Earlier this season, the fourth quarter was the time when Raptors’ fans would cringe and close their eyes. During their first seven games of the season the team saw their hearts ripped out by Indiana, Brooklyn, Dallas, Philadelphia and Utah after they weren’t able to hold onto leads late in games.
The most crushing defeat may have come against the Utah Jazz when Al Jefferson rattled in his only three-pointer of the season to force the game into overtime.
Those tough losses coupled with injuries saw the team limp to a 4-19 start to their season.
Now, since Rudy Gay became a Raptor, the fourth quarter has been the time for fans to buckle up and enjoy the ride. Instead of having their hearts broken at the end of games, Toronto now has “that guy” who will rip the hearts out of opponents and their fans.
“You can give him the ball, he’s a guy who can get that big bucket for you, he’s a guy who can shoot over the defence and make plays, he has the ability to make those shots,” Kyle Lowry boasted to the media after the win against New York on Friday. “He doesn’t worry about making or taking those shots, he thinks he’s going to make them all.”
That confidence has rubbed off on Lowry – not that he was ever short on it – as the feisty point guard made the bucket to seal the win against New York. Lowry finished the game against New York with 17 points and seven dimes.
But make no mistake, it was Gay and his 17 points in the fourth quarter and a couple clutch buckets in the fourth that iced the win for Toronto.
“Down the stretch, I just thought Rudy put us on his back and carried us,” Dwane Casey told the media after the win.
Besides the increase in confidence having Gay on the court gives the entire team, the interesting change has been that touches and minutes haven’t been dished out based on reputation or the size of a player’s contract. In the past, Andrea Bargnani has been given touches and minutes because he was thought of as a player who could make a shot when the team needed it. A blind eye was often turned due to his lack of concern on the defensive end or the fact he was anemic to cleaning the glass.
Now, Bargnani is relegated to a bench role that has seen him average 20.4 minutes per game. Other bigs, like Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, are eating up the minutes that Bargnani is used to because they are willing to play gritty on the defensive end and clean the glass. His touches are being stolen from players like Gay, Alan Anderson and DeMar DeRozan because those guys are making big shots when the team needs it.
On top of that, the player Casey had been grooming as the team’s closer, DeRozan, no longer has the pressure of facing double teams and forcing shows. DeRozan has averaged 17.9 points so far this month and appears to be more comfortable on the court.
The duo have found a way to feed off of each other to perfection.
“Both guys are professionals,” Casey explained. “DeMar (DeRozan) understands that when Rudy (Gay) has it going, it is Rudy’s night. Rudy understands that when DeMar has it going, it is DeMar’s night…we do not have any selfish players on the team.”
The result is Toronto is an impressive 7-3 since Gay arrived in town. But, the most impressive thing about that is the way the team has scrapped and clawed for some of those wins. Players know minutes won’t be doled out based on the size of their contract or their reputation – minutes will be earned through what’s done on the court.
Now, instead of wilting during the fourth quarter, this team has found a way to rip the heart out of their opponents. It’s a turn of events that has Raptor fans smiling from ear-to-ear.