mavericks’ lead to 27.
On the floor for the Raptors for what appeared to be a ceremonial free-throw of death for Toronto at the time was Miller, Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher.
An extreme case of the vaunted Lowry-and-the-bench lineups of the yore, this appeared to be something that Nurse would throw out at the end of the quarter and then likely wave the white flag in the fourth as the Raptors were scheduled to play in Indiana Monday on the second night of a back-to-back.
Well, that would’ve been the case had it been just about any other team than the Raptors.
“I would say we have always been a team that fights,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “In my time here, we hardly ever mail it in. It’s a good characteristic to have.”
In a sleepy Sunday afternoon game that saw the team shoot 23-of-69 from the field and put up only 63 points through three quarters, those old good Raptors habits kicked into overdrive in the fourth quarter.
The Raptors made the biggest comeback in franchise history, outscoring the Mavericks 47-21 in the fourth and walked away with a miraculous 110-107 victory.
Here’s a closer look at that record-breaking fourth quarter at how, exactly, the Raptors pulled off a pre-Christmas miracle.
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Scrambling, trapping, pressing defence
Thanks to four free throws that Hollis-Jefferson made at the end of the fourth, the Raptors entered the fourth trailing by 23 – obviously not great, but better than before.
But more important than the made free throws from Hollis-Jefferson was what was seen from the Raptors’ defence after each attempt: A now-familiar sight of the Raptors scrambling, trapping and picking up full court to try to speed the Mavericks up, and create turnovers.
This proved to be the blueprint that set in motion the enormous comeback to come in the next quarter, and it was largely thanks to the somewhat patchwork Lowry-and-bench lineup Nurse came upon when Miller replaced Anunoby at the end of the third.
Nurse ended up riding this lineup until 1:37 left in the fourth where, by that time, the Raptors had taken a three-point lead and had all momentum on their side to finish off the job.
“We stayed with it a long time, we probably called it off a little bit early to be honest with you,” said Nurse of the pressing defence and the lineup he was utilizing with it. “There really wasn’t any reason [to stop].”
When you force a team to turn the ball over seven times and hold them to 5-of-19 shooting in a single frame, why would you change what was so clearly working?
Nurse found a solution, and Dallas had no answer for it, ultimately.
”We’re gonna make one charge here at this thing”
Obviously, the results went the Raptors way, but to even get in the mood to attempt the desperation trapping defensive scheme Nurse employed in the fourth still takes a lot of buy-in.
This is a team that clearly doesn’t quit, though, and even as things seemed grim at the end of the third quarter, the spark remained.
“The mood was really bad to start the fourth quarter,” said Nurse. “We were getting our butts kicked. But we just had a little recent success with pressing in Philly down late, so I said, we’re gonna make one charge here at this thing. Let’s air it out for a few minutes and see. We immediately worked and chipped into it.”
Added Lowry: “We were just like, ‘Look we’re going to try.’ Nick threw us the press and everyone just said, ‘Alright let’s do it.’”
This never-say-die attitude from the Raptors was infectious and the Scotiabank Arena crowd definitely appeared to respond to it as you could literally hear the fans get back into the game as early as 1:10 into the fourth quarter.
At that point, the Mavericks called timeout after a Hollis-Jefferson tip-in, and the crowd rose to their feet sensing a comeback in the air despite Toronto cutting the lead to a still sizeable 18 points.
“We were challenging everything they were doing hard, and again, that’s energy, that’s the crowd,” said Nurse.
Added Miller: “It’s excitement. We’re getting stops. We’re getting buckets. We’re moving the ball. Kyle’s going absolutely crazy. Everything felt good. Everything was falling into place. There was a lot of energy from the crowd, energy from the bench and energy on the floor.”
And Boucher, who’s exclamation-point dunk with 25.8 seconds left to give the Raptors the lead once again, essentially iced the game: “I’m definitely going to go watch the game again and see how exciting this game was and how the fans helped us so much, just by cheering with us. We could feel down on the court, how much they wanted us to win this game. It was probably one of the best games I’ve been to, for real.”
Sometimes, all it takes to is a little belief, and momentum will follow.
The other huge reason why the Raptors made this ridiculous comeback was Lowry.
Like Miller said, he went “absolutely crazy” finishing with 32 points on 12-of-23 shooting, including 20 in the final frame, going 7-for-10 from the field and 4-for-6 from three-point range.
It was Lowry’s heroic shot-making that made Nurse’s defensive scheme work the way it did and, as a bonus, it was a lot of fun for the other Raptors to see him turn the clock back a bit to his older, more dominant days.
“I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it,” said Nurse.
“All he said was ‘keep pushing,’” said Boucher. “He led us the right way, put us in great spots. Kyle does that every time. Even when people don’t see it. Kyle’s a great leader.”
“I mean, he’s a vet, he’s a 14-year pro and that’s what he does,” added Davis.
“Kyle is an elite player and a champion,” said Miller. “He knows what it takes to win, and he knows his game well. He’s willing to step up and hit those big shots.”
For Lowry, however, the comeback wasn’t about his own individual brilliance, it was always about the guys around him.
“I didn’t do it,” Lowry said. “We had a great team effort. Malcolm, Terence Davis, Rondae and Chris Boucher. I give them all the credit today.”
A class act to the end, the man whose nickname puts him “over everything,” put everyone else over himself.
10 Things: Fred VanVleet emerging as Raptors’ clear leader – Sportsnet.ca
One — This win was very similar to their other victory against Boston. The Raptors swarmed the Pacers which took them entirely out of their offence, won the possession battle by a landslide with a 22-10 edge in turnovers along with 16-9 in offensive rebounds, and that almost always results in a win. The Raptors kicked it into another gear defensively in the second half and basically ran the Pacers out of the gym. That effort, coupled with better shooting from their main players, resulted in a blowout win in which the Raptors stamped out every single comeback charge by the Pacers. You will see the Raptors win in this fashion regularly this season.
Two — Fred VanVleet was a charge shy of delivering a vintage Kyle Lowry game. VanVleet has been excellent since the home opener, following his career-high of 17 assists against Chicago with a career-high 10 rebounds in tonight’s win. VanVleet is emerging as the clear leader of this team, his only focus is on winning, and it shows up in the margins as much as it does in his impressive shotmaking.
There was a play in the fourth quarter where VanVleet made four rotations to cut off four Pacers drives, before the possession was ended by Chris Boucher‘s block. That’s the type of commitment it takes to win, and VanVleet is a shining example of how hard everyone else should be working.
This was also VanVleet’s best game of the year with his scoring, as he made several impressive moves off the dribble to create the space for his jumper, which was accurate both from the midrange and from 30-feet out.
Three — OG Anunoby is settling in after his frantic start. Anunoby was sensational all night on both ends, starting in the first quarter where he put up 14 points with ease. Playing out of the post has allowed him to calm down, to assess his options, before making a decisive move, and teams are having to bring double teams to slow him down because otherwise, Anunoby is burying his defender under the rim. The bully ball approach comes much more naturally than when he tries to attack from the perimeter, although he’s starting to find his bearings from there as well, and his touch from three is rounding back to form.
What cannot be questioned is his defence, which remains airtight and suffocating each and every minute he’s on the floor. Anunoby collected five steals, but his best play was on a closeout to end the first half, where he had a step inside the paint as the shot was released but was somehow still able to swat the shot out of play.
Four — Scottie Barnes keeps wowing us. You can see the maturity in his approach even as compared to Summer League and pre-season. Nick Nurse’s message is for Barnes to attack downhill and to attack every time, and he’s starting to get it. Barnes is so strong that he’s going to get to whatever spot on the floor he damn pleases, and he’ll be balanced enough to fire the shot off cleanly.
Even when he misses, Barnes has a great chance of getting the putback because the momentum of his drives often knocks his defender backwards. Case in point: Barnes took it strong to the cup against Domantas Sabonis, who stands seven-foot weighing 260 pounds, yet it was he who bounced back from the contact instead of Barnes, who collected the second chance basket off the initial miss.
Keep in mind that Barnes is only 20-years-old, and that he will continue to gather strength and agility through more time with a professional training staff. It’s genuinely scary to think about how more dominant he will be in a few years.
Five — Nurse was a man of his word and moved Dalano Banton into his rotation. Nurse dismissed Malachi Flynn‘s claim to more playing time and he benched accomplished veteran Goran Dragic because he believes in Banton and his faith was rewarded. Banton was the first player off the bench in both halves, and he was great each time in how he changed the energy of the game.
Banton mixed in two driving layups along with two catch-and-shoot threes for his 10 points in 16 minutes, which is the best guard play the Raptors have had off the bench all season. Banton’s speed really pops when you see it in person, because a six-foot-nine player handling the ball should not be anywhere close to as fast as Banton is. On one of his two layups, Banton got the inbound pass off a Pacers basket, and raced downhill so fast that he beat every single player down the court, and a helpless T.J. McConnell could only swipe at him as he dashed in for the and-one finish. Banton is the fastest player on the team changing ends with the ball.
Six — The introduction of Banton as the backup point guard had a cascading effect on the Raptors’ defence. The smallest player on the floor became VanVleet, who is an all-word defender on account of his anticipation and his toughness. The next smallest players were Svi Mykhailiuk and Gary Trent Jr., both at six-foot-six with a combined seven steals between them, and the rest of the rotation were six-foot-nine forwards with seven-foot wingspans. Simply put, the Pacers had nowhere to go because the Raptors had a hand in every passing lane, were aggressive in their double teams, and there were no mismatches anywhere for a Pacers player to attack one-on-one.
One of the oddest sights from this game was seeing the ease in which Banton swatted McConnell’s driving layup, because not only did Banton match him for quickness which allowed him to cut off the drive, but he was also a foot taller against someone at his own position.
Seven — Nurse’s defensive scheme against Sabonis continues to be excellent. Sabonis is normally a dominant post player who is crafty with his passing while also being physical in the paint, but Nurse’s strategy of swarming him with triple teams at times completely cut him off. Sabonis went from scoring 33 points in his season opener, to only attempting four shots. The Raptors closed down on him so hard that Sabonis didn’t even score a single basket after the seven-minute mark of the first quarter.
Credit goes to Precious Achiuwa and Khem Birch for bodying him up and denying him position, but the way Trent Jr., Anunoby, and VanVleet flustered him was breathtaking to watch. Even though Sabonis is an elite passer for a center, he recorded only three assists against four turnovers.
Eight — Chis Boucher finished the game much stronger than he started it. He opened his account with many of the same mistakes that drive coaches crazy, such as being late to closeout, failing to hold his position because he didn’t seal his man and taking ill-advised shots. But he did get 18 minutes tonight from Nurse because his defence came around in the fourth quarter.
Boucher recorded a block at the rim, changed a pair of shots at the rim with his length, and on his most positive sequence, he resisted his urge to leave his feet on a pump fake, kept his man in front, and forced a shot-clock violation. Boucher needs to understand that Nurse will reward him for being solid, not for the spectacular.
Nine — The only issue with the Raptors stacking up so many forwards is the lack of shooting. It didn’t hurt them tonight since VanVleet and Anunoby combined for 10 of their 14 threes, but their shooting drops off significantly when one or both players hit the bench. The spacing is especially tight for the second unit, where Mykhailiuk is often the only threat from deep, and that’s one threat that Dragic and Flynn provide which Banton ordinarily wouldn’t.
There’s not a great in-house solution to this problem outside of Boucher finding his rhythm, which is why Nurse should look to keep giving him chances. And with Banton’s length on the floor at point guard, maybe there is some more leeway defensively to where Boucher can make up the gap with his shooting.
Ten — Adding Pascal Siakam and Yuta Watanabe back to this group will supercharge the defence. There will be a new rotation to be sorted out, both in how Siakam slots in with the starters and how Nurse wants to deploy Wanatabe with the bench, but managing the fit is simply a matter of getting enough scoring on the floor. Watanabe could either take Mykhailiuk’s minutes at shooting guard, or he can be Boucher’s replacement as the backup power forward, while Siakam joining a starting group with Anunoby, VanVleet, Barnes, and one of Trent Jr. or Achiuwa is a scary proposition in how versatile and tough the Raptors will be on defence.
Penguins’ Sidney Crosby remains out of lineup Thursday vs. Flames – Sportsnet.ca
Crosby has yet to play this season after having wrist surgery in August. On Wednesday, Sullivan told media Crosby was “real close” to returning to the lineup.
“We’ll see how he responds,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “We’ll listen to the medical staff and we’ll make decisions accordingly. But we’re really encouraged with his progress.”
Crosby has been practicing regularly with the Penguins in recent days and was a participant in the team’s optional morning skate Thursday morning.
Sullivan also provided brief updates on his two players in COVID protocol, saying Kris Letang remains symptomatic and Jeff Carter is still asymptomatic. He added that Carter could rejoin the team for practice on Friday.
The Penguins have a light schedule over the next week with a game against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and then four days off before they face the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 4.
NBA roundup: Thunder shock Lakers with 26-point comeback
Alexander scored 27 points to help the host Oklahoma City Thunder rally from 26 down to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 123-115 on Wednesday night.
The comeback matched the largest in Thunder history and helped the team claim its first win of the season despite several late miscues.
Up three in the final minute, Oklahoma City had a timeout remaining but didn’t use it, and Gilgeous-Alexander couldn’t get the ball across halfcourt in time, giving the ball back to Los Angeles with 16.8 seconds remaining. Malik Monk then missed a 3-pointer, the Thunder gave up the ball again, and Carmelo Anthony missed another.
Russell Westbrook, making his first appearance for the Lakers in the city where he spent his first 11 NBA seasons, was ejected in the closing seconds after being called for his second technical foul of the game. Westbrook was upset after Darius Bazley’s steal and dunk in the last five seconds.
Kings 110, Suns 107
Harrison Barnes buried a tiebreaking 3-pointer at the final horn, allowing Sacramento, after blowing a late 13-point lead, to escape with a dramatic victory at Phoenix.
Buddy Hield came off the bench to score a team-high 26 points, Barnes finished with 22 and De’Aaron Fox chipped in with 18 for the Kings, who opened a four-game trip by snapping a two-game losing streak.
Devin Booker paced the Suns with a game-high 31 points while DeAndre Ayton had 21 to go with a game-high 21 rebounds, but the Suns never went ahead after losing the lead for good late in the third quarter.
Hawks 102, Pelicans 99
Trae Young scored 31 points and John Collins added a double-double as visiting Atlanta held off New Orleans.
Collins finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, including a tiebreaking putback in the final minute. Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter scored 13, and Bogdan Bogdanovic added 12.
Devonte’ Graham scored 21 points, Brandon Ingram had 20 points and eight assists and Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Pelicans.
Trail Blazers 116, Grizzlies 96
CJ McCollum recorded 25 points and six rebounds and Damian Lillard added 20 points and 10 assists to help Portland post a victory over visiting Memphis.
Jusuf Nurkic added 17 points, eight rebounds and three steals and Anfernee Simons scored 17 points off the bench for the Trail Blazers. Portland committed 14 turnovers after giving the ball up 30 times in Monday’s 116-86 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Desmond Bane scored 19 points for the Grizzlies on Wednesday before leaving with a cut over his eye late in the third quarter. Ja Morant had 17 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for Memphis, which dropped to 1-2 on a four-game Western road swing that ends Thursday against the Golden State Warriors.
Raptors 118, Pacers 100
Fred VanVleet scored 26 points and grabbed a career-best 10 rebounds and Toronto defeated visiting Indiana.
OG Anunoby added 25 points with five steals and Scottie Barnes had 18 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for the Raptors, who won for the second time in five games this season and for the first time in four home games.
Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon, who had 18 points, left the game early in the third quarter with a sore left hamstring and did not return. Chris Duarte scored 14 points for the Pacers, who have lost four of five games.
Cavaliers 92, Clippers 79
Collin Sexton scored 26 points, Evan Mobley recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds in his return to Los Angeles and Cleveland led the Clippers nearly wire-to-wire.
Cleveland never trailed en route to its third consecutive win and second on a five-game road swing, and the score was tied only once. A Sexton free throw inside the first three minutes gave the Cavaliers a 3-2 lead, and they were on top the rest of the way.
Cleveland locked up Los Angeles defensively, holding the Clippers to just 35.6 percent shooting from the floor and 22 percent (9 of 41) from behind the 3-point arc. The Cavaliers struggled from long range as well, going 3 of 20 (15 percent).
Timberwolves 113, Bucks 108
D’Angelo Russell scored a team-high 29 points and had six assists as Minnesota held on for a win at Milwaukee.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards finished with 25 points apiece for the Timberwolves, who won their first road game of the season. Jarred Vanderbilt posted a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds in his first start of the season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 40 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists for the Bucks. Khris Middleton added 16 points and Grayson Allen had 13.
Heat 106, Nets 93
Bam Adebayo totaled 24 points and nine rebounds as visiting Miami dominated inside against Brooklyn.
Jimmy Butler added 17 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and four steals. P.J. Tucker added 15 points and seven boards as the Heat survived shooting 39.6 percent.
Kevin Durant led all scorers with 25 points, but the Nets shot just 38.8 percent and scored two baskets in the final 4:33. The Nets lost for the third time in five games this season, and each loss has been by double digits.
Wizards 116, Celtics 107
Montrezl Harrell tallied 25 points and 11 rebounds, Spencer Dinwiddie added 22 points and Washington held off host Boston.
Dinwiddie’s layup with 48.8 seconds to go made it 112-107 and he sealed the game with four free throws in the final 27.1. Beal had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Kyle Kuzma scored 12 with eight boards and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 11 for Washington, which has won three of four to open the season.
Jayson Tatum had 23 points and seven rebounds and Schroder scored 22 with six assists to lead the Celtics, who fell to 0-2 at home.
Hornets 120, Magic 111
Miles Bridges scored 31 points, Jalen McDaniels and Cody Martin combined for 28 points off the bench, and Charlotte returned to the win column vs. host Orlando.
Bridges went 11-for-21 from the floor, knocking down five 3-pointers, as the Southeast Division-leading Hornets rebounded from an overtime loss to Boston two days earlier. Bridges hit 20 points for a fourth straight game, marking the longest such streak of his career. Gordon Hayward contributed 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, helping Charlotte improve to 3-0 on the road this season.
Orlando, which fell to 0-2 at Amway Center this season, had five players score in double figures, led by Cole Anthony’s 24 points. Wendell Carter Jr. contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds and Terrence Ross came off the bench to score 18 points.
–Field Level Media
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