Perhaps the way they refused to quit Friday night in Dixie will help the Raptors as they ready themselves for the biggest three-game stretch of the season.
Perhaps the way they rallied around Antoine Wright after he sprained his left ankle late in the third quarter shows much-needed unity.
All that’s at stake is a spot in the post-season and a chance to salvage a season, or at least help remove some of the stench.
Toronto wasn’t expected to beat the host Hawks and it didn’t, succumbing 107-101.
A second-quarter domination was all Atlanta needed, but there was resistance and a resolve with the Raptors for most of the night.
The Raptors just aren’t as good as the Hawks, bottom line.
But there were moments when the Raptors looked fine, at least good enough to beat a team that doesn’t have the cache of an Atlanta, Boston and Cleveland.
It’s of little consolation, but the Raptors took three of the four quarters against Atlanta.
The dagger was delivered in the second, a 45-22 disparity that represented the most points yielded in a second period in the history of the Raptors, who set the futility mark on their last trip to Atlanta earlier in the season.
The Raptors would make a stop, but misses that had to be controlled ended up in the hands of the Hawks.
No hand was hotter than Jamal Crawford, but Toronto’s inability to box out was cited by head coach Jay Triano as the main culprit behind his team’s downfall.
“We relaxed,’’ began Triano. “We battled and I liked our competitive spirit, but it’s the little things you need to do to win games.
“We had some mental lapses. We get a stop and guys start feeling good about it, but then they realize someone has to get a defensive board.”
“We know if we play this way on Sunday, we have a good chance to win,” said Jose Calderon, the Toronto point guard. “It’s not like (the Bulls) are the best team in the league.”
Neither are the Raptors, who saw good performances go for naught on Friday. Amir Johnson was in the starting lineup for the second time all season in place of all-star forward Chris Bosh, who was at home in Toronto recovering from the facial fractures he suffered Tuesday. And Johnson made the most of the opportunity, scoring 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting while pulling down 13 rebounds. Weems had 18 points. Calderon had 10 points and 10 assists.
But the Raptors were playing a flat-out better team bent on a late-season win. Jamal Crawford’s 23 points off the bench led the charge for the home team. And though the Raptors acquitted themselves respectably on the boards, Atlanta outrebounding Toronto 48-42, the Hawks made hay on the offensive glass, scoring 24 second-chance points, 13 of those in the second quarter.
“We hold this team to 41 per cent shooting, but the second quarter, we force ’em to miss shots, and they run and get it,” said Jay Triano, the Raptor coach. “Thirteen second-chance points in the second quarter — that was the difference.”
Toronto backup guard Antoine Wright was helped off the floor after spraining his left ankle with 10 seconds remaining in the third period. Wright missed a 3-pointer and, after taking the jump shot, his left foot landed on Atlanta guard Mario West’s foot. Wright did not return.
Toronto’s Hedo Turkoglu wore a protective facial mask after bumping heads with Boston’s Tony Allen and leaving Wednesday night’s game. The Raptors already have lost top scorer and rebounder Chris Bosh for the remainder of the regular season with a facial fracture.
Following a 42-42 tie in the second period, the Hawks pulled away with a 24-5 run that was capped by Mike Bibby scoring the first five points of the second half for a 64-47 lead.
Crawford hit four 3-pointers in the second period.
Colangelo seemed unaccountably confident about drafting ninth overall. He’d had success drafting their before, he reasoned, citing Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, as examples. Just like it’s not accurate to suggest Andrea Bargnani, taken No.1 overall in 2006 is a bust, neither is DeRozan, the 20-year-old taken out of USC. But a draft class that was deemed average in advance has turned out some players who have shone where DeRozan has only glimmered. Two point guards Jrue Holiday (17th overall, Philadelphia) and Darren Collison (21st overall, New Orleans) have opened eyes around the league since the all-star break, Collison in particular, with averages of 18.3 points, 8.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds on 47-per-cent shooting while filling in for injured Chris Paul. Both are the type of waterbugs that are thriving in a more wide-open league, and both are considerably cheaper than Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack will getting paid $45-million (US) over the next three seasons. Drafting a rookie point guard might have allowed the Raptors to avoid signing Jack a free agent, preserving salary flexibility going forward.
The win was Atlanta’s 50th of the season. It is the first time the franchise has reached the half-century mark in victories since the 1997-98 season.
Toronto opened the game with a sense of urgency. The Raptors shot 55% from the field in the first quarter. The Hawks shot only 19% and trailed Toronto 25-14 after 12 minutes. But the Raptors could not recover after giving up the lead in the second quarter.
After hosting Chicago tomorrow the Raptors will play at the Detroit Pistons and host the New York Knicks to end the season. The Bulls will finish their season at home against the Boston Celtics and then head to Charlotte to face the Bobcats.
It wasn’t like the Raptors had an opponent they would’ve overlooked — getting the fully-healthy Hawks on the road — but Toronto played defense like they’ve yet to discover the wonders of the scouting report. With Hedo Turkoglu back in the lineup wearing a mask (and looking super-goofy in the process), the Raps appeared sort of motivated as they jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter. And then their D completely fell apart. Toronto gave up FORTY-FIVE points in the second quarter, as Jamal Crawford rained hot misery on their heads with 15 points and four triples during the run. Crawford (25 pts) was pulling threes from Pink City as the Raptors continually gave him too much space
Williams, whose 27 points are a career-high, got some thanks after the game from some of the Raptors – a team that is tied with Chicago for the final playoff spot in the East.
"A couple of players from the Raptors that I know just texted me and said, ‘Thank you,’" explained Williams. "In my head I was like, ‘Thank you for what?… Oh, the eight spot.’"
Williams would not elaborate on who the players in question might be, but he has stated that he plans on working with Toronto’s DeMar DeRozen over the summer.
The ball movement at times was terrific—it makes those nights when they simply won’t do it all the more maddening when they crisply move the ball in and out and side to side to get good shots. Toronto is just the kind of team that will give you an easy shot if you don’t force the offense and simply move the ball. I dare say if the Hawks don’t work it like they do, they lose even this game.
Also, the Hawks needed every bit of the (18) offensive rebounds they got because they shot terrible. Zaza Pachulia was the only Hawk above (50) percent shooting for the night, and surprisngly (not really surprisingly) his 4-5 night didn’t pull the Hawks much above (40) percent for the night. Great work by Smoove, Al, and Zaza taking advantage of the Bosh-less frontcourt.
– Credit also Zaza Pachulia, exceptional ball movement and good work on the glass. Of the Hawks’ 15 baskets in the quarter, 10 were off assists, and they had 13 second-chance points. The Hawks missed 11 shots in the quarter and had seven offensive rebounds.
Raps coach Jay Triano: “We just didn’t box out, and that was really our downfall.”
– Much of the rest of the game wasn’t much to look at. In the other three quarters, the Hawks shot 21 for 62 (33.9 percent), including 2 for 16 from 3-point range. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I guess it depends on where you lie on the Woody COY/Fire Woody spectrum, I suppose.
“The positive is we beat them in three other quarters. We just became too relaxed in the second quarter. Other than that, I think we played pretty hard and fairly well.”
The key match-up in this game is probably Luol Deng-Hedo Turkoglu. Deng is going to have to get the ball out of Hedo’s hands and force other players to take long, contested jump shots. They need to deny the Raptors’ bigs of Bargnani, Johnson, and Turkoglu the ball by getting their hands up in the post out in front, and by forcing them to run high off screens and back-cuts – forcing the Raptors frontline to receive passes as far away from the paint as possible. Chicago should not put Rose on rookie swingman Demar DeRosan so he can avoid getting into foul trouble. Instead, Del Negro should run with Hinrich on DeRosan and make him take some difficult shots, while Derrick Rose watches the Toronto 2-punch combo of Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon on the perimeter. Rose’s length and quickness on defense is perfect to close out on dangerous 3-point shooters. Putting up points on Toronto should not be a big problem, but they need to get Deng involved in the scheme early, as he too often seems to go M.I.A. through long stretches of the game.
Looking around during the fourth quarter, the Raptors were all smiles. Laughing and joking and talking it up with the Hawks. If the Chicago Bulls managed to win their game last night we’d be one game out of the playoffs. We need to show some passion. Our team was down by two possessions, their season is on the line, and no one seemed keen on forcing the action. It’s furriating. Just because Chris Bosh is gone doesn’t mean the season is over. Let’s show some fight.