When the Toronto Raptors acquired Rudy Gay, many people questioned if he was the type of player capable of taking this team to another level -- for one night at least, those questions were silenced.
The Raptors found themselves down by three at halftime of their matchup with the New York Knicks on Friday. At the start of the third quarter, the Raptors turned to Rudy Gay - who was just 2-8 from the floor at the time-and never looked back.
Gay caught fire, making seven of his eight attempts from the floor in that frame. By the time the buzzer had sounded on the third quarter, Gay has tallied 17 points and the Raptors were up 79-70.
The Knicks answered with a 9-2 run to open the fourth and eventually came back to take the lead 88-86 following a J.R Smith three pointer and layup on consecutive possessions. The Raptors again turned to Rudy Gay.
Gay scored another nine points in the fourth, including a couple of big buckets down the stretch as well as the game sealing free throws.
"Down the stretch, I thought Rudy just put us on his back and carried us," Dwane Casey said.
Gay would finish with a season-high 32 points; marking the first time he has reached the 30-point mark in his ten games with the Raptors. It is performances like that, which give hope to Raptors fans that Gay can be the type of game changer that Bryan Colangleo has touted him to be.
"I just wanted to be aggressive. Up until then, I was letting the game come to me," Gay said. "Then shots started falling, I started going to the basket and got some foul shots. I'm just trying to help the team win."
Gay's ability to create his own offense has made things easier for the other players on the floor, including Kyle Lowry.
"You can give him the ball. He is a guy that will go and get that big bucket for you," Lowry said about Gay. "He is a guy that can shoot over the defense and make plays. He has the ability to make those shots. He doesn't worry about making or taking those shots. He thinks he is going to make them all."
"My job is easy-- just give him the ball and get out of his way."
Perhaps lost in Gay's monster night was the performance by the aforementioned Lowry.
Lowry scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half, keeping the Raptors afloat when it seemed like the Knicks may have pulled away. More importantly, Lowry hit the most impressive shot of the game - a floater over Tyson Chandler that proved to be the deciding basket.
"We got the switch and they were switching all night. I just wanted to try to get to the basket instead of taking the jump shot," said Lowry. "That's a great defender [Chandler], he was the defensive player of the year so I just tried to get it to my right hand, and get the floater off and get the shot over him."
Rudy Gay may have been handed the keys to the franchise as their new go-to guy, but Lowry remains perhaps their most important player. If he can continue to strike that ever-important balance between distributor and scorer like he did on Friday, then the Raptors will become a much more dangerous team.
Toronto is now 7-3 with Rudy Gay on the roster with the three losses coming in competitive games. The record is encouraging, however, as Adam pointed out on the site earlier this week, most of their wins have come against teams they should have beaten.
This week though, Toronto has made some progress towards proving to people that that they are a serious team. The way they played the Grizzlies on Wednesday was encouraging and Friday night's victory over the Knicks gives them the kind of signature win that they were looking for.
Not to be outdone:
Jonas Valanciunas was again solid, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking two shots in 21 minutes of play. The young Lithuanian was impressive, playing about even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler.
Striking a balance:
Just as Lowry was crucial for the Raptors before Gay took over, as was DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan had 8 points in the first half and then another 8 in the third quarter before deferring to Gay. DeRozan's 18 points and 6 assists were further evidence that he and Gay are learning to effectively play alongside one another.
The game itself had a very playoff-like feel. Both teams went on big runs -- 14-5 for the Raptors to begin the third and 9-2 for the Knicks to begin the fourth -- and then settled in, exchanging blows down the stretch. The crowd was also very active in crafting the mood as they were loud and very much into the game throughout. The entire arena was standing for the final minute of play.
Also this happened.