The score was 90-77 at the start of the fourth quarter. Fans were restless, frustrated and probably starting to drink. Twelve minutes of basketball later, the Toronto Raptors had won Game 5 of their best-of-seven first round series against the Indiana Pacers 102-99.
The Raptors ended up winning this game. As far as I’m aware, there were no sacrificial offerings or magical intervention from whatever basketball deities in which you may choose to believe. The Raptors took three quarters of gross basketball and turned into one of the masterful quarters in Raptors’ postseason history.
So let’s break this down.
For Raptors fans, and likely the players as well, Paul George sitting on the bench is one of the most lovely sights imaginable in this series. Frank Vogel decided to have him there to start the final frame. This is fair, since he’s not invincible and needs a minute to rest, lest he collapse under the weight of the entire team on his back. What makes Raptors fans swoon even further is also seeing George Hill and Monta Ellis sitting next to George on the bench. This leaves the Pacers starting the fourth with a lineup of Ty Lawson, Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, Solomon Hill, and Ian Mahinmi.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey responded with an uber-small lineup of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell and Bismack Biyombo. Lowry opens the quarter’s scoring by hitting an 18-footer from just off the right elbow, one of his favourite spots on the court. This would end up being the last field goal he makes. The Pacers respond by having Stuckey drive to the hoop, which only served as a reminder as to why Lowry and Joseph are a powerful defensive back-court. They strip him as he throws his arms up in frustration, not the last time Stuckey would do so.
The Raptors end up going on a 6-0 run to begin the quarter, punctuated by a thunderous slam by Biyombo coming of a gorgeous assist from Lowry. Following the dunk, Stuckey, who is so far 0-of-2 with a turnover in the quarter, heads to the line only to brick both free throws, deflating his team’s energy. Paul George checks back in.
8:36 – 6:49
Seconds later, with DeRozan on the bench in favour of Terrence Ross, Powell makes his first huge play of the fourth, coming up with steal as George stumbles, taking it all the way for an elegant layup, cutting the Pacers lead to five.
At the 7:40 mark, Miles puts Indiana on the board for the first time in the frame, making a tough contested shot over Biyombo.
After Cory Joseph sliced through the defence for a tough layup in traffic, Rodney Stuckey went and did his best Rodney Stuckey impersonation by dribbling the ball off of his leg and falling out of bounds onto Drake’s lap.
This is when things really started to fall apart for Indiana. On the next possession Joseph carves a path into the paint and dishes to Terrence Ross for a clutch corner-3 to cut the score to 92-90. Responsible for Ross on the play was Paul George, who either forgot Ross was there, or thought he was still guarding DeRozan and could get away with daring him to shoot. It was one of several defensive lapses for George in the quarter, who was slow to help out on drives and slow to close out on shots.
6:49 – 6:31
Then this happened:
Norman Powell, who is apparently a rookie, shows some genius anticipation to snag a lazy pass and take it to the rim. He may have nearly missed the dunk, but he knew exactly what he was doing: trying to blow the roof off the Air Canada Centre. I’d say he was pretty successful.
6:31 – 4:13
The next Indiana set was defined by the Toronto Raptors’ defence. With George looking for options in the back-court, Powell stays glued to him, forcing him to drive right, where Kyle Lowry is set in the lane, drawing a key charge as he does in crucial moments of crucial games.
Things slowed down for a few possessions, as Ross bricked three straights 3s. Despite that, the score remained tied at 92 in large part due to the Raptors’ team defence. With over seven minutes passed in the quarter, Casey stuck with his small lineup that essentially featured four guards and Biyombo. Even though this particular group had played a grand total of zero minutes together in the regular season, the lineup has a defensive cohesiveness of a much more seasoned group. The guards are able to switch everything, as shown on a key defensive possession at the 4:55 mark. The group flusters the Pacers into a shot-clock violation after a foul call, their sixth turnover in the quarter.
The next time up the floor, DeMar DeRozan hits a 3-pointer with his toe just barely off the line to give the Raptors their first lead since the end of Game 3.
4:13 – 3:26
The Pacers respond by trying to get the ball in George’s hands. He attempts to drive to the basket but is cut off by the quick footwork and length of
Tony Allen with a jumpshot Norman Powell. George flips the ball to Solomon Hill, who is forced to pass out of the lane by the ability of Bismack Biyombo to scare the hell out of people. He dishes to Monta Ellis who jacks up an awful contested 3.
Going the other way, the Raptors try something similar: They go to their leading scorer, DeRozan, who does what George had just recently failed to do. He drove into the paint, sucked the defence in, then dishds to Cory Joseph for an open corner 3. Pacers call timeout down 98-92 with 3:26 left in the game.
3:26 – 0:02.5
After nine minutes and 35 seconds of fourth-quarter basketball, the Pacers score their second basket of the frame off a Paul George layup. Putting an end to a 23-2 run the Raptors started at the end of the the third quarter.
With 2:25 left in the game, Dwane Casey continued to stick with the lineup of Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Powell and Biyombo for nearly the entire fourth, and showed no sign of changing the only lineup that seemed to give the Raptors positive production.
At this point, the Raptors have made their final field goal of the game. After a pair of Lowry free throws grows the lead to six, Myles Turner pulls the Pacers back within four with 1:12 left in the game. After a Norman Powell missed 3, Kyle Lowry comes up with one of his biggest plays of the night, back-tapping the rebound out to DeRozan, giving the Toronto Raptors a fresh shot clock with 45 seconds remaining. Rebounding should have been the achilles heal of this four-guard lineup, yet it ends up being an afterthought due to the unmatched hustle of Lowry and the gang.
Solomon Hill gives the Pacers life with a clutch 3 with 15 seconds to go. The shot came after a fantastic transition defensive effort which saw Paul George bricking a contested 3, only to have the rebound saved and ending up in Hill’s hands.
The Pacers have no choice but to foul DeRozan, who makes both from the stripe, scoring his 33rd and 34th points of the game, to grow the lead to three with 14 seconds left.
The Pacers elect to go for a quick 2 on the ensuing possession, with Monta Ellis cutting to the rim only to be masterfully guarded by Kyle Lowry, who goes straight up with both hands, forcing Ellis into a near impossible shot without fouling. The rebound goes off Biyombo, out of bounds – Pacers’ ball. After review, Pacers are now down 102-99 with 2.7 seconds left.
0.02.5 – 0:00
The entire arena sees its life flash before its eyes as Solomon Hill drains what appears to be a 3 to tie the game. The ball is originally in-bounded to George, who fumbles it around with Powell and Joseph (who is responsible for Solomon Hill) draped all over him. According to Dwane Casey’s post-game press conference, Powell was supposed to foul George if he dribbled, but Powell wasn’t quick enough as George is able to get the pass to Hill, who proceeds to nail a 3.
The Pacers celebrate, the fans begin settle in for overtime, and the refs convene around the monitors courtside. After review, they determine Hill was late on the release by the smallest of margins. Game over. Raps win.
The result is a 3-2 series lead for the Toronto Raptors after what was one of the most exhilarating, stressful and baffling quarters in Raptors history. Despite the performance of the first three quarters, Dwane Casey’s rag-tag group got it done in the fourth, coming up with clutch offensive possessions and shutting down the Pacers on the other end. Indiana scored nine total points in the quarter, and every shot they took was contested.
Every. Single. Shot.
Paul George, who had done his best to steal another game on the road, finished with 39 points. He had 37 heading into the final quarter. Norman Powell, as well as the help defence from his teammates, held him to 1-of-3 in the 4th.
The win gives the Raptors the chance to close out the series on Friday in Indiana. For the sake of our hearts, please don’t make another comeback like this necessary.
Follow Matt Jamieson on Twitter at @mattjamieson12