The Raptors coming off a franchise-worst two-win January, looked dramatically improved compared to recent contests — particularly on offence — but could not pull out a win against a steady Atlanta squad.
One of the most unselfish teams in the league moved the ball effortlessly with 30 assists on 42 makes, leading to an endless parade of open shots.
Joe Johnson, one of the NBA’s finest performers in January, showed February is to his liking as well, finishing with a season-best 37 points while Josh Smith added 18.
“Joe had it going and we didn’t really have a match for him. He picked us apart,” said Raptors head coach Jay Triano.
Amir Johnson led the Raptors with 20 points and 14 rebounds as each starter scored in double figures.
“Offensively we were a little bit better than the other night, but I don’t know if we could have been worse,” Triano said.
The Raptors overcame a sloppy start (64% shooting by Atlanta halfway through the first half) to hang with the Hawks (54-45 Atlanta at the half despite 57% shooting by the home side to Toronto’s 43.9%), but could not get over the hump, other than when they took a one-point lead for a brief spell in the third.
The shooting and defence picked up in the third and the Raptors took the lead before a 7-0 Hawks run got the thread-bare crowd excited again.
Toronto actually packed the paint decently, but Atlanta’s heady playmakers effortlessly picked out open shooters all night.
At least at the other end, the Raptors arose from their recent slumber. DeMar DeRozan found his shot again after a run of clunkers, connecting on 8-of-17 for 16 points.
But Andrea Bargnani, while better, was once again ineffective and actually earned a seat on the bench for much of the fourth quarter to ponder his 4-for-12 effort.
“I didn’t think we were getting much from Andrea at either end,” explained Triano.
“It definitely wasn’t the greatest game, that was obvious,” conceded Bargnani.
“You hang your head but if you want to do it, do it right now because we have to turn around and practice (Thursday) and we have to play on Friday,” said coach Jay Triano after the Raptors tied the second-longest losing streak in franchise history.
“Nobody’s feeling sorry for themselves, everyone’s pissed off that we’re losing. We have to try to get a win under our belts.”
Wednesday was such a typical game, albeit under atypical circumstances: The Raptors got behind early, rallied a bit, stayed close and failed in the end. The only difference, really, was in their pre-game preparation — and it didn’t seem to have much of an impact either way.
An ice storm in Indianapolis forced the Raptors to remain there until about 9 a.m. Wednesday when the chartered flight that was originally scheduled to leave after Monday night’s loss to the Pacers finally got off the ground.
They arrived in Atlanta late in the morning and took a bus to the arena for their game-day shoot-around. That part but was out of the norm, but the game that followed was all too routine.
“The thing is, they go six points or seven (up) and we fight back so we’re there,” said guard Jose Calderon. “It’s not like they blow us out and we can do nothing about it.
“We’re playing against a good team and every time we lost concentration for one second, they hit a three and they go on a little run and it’s back to fighting again.
“I know we’ve got some injuries and all the excuses we can say, even with the flights and all that stuff but it’s the same, we have to keep working and fighting,” he added.
Amir Johnson scored 20 points and DeMar DeRozan added 16 for Toronto, which dropped to 5-22 on the road.
The Raptors didn’t arrive in Atlanta until Wednesday morning because of a Midwest snowstorm that kept them stuck in Indianapolis since Monday and forced them to check into the same hotel three times.
At one point, the team’s charter flight sat on the runway for five hours before returning to the gate.
Toronto began the third quarter on a 10-0 run that ended with Jose Calderon’s baseline layup and a 55-54 lead, the Raptors’ first since early in the first quarter.
Toronto got close on Amir Johnson’s transition layup to cut the Atlanta lead to 84-77 with 8:34 left in the game.
Just 4:21 later, Johnson’s backdoor layup ended a 12-1 run that put the Hawks ahead 96-78.
Johnson finished 15 for 21 from the field, including 5 for 8 on 3-point attempts.
A big reason for the Raptors’ seemingly never-ending slump is the recent play of their stars. DeMar DeRozan shot just 25% from the field in the Raptors’ previous three losses. Andrea Bargnani has been worse for longer, shooting just 34% from the floor over the previous nine losses. The disappearance of his offence has only served to accentuate his defensive and rebounding flaws.
There appeared to be slightly more resistance from Bargnani this time around. In the second quarter, he worked hard to get position inside the paint, eventually hitting a turnaround jumper over Josh Smith. The next time he touched the ball, he backed down the athletic Smith and earned two shots at the free-throw line. As he has slumped, for the most part, Bargnani has spent most of his time on the offensive perimeter.
After Smith blocked another interior attempt, Bargnani returned the favour by finishing a delicate layup off of a pick-and-roll situation, dancing around Smith for the basket. Still, the end result was a four-for-12 shooting night. DeRozan added 16 points, while Amir Johnson had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Sonny Weems also showed up. Weems, put into the starting lineup three games ago, has been very inconsistent since coming back last week from a serious back injury that sidelined him for almost six weeks. However, he showed some pop in Atlanta. He finished with authority on a well executed Raptors fast break in the first quarter and scored eight of his 12 points in the opening half.
This is my last plea to BC. I’ve had it. Points are highly overated commodity in basketball (fantasy basketball too), but size and range has value.
Bargnani’s value will never be as high as it is today. Never. At some point, there will be another good player in Toronto and Bargs will fall into the background. Even Triano admitted recently that Bargs and Derozen would never be playing this many minutes if the team wasn’t so anemic scoring wise.
- The 18-6 advantage on free throws is one way the Raps stayed close despite Atlanta’s sizzling shooting. Another was the 11 offensive rebounds for 13 second-chance points.
- The Raps were within 84-78 with 7:30 to play because they kept getting extra possessions. The Hawks kept them off the boards over the next three-plus minutes, made four of their five shots (all assisted with two each from Bibby and Smoove) and were up 96-78.
- “We were giving up too many offensive rebounds early on,” Josh said. “We was able to limit them to one shot, make them work at their end and we was able to get out and have fun.”
- Toronto actually had five offensive rebounds over the final seven minutes (though two were team rebounds in garbage time). Just goes to show you that the Hawks really only played defense for short spurts and won only because the Raps couldn’t stop them.
The Hawks already owned two victories this season at Toronto, with the second one starting the Raptors’ current losing streak. They wore the Raptors down with sharp offense to beat them again.
The Hawks moved the ball with purpose, often passing up pretty good shots for better ones, and had the Raptors scrambling. The Hawks made 42 of 76 shots (55 percent), including 10 of 24 3-pointers.
"We couldn’t give this team confidence in our building," Smith said. "We was able to hit the open man every time, and I think it got contagious."
The Hawks controlled the game, but couldn’t quite put away Toronto until one last surge in the fourth quarter.
Toronto opened the second half with a 10-0 run for 55-53 lead, its first since 4-2. The Hawksresponded with an 8-0 run and were up 69-59 after Evans’ second 3-pointer of the period.
The Raptors didn’t fold, trimming the lead to 84-78 with 7:30 to play. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Johnson and Mike Bibby keyed a 12-0 run that finally buried Toronto.
"It was just a matter of getting some stops and getting out and running," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "I thought our offense was there, [but] our defense was spotty."
All 5 Raptors starters ended up with double digit points tonight and they managed to keep the score close for the first half, which essentially has been the case all season. But what has also been the case all season is the Raptors’ ‘tale of 2 halves’ where a poor third quarter ends up putting them behind too much to be able to rally with effectiveness down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
I’m not saying anything that Raptors fans aren’t already aware of, but the rash of injuries have played a major role in the Raptors’ inability to win games. The Raptors are currently without the services of Reggie Evans, Leandro Barbosa, and Linas Kleiza, not to mention various players in and out of the roster so far this season – Jerryd Bayless, Sonny Weems, Ed Davis, and Jose Calderon. Other than financial benefits, I don’t know if the Jarrett Jack/David Andersen trade has helped the Raptors thus far this season. I guess I should just resign to the fact that the trade was made with financial flexibility and a potential (and likely) NBA lockout in mind.
I’m extremely interested in seeing what, if any, moves Bryan Colangelo makes leading up to the trade deadline, which is now 3 weeks away. The Raptors have the rest of the Bosh trade exception to use by July, some expiring contracts, and some cleared cap room through buyouts (Peja Stojakovic). I know the talk of tanking always heats up any time a team is in the basement, but I think that strategy & mentality is more hype than anything else. Let’s face it, many years there is not a consensus #1 overall pick leading up to the NBA Draft (I don’t see this year being an exception), the NBA Draft itself is a lottery really, not just the slotting of the top 14 picks.
With a 12-game losing streak, long-standing institutional weaknesses, two days of travel problems, and Leandro Barbosa’s absence all weighing on the Toronto Raptors, the only thing in question was when the Hawks would play defense long enough to put the game away.
The answer: 11:23 to 3:58 of the fourth quarter. The Hawks had allowed 71 points on 65 possessions to the Raptors and were only up 6 after DeMar DeRozan’s DeBucket with 11:23 left in the game. Then the 7-minute, 25-second long 19-7 run cured whatever mild concern might have existed for Hawks fans about the game’s outcome.
This was not a contest. It was a task. The Hawks were more than up to it. Joe Johnson led the way with 37 points on 21 shots plus 8 assists. Al Horford didn’t shoot well (12 points on 13 shots) but brought the rest of his game to the tune of 14 rebounds and 7 assists. Josh Smith’s 18 points on 14 shots weren’t especially impressive (due to him shooting an unsustainable 5-9 (0-2 on three-pointers) outside of 20 feet) but his 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals were. Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford chipped in 4 assists each on a night the Hawks assisted on 30 of 42 field goals and individual totals were generally a result of sound team ball movement against a terrible, terrible defensive team.