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Why Norm Powell might be the Raptors’ secret playoff weapon — again

Why Norm Powell might be the Raptors’ secret playoff weapon — again
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The mercurial Raptors forward, who can look like a composed all-star one night and a turnover-prone teenager the next, has proven himself to be something of a big-game player in the last two playoff runs. With the post-season coming in less than a week, he seems to be at it again.

Defending Raptor Norman Powell was a workout for Heat defenders on Sunday at Scotiabank Arena. Powell finished with 23 points, matching his season high.  (Ron Turenne / Getty Images)

Powell tied his season high with 23 points in Toronto’s 117-109 overtime victory over the Miami Heat at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday, an entirely predictable performance that close followers of the team have come to expect.

Three springs ago, he burst onto the scene as a rookie and helped propel Toronto to the Eastern Conference final with a spellbinding performance against the Indiana Pacers; he reprised that role in two subsequent playoff runs, a nervy kid who thrives on big-time stages.

“Who he is, is an athlete so he can make some high-level, high-energy plays,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s really believing in his shooting, so he’s going to take them.

“That’s part of the battle in a big game: Are you really hunting them down, and are you really ready to pull the trigger when they come to you? He’s OK there, and every now and then he’ll break free and get a cut and go down the lane for a big slam dunk or something.

“He can make big plays in big games.”

Powell’s ability to shrug off so-so games and fight through whatever minutes limitations are put on him is near-legendary around the team. He does not lack confidence and is entirely able to break loose at a second’s notice, no matter what his previous games were like. His athletic ability is a huge boost for the Raptors roster.

He’s steady in his own mind, steady in his preparation and unperturbed by the odd bad game. And now that it’s big-game time? He’s amped.

“It’s time to win, nothing else matters,” he said following an afternoon that included four three-pointers in a 7-for-7 game from the field. We just lock into the task at hand and play basketball. My main focus is winning, no matter what. It doesn’t matter how you get it done. Just get it done.

“Yeah, for sure, it’s fun. That’s why we lace them up for tough games, the competition. It takes our compete level to a higher level come playoff time.”

Powell could emerge as a key contributor for the Raptors, who are constantly seeking big performances by somebody off the bench. Some nights it might be Fred VanVleet, some nights Serge Ibaka. OG Anunoby has the potential, but of that group Powell has vital experience.

In three springs, he’s appeared in 33 playoff games and started eight. He’s averaged as much as 11.7 points per game — two springs ago, in nine games — and shot 35 per cent overall from three-point range.

His regular season has been inconsistent, with Nurse always worrying about his propensity to commit turnovers and try to force too many things, but Powell has shown a calmness and steadiness of late that goes with the time of year. And with his fellow backups all over the place — VanVleet had three points on Sunday, and Anunoby didn’t score — he’s going to play.

“Norm’s going to be involved, for sure,” Nurse said. “He could be the sixth guy one night and the ninth guy another night, the seventh guy one night.”

In his even-keeled manner, Powell isn’t going to get too overtly pumped up about the possibility of a large playoff role, but he knows what he’s capable of doing and fully confident he can do it consistently if given the chance. It’s how he’s handled himself during his entire four years with the Raptors.

“I’m just out there playing basketball and trying to get these last few wins, get locked in before the playoffs and take advantage of the games to work on details, try to impact the game wherever I can,” he said. “Find opportunities to be aggressive on offence and on defence.”
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