In a Sunday matinee against the Atlanta Hawks the Toronto Raptors were able to pull out a 96-86 victory. After sleepwalking through the first three quarters, the Raptors outscored Atlanta 36-15 in the fourth. Trailing by three points with less than four minutes remaining, Toronto reeled off a 15-2 run to close the game and run away with the win.
“I told Tim Leiweke on the way in, it was like pulling teeth,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “It was like going to the dentist office in that first half.”
As badly as the Raptors played to start (including 28 percent shooting in the first quarter), they were once again able to rely on their best players to bail them out. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were huge down the stretch. The duo combined for 23 points in the fourth quarter, including seven from Lowry in the final 44 seconds.
“That’s what he does,” DeRozan said. “That’s Kyle. The hunger to win just kicks in.”
After finishing with a game-high 25 points, Lowry wanted to deflect individual praise back onto his teammates.
“We’ve got a good team, man,” Lowry said. “We’ve got a group of guys who are resilient. We want to win games, we’ve got a goal in mind and it’s just fun to win games.”
Trailing by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter, the victory marked Toronto’s largest fourth-quarter comeback this season.
“Huge for us,” Lowry said of the win. “We can’t worry about that game [double-overtime loss against the Thunder] on Friday and we can’t let losses build up so we just took it and said we have to get this win.”
While the team is able to stay confident in tough situations, they’re trying to prevent the need for fourth-quarter comebacks and superstar saves by starting the game strong.
“We can’t really rely on that every night because we could find ourselves in a deep hole, run out of time and not have an opportunity to put ourselves in a position to win,” DeRozan said. “We have to make a conscious effort of that. Understanding that we have to come out the gate and play the [right] way for four quarters.”
Trailing by seven at the half, Casey gave his team an earful in the locker room.
“He came in here yelling,” DeRozan said. “Once Casey yells you either have to do your job or you’re going to hear him yelling after the game. We understood. As soon as he came in here and told us what we’re doing, we were still in the game.”
Lowry played just 27 minutes against the Hawks, making his 25 points even more impressive. DeRozan finished with 21. With a postseason nearing and the season total of minutes played piling up, the Raptors will continue trying to find rest for Lowry and DeRozan whenever they can.
“This year, their minutes are so high,” Casey said. “They’ve played so many games just to get us to the point of competing for a playoff spot. We’ve got to start watching it.”
In the fourth quarter, the Hawks were the ones who got caught watching Lowry. With his team trailing by double-digits, Lowry connected on each of his five field-goal attempts in the quarter. He also sealed the victory with a steal and layup, then followed it up with a step back three-pointer.
Aware that they need to clean up the slow starts, Toronto is still feeling positive about the chemistry and confidence they’ve built this season.
“An all-time high,” DeRozan said. “As a team because we never feel like we’re out of a game. We pick each other up when somebody misses a shot. We don’t get down on them, take the next one if you’re open. [We're] keeping everybody’s spirits high.”