If you ever want to introduce a bit of chaos into your NBA basketball, the first thing to do is start the game in the middle of the afternoon.
Monday’s outing for the Toronto Raptors against the Hawks — part of Martin Luther King Day festivities for the NBA — was one of the wilder affairs of the season so far, with huge leads swinging back and forth all afternoon. It wasn’t altogether pretty either, as the Raptors’ three-point percentage hovered around 15% until the fourth quarter.
At that point, the chaos really took over.
After Atlanta led by as many as eight in the third quarter, Norman Powell erupted to start the fourth — hitting five consecutive three-pointers to give the Raptors the lead and push it as high as 21 points. An all-bench unit of Powell, Patrick McCaw, Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Serge Ibaka rallied the energy after a listless first 36 minutes.
Then, the unit sputtered. Out of desperation — down 16 with 2:38 left — the Hawks ran a full court press and ran roughshod over the point guard-less lineup, going on a 13-2 run in two minutes before John Collins fouled Fred VanVleet on a three. The Raptors guard was able to make his free throws, push the lead back up to five, and seal away the game. Toronto won it 122-117, extending their win streak to four games.
Despite all the afternoon ups and downs, the Raptors don’t walk out of Atlanta with a win if not for Powell. He singlehandedly turned one of the worst shooting games the team has had this season with his fourth quarter run, as he ended proceedings with 27 points while going 7-for-14 overall and 6-for-9 from three.
With Powell pouring it in, the rest of the bench lineup was able to make hustle plays and disrupt the Hawks’ offence. And while their strategies to slow down Trae Young were ultimately futile — the young Hawks guard had 42 points, 15 assists, and six rebounds — they did just enough to keep Atlanta’s supporting cast off the books until their last gasp run.
For his part, Terence Davis scored 12 points and shot well too, making 5-of-10 from the field and finishing this monster dunk.
And while Fred VanVleet was far from efficient, making 1-of-4 threes, his 20 points led the starting unit and many came off clutch free throws as the clock wound down.
The game opened with good energy from the Raptors side. They got three offensive rebounds in the first three minutes, jumping out to a 7-0 lead. True to the form we expected, Atlanta gave up a lot of transition opportunities and weren’t doing much to stop Raptors penetration. Even though Toronto wasn’t paying off every possession with a made shot, they were getting easy looks every time, and entered the first quarter break up 36-25.
In the second and third, though, Lloyd Pierce’s team changed strategy. By putting John Collins at the hoop and collapsing their defence, the Hawks started daring the Raptors to beat them from outside — and Toronto just couldn’t oblige. Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry went a combined 0-for-9 from three, while OG Anunoby missed two more, as the starters watched their lead shrivel.
At half, the Raptors had shot just 4-for-22 from distance and trailed the Hawks by three. They then watched that Atlanta lead grow to start the third, as the energy really started to swing in the favour of the home team.
The Raptors were able to turn the game back thanks to one guy: Norm. He continued a run of games that may be quietly putting his name into the Sixth Man of the Year conversation, and further proved that Toronto’s depth is tough to match with when they’re fully healthy.
Next up for the 29-14 Raptors is a date with the Sixers, as the nationally televised game will be in Toronto on Wednesday night.