Rudy Gay's Clutch Play Won't Be Enough to Lead Playoff Charge for Raptors

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2013

Feb 8, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Rudy Gay (22) is guarded by Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Toronto defeats Indiana 100-98 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors have rattled off four straight wins—two courtesy of game-winning shots by prized acquisition Rudy Gay—and suddenly the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference is within their reach.

Heading into the All-Star break, the Raptors are six games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the final playoff spot. It's a sizable margin to make up during the stretch run, but the arrival of Gay has definitely energized the team and the fanbase, and for good reason.

The UConn product was having a down season with the Memphis Grizzlies. His numbers were the lowest they've been since his rookie season, and he never seemed to settle into his role like he did in previous seasons.

Since his move to Toronto, Gay is back on track. He's averaging 21 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals per game in seven games.

Oh yeah, he's also directly led to a pair of wins with clutch shots in the dying seconds.

Gay has a flair for the dramatic. The small forward ranks second in the league in go-ahead buckets late in games over the past three seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

The Raptors are probably disappointed that All-Star Weekend has arrived when it has because they were finally starting to find a groove.

Having nearly a week off in between games puts that momentum at risk.

That said, not only has Gay provided the team with a reason to hold out hope for the playoffs, but he's finally given the team a go-to player, somebody who can take the ball during a key possession, create his own shot and convert.

Having a star with that type of ability takes a lot of pressure off the other players, allowing them to focus on their roles. It's really shown for both DeMar DeRozan and Alan Anderson, who are both playing well since Gay arrived.

It's clear there are reasons for optimism in Toronto.

For a franchise that hasn't reached the postseason since 2007-08, that's a big step in the right direction.

Gay is going to need help down the stretch though.

He's playing at a high level since the trade, but the eighth pick of the 2006 draft isn't the type of player who's going to carry a team on his back for an extended period of time like LeBron James or Kevin Durant.

He needs strong play from his supporting cast to help lead the charge. Then, when crunch time arrives, he can take control as he's already shown.

It puts the onus on players like Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas to elevate their play after the break. If they can step up and the Raptors can pick up right where they left off, there's a good chance they will start cutting into that deficit for the eighth seed.

They don't have much margin for error, but the Raptors are suddenly on the right track and can't be counted out.

That's all they can ask for after a slow start.

Toronto has Gay and his clutch shooting to thank for keeping them alive.