‘Playoff Powell’ helps rescue Raptors’ season with clutch Game 6 performance

TORONTO – Norman Powell got the ball just at the tip of the NBA sign and stared down his Boston defender Kemba Walker.

There’s five seconds to play in overtime of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal between the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics with the game tied at 106-106.

Powell juked to his right then came back to his left before stepping back and letting fly a rainbow triple over Walker’s outstretched hand, ensuring that, at the very least, the Celtics wouldn’t get an opportunity to score again in the period.

“I just wanted to get the last shot. Make sure that we had the last shot. [I] work on a lot of that in my workouts and being ready to knock those down when the game is tied up and stuff like that,” Powell after the game Wednesday. “I thought I got a good look with the step-back. I knew he was trying to slap down and reaching so I just wanted to get a look and make sure that they didn’t get another shot at it down on the other end.”

Unfortunately for Powell and the Raptors, his shot rimmed out, but according to his coach Nick Nurse, that was absolutely the right decision to go to him in that situation.

“He can vault up and score, he’s a guy who can create his own and vault up and score. With the last one, I thought he would get a decent matchup and he’d get a decent shot off,” said Nurse. “You gotta hold it to the end, it’s a low percentage situation but you can’t move it around, you can’t turn it over, you can’t shoot it too early or they’re gonna timeout and get a chance to beat you.

“I love Norm, man, I think he can vault up and score, that’s why I went to him.”

Much of Raptors Twitter, this writer included, don’t necessarily agree with Nurse’s decision there to let Powell decide the fate of the game, but there is a precedent for it.

Back on opening night – you know way back in the stone age on Oct. 22 last year – Powell was given an opportunity to win the game at the end of regulation of that contest in a very similar fashion as Wednesday night, with the exact same result.

Powell said that play from opening night and the one seen on Wednesday is just part of his game, and he’s been given the green light from the Raptors coaching staff to try and execute it.

“I pride myself in trying to do it. I’ve done it my whole career playing basketball since I was little being the person that takes the last shots,” Powell said. “It’s what I work on, I have a lot of confidence in that, I think the coaches have a lot of confidence in my ability to do that, especially when we do the one-on-one stuff to vault up and get a shot over the defence with the clock winding down.”

To borrow terminology from Powell and his coach, the Raptors swingman can certainly “vault up” and get shots over just about anyone in the NBA, and while he wasn’t able to find the bottom of the hole at the end of that first overtime, he certainly was able to on the second one.

Scoring 10 points in the second overtime on perfect 2-for-2 shooting, including hitting his lone triple in the period and a perfect 5-for-5 from the free-throw line, Powell played hero for the Raptors in their 125-122 double-overtime victory over the Celtics Wednesday to force a winner-take-all Game 7 on Friday.

In total, between the two overtime periods, Powell was the key man for the Raptors, scoring 15 points in the extra periods which was more than half of the team’s points.

Perhaps drawing on the confidence instilled in him from his coach, Powell dominated, flashing nearly the full repertoire of his arsenal in that second overtime, in particular, such as a great relocation triple.

And his remarkable steal and transition and-one layup that will surely be seen endlessly between now and Game 7:

“It just feels good to get the win. I’m a player that I pride myself on making winning plays. The game called on me to be aggressive tonight and that’s what I did tonight,” said Powell. “My teammates, my coaches kept telling me to be aggressive and find the spots where I can do that. I watched the film in the areas where I wasn’t doing so well in the previous game and wanted to make it a point to clean those areas up.”

Always humble, Powell’s teammates were a little more enthusiastic about what he did for them Wednesday.

“He saved us, he saved our season, and it’s kind of his trademark now, you never know when it’s going to happen but it always happens at some point in the playoffs, he was huge for us,” said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet.

“The playoffs are always about the role players, the other guys, the guys that aren’t sort of necessarily the top guys, it’s about the guys that can sort of us give us something and coach rode with Norm, and Norm was big tonight,” said Kyle Lowry, who finished with a game-high 33 points and was probably equally as important to Toronto’s win as Powell was. “Big, huge threes, and-one, free throws, some good defence down the stretch but that’s just playoff basketball, the others have to step up. You got a game like that going to two overtimes you never know who’s gonna be that guy and tonight, Norm was that guy.”

Later adding, in regards to that steal and and-one of Powell’s with 38 seconds to play: “[Expletive], that was great. Thank you Norm. That was [expletive] unbelievable. [Expletive]. That was cool. We needed that.”

You said it Lowry.

All series long the Raptors have talked about Powell breaking out eventually and changing into his alter-ego clutch persona affectionately nicknamed ‘Playoff Powell.’

That dude showed up on Wednesday and not a moment too soon to rescue the Raptors’ season.

Before Game 6, Powell was struggling mightily, averaging just 8.6 points per game on 35.7 per cent shooting in the five games previously in this series with Boston.

He finally broke out on Wednesday, though to the tune of 23 points on 6-for-11 shooting, with no points bigger than the 10 he scored in double overtime.

Powell’s had a tendency this season to keep the feel of a good game going for a little while after a slump this season and heading into Game 7, with his cape on again, the Raptors have to like their chances with Playoff Powell once again on their side.

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