Head coach Dwane Casey even said post-game that he feels like a broken record.
“I thought our guys competed and played hard. We are missing a few of our key players, but our other guys came in and did a good job,” he said, sounding an awful lot like he did on Saturday night.
“Our zone was effective and we did a good job at reading and recognizing and forcing them into jump shots.”
The problem was, the Hawks — particularly Joe Johnson and Josh Smith — are good, and hit the bulk of their shots (a combined 22-39).
“They made their tough shots and we missed ours,” Casey said.
Smith, a potential all-star, was unguardable in a 28-point, 15-rebound effort. Perennial all-star Johnson added 27 points, six assists and five rebounds along with some good defence on DeMar DeRozan, who shot just 5-for-17.
“We go through droughts where we miss shots,” Casey said. “We have to recognize how to handle those situations.”
Leandro Barbosa led the Raptors with 22 off of the bench, Jose Calderon added 13 points and 11 assists for the slumping Raptors, losers of seven of the eight games played over the past 11 days.
The first came as DeRozan found himself with the ball and almost a clear path to the basket in transition. But instead of going hard to the rim, knowing that a pursuing Hawk was likely to catch him and hit him, DeRozan made a passive move, had the ball stripped, saw it bounce off his foot out of bounds and an easy basket was lost.
The second came late in the game, with the Raptors desperately trying to pull off a miracle. With the ball at the top of three-point circle, the athletically gifted young man launched arguably the worst three-pointer of his life. It missed the rim and almost the backboard, finishing low and left — definitely not one for the highlight reels.
Those are moments that can’t happen if DeRozan is to realize his potential and if the Raptors are going to snap out of the five-game losing streak they find themselves in heading to Boston for a Wednesday finale to this three-game road trip.
“I knew going into this year with him being one of our top players that teams were going to hone in and lock in and it wasn’t going to be easy,” coach Dwane Casey said after DeRozan went 5-for-17 from the field and finished with just 10 points. “He’s got to make more of an (effort) to get open. Don’t give in to a guy (getting) into him. Leandro (Barbosa), they do him the same way but he works until he gets open and that’s something DeMar is going to have to learn to do, and he will.”
Atlanta never completely controlled the game’s tempo as Leandro Barbosa stepped off the bench for Toronto, with his team-high 22 points, and became the head of the hammer, trying to answer every shot from Smith and Johnson. Jose Caledron, who contributed 13 points and 11 assists, passed the ball on a string.
But it was silly mistakes in the fourth quarter, when the Raptors shot just six of 24, that made the Hawks lead too difficult to overcome. As the Raptors tried to rally inside the final three minutes, Toronto bodies crammed underneath Atlanta’s rim, but the team could not capitalize on seven offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.
DeMar DeRozan, again, embodied Toronto’s frustrations as he went five for 17 overall for 10 points and just two rebounds.
Playing their sixth game in a week, the 66-game season was beginning to extract its requisite amount of flesh from the Raptors, with Jerryd Bayless, Andrea Bargnani and James Johnson all unable to help the Raptors end a four-game losing streak.
“We just have to get used to this,” Calderon said. “We have to keep fighting. Everybody believes in what we’re doing, we just have to do it for 48 minutes. We’re competing. We’re not losing by 20 or 30 points.”
Fourth quarter drought:
Toronto went into the fourth quarter down only two points. The team managed to put up only 13 points, on 6-of-24 from the floor. Everyone struggled including leading scorer Leandro Barbosa, who shot 1-of-6 in the final quarter.
DeRozan went 2-of-5 in the fourth quarter.
Toronto’s free throw struggles continued against the Hawks. They had22 trips to the free throw line but hit only 68.2 percent. This was an improvement from the Bulls game, where the Raptors went 1-of-7 from the free-throw line.
During the fourth quarter they only had one attempt, which they obviously missed. Free throws are supposed to be free points!
It was a strange game for the Raptors on Monday afternoon. It was close on the scoreboard and yet never really felt all that close. The Atlanta Hawks took it to the Raptors early and were able to hang on down the stretch despite the fact that the undermanned Raptors hung around all four quarters.
The Raptors were really missing Andrea Bargnani who was out once again with a strained calf. The offense was stagnant without him. Demar Derozan could not get anything going and became a jump shooter that failed to get to the line once.
Still the effort was there.
This may be a phrase that Raptor fans are tired of hearing already. It seems they are always on the short end of the stick despite the fight. The truth of the matter is that they lack their number one guy right now and don’t have anyone who seems ready to step up.
You can certainly understand why the Raptors are struggling with injuries mounting combined with the schedule that has been challenging. But, if you are not starting to have some deep concerns about this young core that Raptors have claimed they are building, then you must not be paying attention. Is it a product of the new system? Is it a product of having to play harder with a focus on the defensive end of the floor? Is it the fact the Raptors were handcuffed by the lockout and had no control of there young players for the entire lockout? It could be all of the above. But for the Raptors ultimate game plan to work they need a lot more from their young core. That begins with Demar DeRozan and Ed Davis.
My early excitement about DeMar DeRozan’s three-point range his been overshadowed by his regression in every other area of his game. As much as I’ve criticized Bargnani over the years, I never doubted that he had the potential to be a great player if he got his head right. I don’t doubt DeRozan’s work ethic and I’m well aware of his proclivity for sweet dunks, but what happened to that aggressive driver with impressive body control around the rim we saw in stretches last season? Over the past two games, he’s played 73 minutes and taken exactly zero free throws. If DeRozan doesn’t remember how to drive, he might have his NBA license revoked.