So this is what happens with a well coached team; the Raptors take down the 4th and 5th best teams in the East (by record) in three days while each of them is trying to lock-down home court in the 1st round. You could argue that the Raptors can’t even tank properly, but Alexander the Great said it the best:
I am more afraid of one hundred sheep led by a lion than one hundred lions led by a sheep.
I’ve been watching Friday Night Lights lately (great show; highly recommend it), and the permeating theme is the trickle down effect of great leadership. Guys who care how the game is played; who know their role and play hard; guys are held accountable; and play with heart, this is how you build a team that wins basketball games.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Dwayne Casey.
From the moment the Raptors won the tip, they never trailed for the game: tempo, shot selection, match-ups, control of paint, transition offense/defense, the battle on the glass; everything was dictated by the Raptors for the rest of the game. The Hawks were able to tie it up a couple times early in the first half-half, but Casey made masterful timeouts and got everyone back on the same page.
DeRozan’s resurgence in the 2nd half of this season has been staggering for me. I admit that I’m quick to write people off when they are playing like doo-doo, but all the work he’s put in during practice and the off-season is really making a difference; all he needs is some help. When asked about picking up the slack with so many injuries to the team before the half, he simply said “I got to”, flashed a peace sign and headed to the locker room; had me nodding like a proud father.
DeRozan opened up a lot of space for his jumper by attacking the Hawks paint early, and finishing in some traffic. You know how I feel about shooting jumpers in general, but you get much better looks when your defender is on his heels expecting you to go to the rim without much shot blocking behind you. DeMar did this perfectly; he had Joe Johnson and Hinrich guessing what he was going to do, and made his mark by shooting over, and posting up, Hinrich, and attacking Johnson off the bounce. 15 field goal attempts and 11 trips to the line; exactly what you want from the guy.
A few thoughts:
- The Raptors perimeter defense, probably by design, was weak(ish). It gave the Hawks shooters *cough* Josh Smith *cough* enough space that
hethey attacked early, but were met with perfectly timed rotations that protected the paint. The Hawks had no answer in the 1st half, and were forced into shooting 36% from the field
- The Hawks had one real opportunity to win this game, which came at the start of the 3rd quarter; they came out of the half on a 15-6 run, but Casey called a timeout, substituted Ed Davis in for Aaron Gray on Josh Smith, and squashed the comeback. The game was over with 5 minutes left in the 3rd; masterful
- Alan Anderson outscored the entire Hawks starting lineup (not including Josh Smith) 16-12; seriously. I mean, Jason Collins doesn’t really count, but still; that’s brutal for a team that’s been to the EC semis three years in a row
- Had the Hawks not taken advantage, and scored 10 points off of nine 1st half Raptor turnovers, the game would have been over early in the 3rd quarter
- Offensively, we saw a lot of one-and-dones for the Raptors. Fortunately they created really good shots for themselves and nailed them. Most of this is attributed to Calderon being out, but 16 assists on 102 points is a bit low, especially considering the Raptors shot 55.4% from the field
- Ivan Johnson is a monster, he reminds me of Jason Maxiel before he got that contract
- Solo and Forbes were a -3 in 2 minutes of garbage time
We’re going to see a different Hawks team tonight; Blake should have some good insights on how to lose this one. Here’s hoping for
six five straight losses to close out the season; we can’t keep sacrificing ping-pong balls when it doesn’t help us. This team will have a different identity come next season.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images