Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey put his trust in his bench with the season on the line – and they delivered the toughness that the Raptors had been missing all night.
With the Raptors trailing by 15 points late in the third quarter and staring another first round playoff exit in the face, Casey sent reserves Norman Powell, Corey Joseph, and Bismack Biyombo into the fray.
They sparked a game-changing 23-2 run on the way to a 102-99 win, putting Toronto one win away from booking a place in round two.
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“We were getting our butts beat by 15 or whatever,” Casey said. “We were going to go down with the guys that were swinging. That group was giving it to us physically. They were just scrappy. What did they [Indiana] score in the fourth quarter? Nine points?
“That’s what the playoffs are all about – fight, toughness. For whatever reason, we didn’t start the game that way. We finished it that way, but we didn’t start that way. That’s what we’ve got to take back to the drawing board to understand why.”
With his team unable to find a rhythm, Casey admitted he was mixing and searching in the hope of finding a line-up that could bring the intensity he craved.
“They [the line-up that led the comeback] entered and said ok, I’m tired of getting my butt kicked and we’re going to war,” he added.
“This is what you play for, this is how you make a name for yourself, this is how you build legacies for yourself individually.”
Paul George had dominated the Raptors for the first three quarters but only scored two of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, with Powell playing solid defense. Casey shared the credit around.
“It was team defense,” the Toronto head coach said. “One guy’s not going to stop him. I thought our defensive help was there. Norm did a good job but it wasn’t a one-man show.
“I thought Norm came in and gave us some good minutes, with physicality and toughness.”
Of course, DeMar DeRozan’s return to form was timely too for the Raptors. After pouring in 34 points, his best scoring output of the series, DeRozan shrugged off any suggestions that his slump had affected him.
“It’s all about patience,” he explained. “You can’t get flustered; you can’t get frustrated. You’ve just got to stay the course. We'll do whatever it takes to win. Me and this guy [Kyle Lowry] work extremely hard – too hard for the shots not to come.”
Back in 2014, Toronto had a 3-2 lead over the Brooklyn Nets, only to flop in game six on the road and lose the decider at home. Casey will know that the Raptors have to bring their fourth quarter toughness with them as they look to close out the series in Indiana.