This was just like the Sixers mini-series. A team couldn’t believe they lost to the Raptors on their home floor, and came back shortly after to set things right.
Let us not gloss over the fact that the Raptors were the better team last night for large stretches, only to be done in by a third quarter where the offense dried up, and Jeff Teague woke from a half-long slumber to notice that he didn’t even recognize the point guards that were checking him him.
So where do the Raptors stand? Are they good enough to beat the Celtics, or bad enough to lose at home to a Hawks team that looks upon defense as a toddler at vegetables? Somewhere in between is the correct answer, of course, but where on that spectrum, nobody quite knows. What is known to anyone who cares to think beyond an isolated result is that very little can be read into this part of the season, as has been the case for years now.
This one started with Amir Johnson making Josh Smith pay for being a lazy bitch, and DeMar DeRozan standing up to Joe Johnson for the second straight game. Usually he sort of gets dominated and trampled, so it was good to see DeRozan put up a fight to the tune of 22 points. Results don’t matter here, DeRozan had a decent game against Johnson and even though it wasn’t a direct matchup, it makes me retain some hope that DeRozan could turn out to be a consistent player in the league if the moons align just right.
There was little defense played in the first, as best reflected by the Raptors and Hawks shooting 71% and 68%, reflectively. The Raptors were getting to the paint, and were playing a very inside-out game, mostly through Amir Johnson and DeRozan’s drives. 32-30 Raptors at the end of one, so far so good, but you kind of knew the Hawks, unlike the night before, were up for this one. Or at least as ‘up’ as a Hawks team can be.
If I’m the the Raptors PR staff, I make a commemorative DVD out of that second quarter because we saw things we might not see again for 480 years. Solomon Alabi tearing boards down, running the break, slamming it home, and blocking not one but two shots on the same possession. James Johnson throwing down a vicious dunk, hiting jumpers, it was like the D-League All-Star team right at the ACC!
The Hawks defense was scattered and uninterested, with Jeff Teague running the offense like a drunk driver. Yet after all this the Raptors lost the quarter by five and went trailing at halftime by three. Why? Joe Johnson’s 11 points, and Ivan Johnson’s sheer hustle and determination. The Raptors really missed a chance in the second to extend a lead, mostly because the second unit (which is really the third unit) with Gary Forbes flopped. Right now Forbes is behind Uzoh in the pecking order an Uzoh went 2-11 FG. Yikes!
The third started off nicely enough with DeRozan and Amir Johnson running a pick ‘n roll for a dunk; it was easily one of the worst pieces of defense played this year, and only showed that if the Raptors moved the ball well enough, the Hawks were there to be carved open like a hot knife through butter.
This is about the time Jeff Teague woke up and started stealing point-to-wing passes and converting them on the break for And1s. Poor Uzoh didn’t know what hit him, and when Forbes was inserted to quell the rebellion, Teague responded with another steal. The offense dried up again, not helped by the turnovers, and as Josh Smith started making his jumpers, Amir Johnson started missing his (deliberately left wide open by the Hawks defense I think, or was it that they forgot to mark him – can’t tell).
The hammer came down late in the third when an 8-0 Teague and Ivan Johnson inspired run extended it to an 11 point lead. There was no comeback in the fourth, no heroics from DeRozan or Andersen, as much as Leo was calling for it. The play that sort of took the wind out of the sails, or more accurately, out of Alabi’s lungs, was this knee to the chest by Ivan Johnson, whose game can be summed up as Reggie Evans’ hustle peppered with actual talent:
If there’s a telling stat in this game, it’s the 28-5 Hawks advantage in fastbreak points, which were fueled by 18 Raptors turnovers (compared to 5 by the Hawks). With that kind of differential in such a key stat and a bigger differential in talent, I salute the Raptors for staying relatively in it for three quarters, or for that matter winning 22 games.
So what did we learn? We learned the following:
- That Solomon Alabi is a better than Patrick O’Bryant. I never saw Patrick O’Bryant do anything positive on the court and I saw Alabi perform – dare I say it – rather well.
- That Aaron Gray is the new Rasho Nesterovic. Big bulky dude who throws his weight around and can find a way to put the ball in if he’s close enough. He doesn’t have Rasho’s jumper, but he makes up for it by looking like he just might carry a chainsaw. I think we’re found our backup to Jonas.
- That James Johnson is an…I was going to use the word ‘enigma’, but that would imply we don’t know what he is. Instead, I’ll say that he’s a “work in progress”. I think given the proper coaching, a shift in mental makeup, and a realization of what his skill are and what they’re not, he can find a place in this league in the mold of a defensive player. He needs to work on his spot-up shooting for that to happen, pure athleticism doesn’t get you anywhere.
- That Hawks fans are actually worse off than Raptors fans. You talk about mediocrity, the Hawks epitomize it. They’ve been finishing fourth or fifth since I was three years old, no wonder nobody in Atlanta cares to see them – their regular and post-season is a foregone conclusion every single year.
- That there’s no point going with a zone defense when the point guard is breaking you down at will. I loved the touch of zone against the Celtics, but Casey didn’t even bother with it in the third. I guess it doesn’t matter what kind of defensive strategy you employ because when you’re turning the ball over you’re pretty much f***ed.
Enough about the game. We got some party planning to do with these guys coming in to St. Louis on Yonge/College at 7:30pm this Wednesday.
We’ll celebrate having the seventh worst record in the league, but still being happy about it because that’s how bad things have been in years past. That is the mire this franchise has been stuck in, and as we head into another off-season believing that this is the summer of Colangelo’s rein that will turn things around, let us make a toast that for once it actually rings true.
Let’s look at the situation at the bottom:
Boy, I can honestly say that I don’t mind losing some games to get into that fourth position, because the odds of winning the lottery jump from 4% to 12% within that range. Now that would start the summer off with a bang, but I get it, I get it…tanking is bad. But what if, what if the tank didn’t look like an ugly old tank all blown up and disgusting, but something like this:
Wouldn’t you mind riding that tank? Maybe even take it home for four more games? I sure would, can you imagine if this tank is the difference between Anthony Davis/MKG and John Henson? The remaining schedule is at Miami, at Detroit, at Milwaukee, before returning home against New Jersey. In my years and years of writing about the Raptors, I’ve never advocated full blown tanking, but this is just too good to pass up.
Some news on the ex-Raptors front, look who’s back in the league. Want more ex-Raptor news since all the regular ones are injured? Isn’t it amazing how one ball-grabbing incident can ruin your Google juice?
Have yourself a good one, I’ll be down at St. Louis on Wednesday. Look for the guy in the Jamario Moon jersey.Follow @raptorsrepublic