Three quarters in, the Toronto Raptors appeared to be heading back to Indianapolis facing an elimination game after getting punched in the mouth in the first quarter and trailing 90-77 heading into the final 12 minutes. Paul George was doing Paul George things and the obituary for the Raptors was ready for press.
And then Toronto took control.
The fourth quarter was one long Raptors run – a 25-9 final frame highlighted by timely shooting, sharp defense, a breakout slam from Norman Powell and a last-second review that showed Solomon Hill still had the ball on his fingertips when the horn sounded, nullifying his game-tying three-pointer.
After seeming destined to be facing an elimination game on Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Toronto will instead head south of the border with a chance to end Indiana’s season and advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2000-01 season.
Tuesday’s game was a return to form for DeMar DeRozan, who posted a team-high 34 points on 10-for-22 from the floor and 12-for-13 from the foul line. In the come-from-behind fourth quarter, it was DeRozan who gave the Raptors the lead, knocking down a three and reacting with angry excitement, a gesture that seemed to say, “It’s about time!” and “You’re not going to beat my team tonight!” at the same time.
While DeRozan found his mojo, Kyle Lowry continued to struggle from the floor, registering 14 points on 3-for-11 shooting. However, Toronto’s pit bull point guard found other ways to contribute, causing the turnover that led to Powell’s breakaway dunk that sent the crowd into hysterics and drawing a charge late in the game when each possession became critical.
Toronto also got strong outings from Powell, who notched 10 points, four rebounds and a pair of steals, and Bismack Biyombo, the energetic engine of the second unit, who double-doubled with 10 points and 16 boards. Head coach Dwane Casey switched up the starting rotation on Tuesday, replacing Luis Scola with Patrick Patterson, but it didn’t really pay off, as Scola collected a DNP and Patterson tallied just seven points and two rebounds in 26 minutes. George had a monster performance for the Pacers, seeming unstoppable through the first three quarters and ending with 39 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, with George Hill and Myles Turner contributing 15 and 14 points respectively. Solomon Hill chipped in 11 off the bench, but it was the three that didn’t count that will stand out the most.
Trailing by three with less than three seconds to play, the Pacers inbounded the ball in the Toronto end, getting the ball to George, who found Hill behind the line, the clock speeding toward zero. Catch. Set. Launch. Strings. Only between set and launch, the final horn sounded and the red lights on the backboard came on. No good. Game over. Raptors win.
The comeback was amazing and should get Toronto an abundance of confidence when they hit the floor on Friday in Indiana, but they also can’t forget how bad things were early. They can’t come out flat and get behind by 15 after the first quarter. They have to find a rhythm early and put the pressure on Indiana. They have to play with a sense of urgency even though Game 7 would be at home.
There needs to be no Game 7. But for right now, there was a comeback for the ages and a victory that puts the Raptors one win away from advancing.