Raptors stage franchise-best 30-point comeback

8:34 PM ET

  • Tim MacMahonESPN Staff Writer

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    • Joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009
    • Covers the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks
    • Appears regularly on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM

TORONTO — For a brief moment, Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse considered waving the white flag before the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon, as his injury-depleted squad was down 23 points to the Dallas Mavericks in the first game of a back-to-back.

Then Nurse’s mind flashed to the Raptors’ Dec. 8 loss in Philadelphia, when Toronto trailed by 20 midway through the fourth quarter before going to a press defense that put a serious scare in the 76ers, fueling a comeback bid that ultimately fell five points short.

“I would say historically we’ve always been a team that fights,” Nurse said after the Raptors rallied for a 110-107 win at Scotiabank Arena. “In my time here, we hardly ever mail it in. It’s a good characteristic to have. That thought barely came into my head there, and I said, ‘We’re going to give it a go here to start the fourth.'”

It ended up being the biggest comeback in franchise history for the Raptors, who trailed by 30 points late in the third quarter. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was the first 30-point comeback by an NBA team in a regular-season game in a decade, having last been accomplished by the Sacramento Kings in a Dec. 21, 2009, win over the Chicago Bulls.

Teams trailing by 20 or more points entering the fourth quarter were 3-1,667 (.002) over the past decade before Toronto’s comeback. It was perhaps even more improbable because the Raptors were missing three key players: star forward Pascal Siakam (groin), center Marc Gasol (hamstring) and shooting guard Norman Powell (shoulder).

But point guard Kyle Lowry and a cast of reserves — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher, Terence Davis and Malcolm Miller — bucked the odds. The Raptors’ press rattled the Mavs, who were missing superstar point guard Luka Doncic due to a sprained right ankle, and Lowry took over the game, scoring 20 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter.

“We all know that we have to step up, and it’s easier when you have somebody like Kyle that’s been there for years and always has a way to tell us what to do or what he needs from us,” said Boucher, who scored 12 of his career-high 21 points in the fourth quarter and also finished with seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals. “He was exceptional today with all the plays that he made and all the shots that he hit. A lot of people have been hard on him this year. We always had confidence in him and always knew he would lead us someway, somehow.”

Lowry, however, insisted that the unheralded reserves’ energy was the primary reason the Raptors pulled off the comeback.

“We had a great team effort,” said Lowry, who also had eight rebounds and 10 assists while playing 42 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter. “Malcolm, Terence Davis, Rondae and Chris Boucher, I give them all the credit today. They won that game for us. … Give those guys the credit, man, seriously.”

The Raptors, employing a trapping press with Hollis-Jefferson in the front and Boucher in the back, forced seven turnovers and held the Mavs to 5-of-18 shooting from the floor in the fourth quarter. Five of those turnovers were steals, including two by Miller and two by Boucher, who also blocked two shots in the final frame.

“I take full responsibility for it,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We got to a point where we lost our aggression. Give them credit, they did a great job with the trap, but we didn’t respond well enough to it. And that’s on me.”

The Mavs had no defensive answers down the stretch for the Raptors, who set a franchise record for points in a quarter by scoring 47 in the fourth. Lowry had more field goals in the quarter than the Mavs, going 7-of-10 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range in the third 20-point quarter of his career. He also had two assists in the quarter, including a feed to a slashing Boucher for a dunk to give Toronto the lead with 25.8 seconds remaining.

“He was unbelievable, right?” Nurse said. “And he really didn’t have that good of a game going until that point, too. He started firing and making and driving and and-1-ing. He was doing it all. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it.”

It matched the largest blown lead in the history of the Mavs, who lost a Dec. 6, 2002, game to the Los Angeles Lakers after leading by 30. (There has been only one other 30-point regular-season comeback in the NBA over the past two decades.)

It left a bitter taste in what had been an impressive week for Dallas without Doncic, who went through an extended pregame workout and could potentially return as soon as Thursday’s home game against the San Antonio Spurs. The Mavs recorded road wins in Milwaukee and Philadelphia without their MVP candidate.

“I think today was actually the best thing that could’ve happened to us,” Mavs shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “It’s a tough loss, being up as much as 30, but it shows that whenever you’re up, you can’t let up. You can’t back down from the competition. You can’t ease yourself into the win, because the game isn’t even over yet. I think that moving forward this will put an anger and a killer instinct mentality even more into our guys.”

The Mavs had an opportunity to spoil the Raptors’ comeback, but fill-in starting point guard Jalen Brunson (team-high 21 points and nine assists) missed an open pull-up jumper with 1.6 seconds remaining. After Boucher got the rebound and made a pair of free throws, Kristaps Porzingis‘ 67-foot heave sailed wide right, allowing the Raptors to breathe a sigh of relief and prompting the arena public-address announcer to shout, “It’s a Christmas miracle!”

“Honestly, that’s one of those games where you can’t take anything for granted because we used so much energy to get there,” Lowry said. “You’ve just got to hold on until that last buzzer goes off. Once that ball went sailing right, it was like, ‘Wow.’ That was a fun game.”

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