Eventually, they figured it out. One play in the third quarter exemplified it. The Hawks are the best three-point shooting team in the Eastern Conference, and Kyle Korver is the deadliest shooter in the land this side of Stephen Curry. The Hawks set a series of screens for Korver as he traversed the arc. Raptors swingman Terrence Ross fought through the first two, before eventually getting held up by the third. Forward Patrick Patterson picked up his teammate, cutting off Korver on the sideline. Ross caught back up to Korver, forcing a turnover, allowing DeMar DeRozan to steal a pass and start a fast break the other way.
Toronto was lucky to trail by only five after an awful first quarter, but managed to at least defend the three against a premier shooting squad for the entire evening. Atlanta finished just 4-for-20 from outside, an ugly 20% success rate. With the interior defence only a rumour, the Raptors at least took away Atlanta’s main strength. Lowry credited the coaching staff for that. “We just had to chase them off (the three-point line),” Lowry said. “They’ve got some great shooters, they have some great players and we just had to stick with the game plan. Terrence did a great job of running them off, everybody was just kind of on the rope tonight.”
In the first quarter, we saw some of the same lethargic play that plagued the Raptors against the Pelicans. Shots that usually go down just wouldn’t, and fortunately for the Raptors, the Hawks had their own struggles offensively to keep the game from getting out of hand. The Raptors shot 7-24 in the Q, but only trailed 24-19 going into the second quarter. The bench was very good for the Raptors in the 2nd frame, as they turned things around and rode a couple of big Terrence Ross 3s and some big Greivis Vasquez buckets to take a 45-44 lead at the break.
Opposition: Kyle Lowry and DeRozan dominated Atlanta’s guards in this game. I spent most of this season speculating about which of Teague and Lowry would make the All-Star team. Lowry didn’t make it either, but Toronto will enter the All-Star break in 3rd place in the East for one simple reason: The Raptors care more about winning than the Atlanta Hawks do. 8/10
On an individual basis, the aforementioned Gustavo Ayon had, by far, his best game in an Atlanta uniform. The big man scored a career-best 16 points in the game and added 10 rebounds for a double-double in just 30 minutes of court time. Aside from Ayon, however, there was a shortage of positive efforts. Paul Millsap continued his strong play with 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists, while Kyle Korver continued his 3-point streak (now at 120 games) with a three at the 3:15 mark of the 1st quarter. If there was a single encouraging thing from this game (and it’s a stretch), it was that the Hawks didn’t have any visible effort concerns. The entirety of the second half represented a team that looked exhausted and with the losing streak mounting, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the majority of the roster (especially the young guys) were pressing. Five straight losses is never fun, but with the All-Star break around the corner, there is time to rest and regroup before things heat up once again.
The Raptors overtook Atlanta for third place in the Eastern Conference standings last month and the Hawks have been knocking on the door ever since. With the victory, Toronto handed the Hawks – who now hold the fifth seed – their fifth straight loss and padded their own cushion over fourth-place Chicago going into this weekend’s All-Star festivities. At 28-24, the Raptors sit atop their division at the break for the second time in franchise history and first since they won the Atlantic in the 2006-07 season. “It means a lot to be where we’re at right now,” DeRozan said, “but it really don’t mean nothing unless we keep it up. We’ve got to keep it growing, we can’t be comfortable with it because teams in our division (are) definitely still coming.”
“I think both teams were on vacation before the game started,” Casey said after the Raptors escaped with a 104-83 win over the Atlanta Hawks at the Air Canada Centre. If both teams were going through the motions in the first half — and it certainly looked like they were — the Raptors were the only ones to find any second-half resolve. DeMar DeRozan had 20 of his 31 points in the final two quarters, Kyle Lowry added seven assists and the Raptors did enough to put away a disinterested Atlanta team. “This is the toughest time of year, a couple of weeks before the all-star break,” said Casey, repeating a well-worn NBA mantra. “It’s always difficult in my 20-plus years in the league it’s always been that way. “I commend our guys for coming out and focusing in the second half and getting defence into the game, getting physicality into the game and making sure we had attention to detail on the defensive end. “The first half, the first quarter, we didn’t have it, neither team had it and we had to get into the game.”
But barring a last-minute injury replacement, the man who can use the break most outside of Johnson is Kyle Lowry. Lowry has been the catalyst for most of what the Raptors have accomplished these past two months. Like DeRozan he is averaging a hefty 36.3 minutes a night, second on the team, and while he probably should be in New Orleans based on his play this year, the rest he’ll get (he’s also reportedly heading for a beach somewhere) can only help the Raptors in the long run.
Is time for Toronto’s coach Dwane Casey to let Greivis Vasquez play basketball, let him shoot the ball 10 to 15 times a game. I looked through Vasquez’s history going back to his Terp days and found that he always has been a 43 percent shooter. In his stay with New Orleans and the few months with Sacramento (still recovering from a foot surgery)Vasquez was shooting 43 percent when he put up the ball 10 to15 times. Greivis Vasquez is sort of a streaky shooter, he may miss the first three or four shots but he may hit six of the next ten, again about 43 percent.
Even with the “contract year” caveat in place, Lowry’s numbers are almost unfathomable. He’s always been someone capable of throwing together a clean stat sheet, but the hoops world has never seen him quite like this before. By themselves, the stats are impressive. Add a little context, though, and that’s when you start questioning their validity. As good as he’s been all year, he’s been even better since Gay left the picture. In the 33 games since Gay’s removal, Lowry has notched 18.0 points (on .444/.402/.801 shooting), 8.0 assists (against 2.2 turnovers), 4.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals. Stretch those numbers across a full season, and he’d join the group of four players clearing 18 points and eight assists on the season: Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson and John Wall.
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