Last night, the Toronto Raptors treated us to a game that featured a tale of two halves: one good first half, and one bad second one.
In the first two quarters, Rudy Gay and DemMar DeRozan both looked like All-Stars. The swingmen ran off a series of screens that freed them up from mid-range for semi-contested looks.
Instead of settling for jumpers, Gay and DeRozan consistently caught the ball on the move and drove it to the basket for scores. It made for a relentless and punishing interior attack.
Indeed, the Raptors looked like the Denver Nuggets. They manufactured 32 points in the paint in the first half on the strength of their starting shooting guard and small forward. Both athletes combined for 24 points on 10-for-19 shooting from the field by intermission.
[Also read Quick Reaction: Hawks 107 – Raptors 88]
It’s worth noting Dwane Casey’s group was nonetheless sloppy with the ball, turning it over eight times. The scoring at the basket still allowed Toronto to take a 10-point lead heading into the break.
The second half on the other hand was a complete disaster.
The Atlanta Hawks took away the curls from both Gay and DeRozan by assigning Jeff Teague to rotate into the lane to cut off all driving angles. This afforded Kyle Lowry with some open looks from long-range but he missed his only two shots in both the third and fourth quarters.
The Raptors’ starting swingmen scored a mere three points in the second half. All of their drives were thwarted and thus all they could muster up were mid-range contested shots. Gay and DeRozan shot a frigid 1-for-9 after halftime.
The Hawks on the other hand posted up Josh Smith and Al Horford, which produced high percentage shots at the rim. In addition, Larry Drew used Horford as a stretch option at the top of the key because he knew the Raptors would help of him to protect the paint.
The former Florida Gator just made shot after shot from the free throw line extended. He finished with 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting in the third and fourth quarters alone.
The game was still close entering the fourth quarter, but Jeff Teague took care of that. Midway through the final period, Teague morphed into Steve Nash and just buried the Raps.
He went on a solo run, scoring at the rim and from 3-point range to put the game out of reach. What was a modest nine-point deficit with six minutes left in the contest transformed into a rout.
He made back-to-back treys off the dribble and scored right at the hoop. With Atlanta leading by 17 points, the game was for all intents and purposes over.
The Raptors gave a valiant effort early but self-destructed in the second portion of the game with their decision-making.
They coughed the ball up 19 times and did a poor job of focusing on Jonas Valanciunas. Every time the big man caught the ball in the paint, he produced a positive outcome either by scoring or getting fouled.
The Hawks stretched out their defense because of Gay and DeRozan, giving Valanciunas the chance at single coverage inside. He was given a few touches when the game became out of reach, but those same opportunities were made available throughout the second half.
The Raptors starting center was solid with 19 points and eight rebounds but could have had more.
Of note, Amir Johnson was lost early in the third quarter because of a left leg contusion and is listed as day-to-day.