Atlanta Hawks 78, Toronto Raptors 89

If you’re going to be a big enough coward to hit a man on the head while he’s got his back towards you, the least you could do is not feign your innocence and openly acknowledge conflict. Instead Anthony Johnson pretended he had nothing to do with Jose Calderon being knocked down to the floor and was set to get away with it hadn’t the officials caught the violent act. Nobody was short in pointing out that this is the same team that knocked TJ out and now came close to taking out our other point guard. But unlike Horford’s take down of TJ, this one was malicious and intentional and warranted a response from the Raptors. I’m not calling for a brouhaha but somebody should at least go up to him, stare him down and give him a little bump, it’s warranted. But credit the Raptors for responding to the increased physicality in the second half and coming away with another hard-fought win in a close game. Suspension to follow. Co-incidentally, the Raptors toughness is alluded in Podcast #3 which was recorded before the Hawks game:

#3 – A Time to Kill Download it! (4.3 MB, 12′ 22”) Subscribe in iTunes

The second half’s better, topics include: Bryan Colangelo, Oakley, Davis, Celtics, 3rd Seed, RealGM, Jim Rome, rebounding, missing NBA on NBC, soft schedule etc.

Josh Smith’s defense and Joe Johnson’s offense kept the Hawks in this game as much as the Raptors’ tendency to walk through offensive possessions as soon as they got a 5 point lead. The Raptors pull a Jekyll and Hyde on offense every other possession, you literally see them move the ball extremely well off a double team leading up to an open shot and on the very next possession, you’ll see Delfino jacking up a shot or nobody moving for the first 18 seconds resulting in a forced low-percentage shot. What this tells me is that we tend to lose focus fairly quickly, something we can get away with against the likes of the Hawks but will end up paying for against better competition. Give Sam credit for recognizing the athleticism of the Hawks team and their lack of PG play; he put out a lineup of Parker/Calderon/Bosh/Moon for the majority of the game and we one-upped their length and size on every matchup.

Chris Bosh’s performance was impressive again (35 points on 12-18 FG says it all), his game is starting to become inside-out rather than the other way round and I’m sure we’ll all agree that’s what the order of attack should be. CB4 challenged Josh Smith on every opportunity and came out the winner most of the time proving yet again that if his mindset is aggressive, even the better one-on-one defenders in the league will have trouble with him. Bosh will always have trouble against Kevin Garnett but that’s because Garnett is a freak and can afford to lay off Bosh and take away his drive while at the same time contesting his jumper. He can also stay with Bosh in the post making CB4′s life difficult, but that’s not what stopping me from calling the Boston game next week in our favor (see podcast). Chris Bosh summed up his offensive groove nicely:

“Everything is just opening up for me. I’m finally at 100 percent. It’s been a tough stretch for me but I just kept playing and kept pushing through it. I don’t feel I’m taking many bad shots. I’m getting off the double team really fast and I’m finding a lot of my teammates and putting them in good positions.”

The bolded part tells me he knows the difference. I can sleep better.

Today’s Andrea Bargnani paragraph has a mix of Rasho Nesterovic in it. It’s mainly because Rasho’s reduced playing time has completely taken him out of his rhythm and he’s struggling to do the few things he used to be good at: finding space for the open jumper, hitting the glass, putbacks etc. Now given Rasho’s struggles and the need for Bargnani to pick up his game, this observer says we may as well let Bargnani play through fouls until he fouls out and not use Rasho unless necessary as per matchup. Bargnani played 14 minutes and scored two points, a fry cry from what me and David Moro were predicting after the Kings game. He didn’t screw up too badly, yeah he allowed an offensive rebound, passed up shots he should’ve taken and picked up cheap fouls but in my opinion he didn’t even stick around long enough to actually have a slim chance at having a decent game. I don’t blame Sam Mitchell, his concern is with winning the game and he tried to match the Hawks’ athleticism with Delfino, Parker and Moon which got the job done. It comes back to Andrea earning his minutes, except that he’s just not interested. I’ll even go ahead and buy Bryan Colangelo’s 5-year plan theory but he’s talking about player development taking that long, right? Or does he mean we have to wait 5 years before Bargnani plays a game with the same level of intensity and effort as Kris Humphries?

The third quarter has undone so many times that I feared for us after Atlanta opened it on a 13-2 run while our offense was playing Mr. Hyde. Jamario Moon’s propensity to jump in the passing lanes is meeting success over the last two games and he’s picking off passes in transition, guarding the post and getting deflections aplenty (something that should’ve long been a stat in NBA box scores). Moon was the key in triggering our third quarter run punctuated by two Anthony Parker threes which created a 7 point cushion and hopefully silenced those who think that Parker has been a major problem with the Raptors this year. Another solid game by Parker who’s been coming on strong as the season’s getting older, it’s called hitting mid-season form which is where veteran’s start getting in their stride and rookies start tailing off. AP’s been solid for most of the year, unfortunately for him he’s had a few zero point games which result in fans calling for his head. If you check his per-48 minute statis, they’re the same as last year. Yes, we need to upgrade the 2 spot, but not now.

Joey Graham is making it really hard for us to trade him and Juan Dixon isn’t helping either. The two players most likely to be traded if one is going to materialize scored a combined 4 points while having 2 turnovers. Graham is so far behind Moon and Delfino in the depth chart that the only way he gets into the game is when BC winks to Smitch from the tunnel. And when he does manage to get in, things aren’t pretty (how’s Danny Granger doing?). He looks about as comfortable as Bargnani on the low-post and you only have to watch a couple minutes before an ungodly turnover follows. He was supposed to be our tough hard-nosed slasher who could D up the opposition’s best player, instead he’s researching D-League accommodation with Maceo Baston. Imagine my shock when I heard that Maceo Baston was dressed up for this game, it almost looked like this was the game he might get some run. Sam is so mean, getting Baston’s hopes all high for nothing.

So far the 4 in 5 stretch has been going exactly as predicted with Philly being the decisive game in determining whether we stay .500 or improve our record by two games in this easier January stretch. Philly was blown out in Boston tonight with Iguodala playing 40 minutes, they’re 2-8 in their last 10 and the Raptors will be going for the kill in this one. We’ll do a mini celebration only if the Raptors win tomorrow because if we lose that, it’s like we didn’t gain any ground at all.

One-Liners:

* Kapono. Shot. Slowly. Coming. Back.

* Jose Calderon made up for his early bad pass intercepted by Josh Smith for a dunk by dishing 9 dimes.

* I don’t have a single complaint of Bosh today.

* Johnson should be suspended by the league for more than one game. There’s no doubt about his malicious intent.

* The Raptors and Hawks is turning into a rivalry, something which is good because right now aside from the Knicks and Nets, we really got nothing.

* Tonight’s win will mean little if we don’t win tomorrow.

* What is the point of having Maceo Baston on this team if he doesn’t play a single minute for months on end? Maybe we should fee free up the roster spot for a D-League rebounder or scorer? Just a thought.

* Sam deserves a lot of credit for sticking with his big guns instead of playing Kapono, Dixon and Bargnani for extended minutes. Kapono played well hitting both his shots but this isn’t the matchup for him.

* Jack Armstrong makes these telecasts so much better.

* What do people see in Tyron Lue? Every time I see him, I just remember Iverson stepping over him in the finals.

* The Hawks became more physical in the second half and the intensity of the game picked and the Raptors and more specifically Bosh, Moon, and Parker were equal to the task.

* Here’s the game in six minutes, thanks to monuow.

* Please make a constructive criticism about this blog, it really helps sometime.

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