The Toronto Raptors took “We The Fourth” to another level on Wednesday at home against the first place overall Memphis Grizzlies as they came from behind with a 27-17 fourth quarter to win 96-92 in the dying seconds of the game.
The two expansion franchises that are both celebrating their 20th season in the NBA lead the league, the 10-2 Grizzlies in the West and the Raptors at 9-2 in the East. However, how they are winning games couldn’t be more different. The Grizzlies have a big three in Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They will beat you up in the post and dominate teams on the boards. The Raptors just seem to find ways to win.
Through three-quarters the Grizzlies dominated Toronto on the glass, up 40-24 on the boards and leading 75-69. Then with 10 minutes left, Head Coach Dwane Casey turns to the veteran center Chuck Hayes to slow down Gasol and the game changes in the Raptors favor.
With Hayes on the court, the Raptors out-rebound the Grizzlies 10-6 and Terrence Ross wakes from his malaise to score 14 points as Toronto pulls out the (no longer) surprising fourth quarter comeback.
This was the second time this season the Raptors spot-duty backup center has come in and saved a game. Earlier in Boston, the Raptors had no answer for Jared Sullinger until Hayes came in to turn the tables in a hard fought battle.
Casey has freely used his team’s depth in the fourth quarter to create matchup problems and take away what has been working for his opposition. Over the first 11 games, 6 different players have led the team in scoring in the fourth quarter and James Johnson, like Hayes, has been a game changer on defense during crunch time. This has been a total team effort.
“We have a deep team,” Greivis Vasquez explained. “We have guys that can do it on any given night. It’s a team effort. We are doing a good job at being focused and just waiting for an opportunity and we are taking advantage of that as a unit, as a team. T Ross came through tonight. He was struggling at first and then in the last quarter basically he took over. Lou (Williams), he scored for us too. Chuck (Hayes) came out – he hasn’t played in like 5 games – and did his job. So, it’s totally a team effort.”
The Raptors have been led in fourth quarter scoring by Jonas Valanciunas, Ross (3x), Kyle Lowry (2x), DeMar DeRozan (2x), Lou Williams (1.5x) and Patrick Patterson (1.5x). It quite literally feels like a different player has been stepping up in crunch time each and every night.
The voices from the Raptors locker room last season still ring true. There are no egos on this team. The players are here to win games and are ready when Casey calls their number, but perhaps more importantly, they are willing to sit, watch and cheer when someone else’s number is called. They are playing for something bigger than themselves and it shows.
“We are playing for something big,” Vasquez said. “We understand that as a team. Guys are doing well as a unit and I’ll take this, 9 and 2, with another chance to win on Friday. It is important for us. We have to keep chipping away, keep playing.”
In a wide-open Eastern Conference, the Raptors have set their sights high and in what seems to be a rarity for professional teams in Toronto, this group of players has the type of goal fans wished every team aspired to.
“You play to win a championship and that’s what we are doing,” Vasquez said. “I am not saying we are going to win it, but just like when you are in college, the goal is to be in the NBA. You don’t set your goals to go overseas. We have big goals over here. We just have to keep chipping away, playing hard and doing our job. It’s a team effort. We are proving that every night.”
There is a long season still ahead and a challenging 10 game stretch for the Raptors once this home stand wraps up on Friday, but this team has taken chipping away to a new level and earned the motto #WeTheFourth. It’s good to enter a season with big goals. It’s even better when a total team effort has your team in first place.
The Raptors fourth quarter scoring has come with a purpose. We The Fourth is a motto Toronto has been earning.