By Frank McLean
If a team is going to advance in the NBA playoffs they need contributions from every single player on the roster not just the starting five. Heck when it comes to playoff time a team’s starting five is not exactly etched in stone. It can change from game to game depending on how an opposing coach makes adjustments to who the other coach is starting.
For the Raptors their rookie guard/forward Norman Powell’s work in game five and game seven of their first round victory over the Indiana Pacers was one of the reasons why the Raptors are heading to the second round for only the second time in franchise history.
First to Game Five and the fourth quarter when the Raptors came back from a 13 point deficit to beat the Pacers and take a three games to two lead in the series. The Raptors opened up the quarter on a 15-2 run to tie the game 92-92. The run was capped when Powell stole the ball from Paul George and went coast to coast for a slam dunk to tie the game. Then in Game Seven Powell played 23 minutes going five for six from field, three for four from behind the three-point line for 13 points.
Powell started wasn’t thought to be a rotation player at the start of this season. As a rookie on a veteran team, he was sent down highway 401 to Mississauga and their new NBDL team the Raptors 905. However, Powell never got down with the demotion, he knew playing in the NBA would happen sometime.
“I knew it was going to be up and down,” Powell said. “I was going to have to prove myself, let my work ethic and determination prove everyone wrong. Get into the gym and working to give me the opportunity I wanted.”
The scouting report on Powell said that he lacked poise and maturity and he has used that as motivation.
“I never get tired of it. I added it to my motivation. I’m just proud of myself just trying to achieve more.”
Of course if you are going to get any playing time out of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey you have to play defense. Powell has proven that he can do that and that just might get him more minutes in the second round against Miami Heat than the 18 minutes a game he averaged in the first round.
“What I expect of him is to continue to be an elite defender, like I said earlier in the season,” Casey said. “His three-point ball has gotten to be a part of his repertoire, but it’s not the most important part. It used to be just gravy, but it’s gotten to be a little more important now because he’s proving that he can do it.”
“If that happens, if that matchup is there, if we have that matchup, again, it’s a challenge,” Casey hinted if Powell will get time defending Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson.
“Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson is a challenge for any team. They’re veteran scorers, they’re born scorers, they’ve done it for a long period of time, in the playoffs. It’s a challenge for whoever guards him. I’m not saying Norm’s going to guard him, but whoever guards him, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Powell is definitely up for the challenge.
“It’s going to be fun. Dwyane Wade is one of the guys I modeled my game after growing up. He was a role model for me. It’s going to be fun for me in the minutes I do get to guard him. I’ve been watching him my whole life, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
It’s been a whirlwind year for Norman Powell that all started with the Raptors 905 and now it has landed him as a rotation player in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Powell’s play is proving to everyone he is ready for the NBA.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.