When the Toronto Raptors made the swap that landed them Rudy Gay back at the end of January he was hailed by team management as a big time player with a big time shot.
Just six games into his new surroundings Gay is more than living up to the hype.
Tuesday night against a rapid-fire Denver Nuggets team, the game did not exactly go the way Toronto or Gay wanted it to with their big triggerman on the bench for long stretches after getting into early foul trouble.
But Gay was on the floor when it counted, with the seconds winding down and the Nuggets clinging to a one-point lead.
And the ball wound up exactly where everybody within the Air Canada Centre knew it would – in Gay’s hands – and the fearless wingman delivered a clutch 17-foot pull up jump shot with 4.9 seconds left that delivered a satisfying 109-108 victory over Denver.
“He’s a big time player, he’s a closer,” gushed Dwane Casey, the Raptors coach after his team won for the third straight outing. “His role card, it will be all across the front of it – closer.
“He’s done it his whole career.”
All Gay has done since his arrival is lead the Raptors in scoring in five of his first six games, where he scored at least 20 points. Tuesday night he finished with just 17, but drained the one that counted.
Friday night in Indianapolis, Gay drained the winning shot in the final seconds that lifted Toronto to a 100-98 overtime win against the Indiana Pacers.
Gay started the fourth quarter on the floor with the Raptors clinging to an 82-79 lead, but was forced back to the bench less than three minutes in after picking up his fifth personal foul.
After that the game turned into a slugfest, with backup point guard John Lucus providing critical offence off the bench, connecting on four straight three-point shots to help the Raptors maintain the lead.
“John came in a gave us a big time spark,” conceded Casey, and it was one of the reason why he was able to keep Gay on the bench for as long as he could.
He didn’t check back in until there was 4:50 left on the clock with the Raptors leading 100-96 and Gay said the wait on the bench was excruciating for him.
“My hands were sweating, I couldn’t stop moving my legs,” he said. “Yeah, I was itching [to get back into the fray].”
After Anthony Randolph sank two free throws that put Denver ahead 109-108, another key moment unfolded on Toronto’s next possession when Alan Anderson showed good hustled to snag an offensive rebound on his own missed shot with about 25 seconds left.
The Raptors called a timeout to plan their final assault, but everybody knew what was coming.
On the inbounds, Kyle Lowry got the ball and let the final few seconds wind down before feeding Gay who was stationed on the right elbow.
Gay took a step toward the basket, put on the brakes and lifted his shot that fell through cleanly as the home town crowd erupted in celebration.
The Nuggets had one last-gasp attempt but Ty Lawson’s 17-foot desperation heave at the buzzer never had a chance.
It was a game that the Raptors felt fortunate to win.
The Nuggets are one of the NBA’s highest scoring outfits and connected on 51.8 per cent of their field goals (44 of 85).
Speed burners such as Lawson, who had 29 points, ripped apart the Raptors interior defence for an astounding 70 points in the paint.
The Raptors managed to survive primarily by hitting 10 of their 31 three-point shots, not to mention Gay’s clutch shot.
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