Raptors 113, Hawks 118 – Box

Here’s what cost the Raptors this game:

  • Greivis Vasquez trying to be a hero by jacking up anything he could get his hands without being reprimanded for playing utterly selfish basketball
  • Jonas Valanciunas picking up silly, silly fouls to take himself out of a pretty good offensive game he was having
  • Dwane Casey leaving Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry out for an unnecessarily long period in the second, allowing the Hawks, who were on the ropes, to get back in the game
  • Terrence Ross having several brain cramps in key moments culminating in Kyle Korver getting wide open threes that he drilled
  • DeMar DeRozan insisting on taking jumpers, thus playing right into the hands of a salivating Hawks defense that gladly donated $1000 to charity for every jumper DeRozan took
  • DeMar DeRozan incorrectly believing that he can dribble the ball against even a moderately-set defense, eventually resulting in game-killing turnovers and possession suffocation
  • Jeff Teague absolutely destroying Kyle Lowry off the dribble every single time, and Dwane Casey not adjusting in the least, despite the Hawks’ secondary play being Paul Millsap doing face-up moves from the elbow
  • Amir Johnson needlessly pulling on Paul Millsap for an away-from-the-ball offensive foul with 14 seconds left it OT and the Raptors down 2

That’s essentially it. Do any of those things right and the Raptors come away with a win against a Hawks team that was playing on a back-to-back. The free-falling Hawks set against the backdrop of a yawning Philips Arena crowd would have you think that his made for pedestrian basketball, but as has historically been the case with the Raptors in Atlanta, the game was tight and tense.

The Raptors dominated the first quarter though Jonas Valanciunas, who was too quick for Pero Antic. Kyle Lowry carving his way to the danger-zone presented options and Valanciunas was the chief beneficiary with 11 points. The Hawks adjusted by having the slightly more mobile and much more physical Elton Brand guard him, and Valanciunas was neutralized and picked up a second foul, sending him to the bench. The Raptors interior defense stood tall and turned back several Atlanta drives, and Jeff Teague remained silent with Terrence Ross checking him on several possessions, but that all was soon to change. The Raptors, inconceivably, stepped off the pedal and took several low-percentage jumpers which led to Atlanta breaks. The nine point lead at the end of the first was too small a margin given the Raptors’ dominance which was reflected in a 19-11 rebounding edge and the Hawks’ 25% shooting.

The bench which had Tyler Hansbrough at the five and Steve Novak at the four looked shaky as a unit, but the cracks were covered early by Greivis Vasquez taking PG Dennis Schroder to task in the post and off the dribble. Vasquez is the much bigger player and it looked to be an advantage until Vasquez decided that he had the green light to shoot any time he had sight of the rim. He took 9 shots in 9 first-half minute and hit four of them. Many of his shots left you shaking your head and ask one of two questions: 1) why would you not continue swinging the ball instead of firing it up? 2) what makes you think you taking a contested, running, hook/floater is a good idea?

The Hawks exploited the Millsap/Novak matchup, and the latter was found out for his lack of rebounding and boxing out prowess in the second quarter. Dwane Casey gave the surging Hawks a big assist by benching Lowry for more than seven minutes to start the second, endorsing Vasquez’ cavalier play. Having had a chance to reflect upon his needless fouls in the first, Valanciunas came back in and promptly decided to box-out like a security guard at a concert, the iconic moment captured in this image:

jonasfoul

That was foul number three which earned him a prompt seat on the pine and an opportunity for a deeper form of meditation, hopefully one where he’ll come to the self-realization that he’s his own worst enemy. Defensively, the Raptors had no answer for Jeff Teague who was obliterating Kyle Lowry and finishing against a height-challenged Chuck Hayes and a scampering Amir Johnson. I felt Ross might have been a good choice to guard Teague as he had had success against him in the first, but Casey chose to stick with Lowry who was being shredded. Tie game at halftime, Atlanta firmly latching on to the teat of Mother Momentum.  You could also sense the Raptors defense slipping – they were unable to exert any sort of pressure which could force turnovers and disrupt Teague and the flowing Hawks offense.  As an example of a frustrating defensive miscue, I’ve chosen this play from DeRozan which bugs me to no end.  He overplays the pass and it eventually results in a wide open three for the Hawks:

The lasting memory of the third quarter had to be Terrence Ross losing sight of Kyle Korver for two threes that made your blood curl and, if you were unlucky enough to have had a dodgy biryani dinner, projectile vomit right into the TV. Paul Millsap also decided to take advantage of the foul-ridden and thus hesitant Amir Johnson, and the stunted Chuck Hayes to go 4-5 in the quarter. Ross made amends by nailing a couple threes of his own, but Teague’s dominance off the dribble continued and Schroder managed to weasel a three late in the quarter as the Raptors advantage heading into the fourth remained a nervous two.

The news in the fourth came that Valanciunas’ lower-back had fouled out and would not return. I was hoping Casey to make a few adjustments on Teague but nothing materialized. It was rinse-and-repeat as he brought the ball up-court under no pressure, and lulled his way past Lowry opening up so many options that it encouraged the Hawks to move without the ball and present themselves. Other than Teague, the Hawks don’t have any effective ball-handlers in the lineup, and their alternate kickstarter play was giving it to Millsap and having him create outside-in. Teague managed to find himself matched up with Chuck Hayes multiple times in the fourth quarter and OT, which always ended in tears for the Raptors as step-back jumpers and drives became low-hanging fruit.

Perhaps having an eye on New Orleans, Casey sat Lowry for five minutes plus in the fourth. The game remained tight and I found myself coming to the realization just how important Patrick Patterson’s scoring and defense is to the team. Every time Novak was outmuscled for position, Patterson came to mind. Every time Hayes rotated to the perimeter, Patterson came to mind. Every time DeRozan got stuck in the paint with no outlet to pass to, Patterson came to mind.

With the Raptors down two and 35 seconds left, DeRozan, who had been mostly settling for jumpers, decided to go one-on-three with a behind-the-back dribble. Turnover. Obviously. Lucky for the Raptors they got a stop and Lowry drove to finish against a late help to take the game to OT.

In OT, jumpers, jumpers, and more jumpers.  Here’s the OT shot-chart:

4qshot

Two poor ones by DeRozan which were capped off by some house-league ball-handling which wasted at least two possessions (I will not be GIFing those up as it will cause me migraines). Overall, he had 3 turnovers in the fourth quarter and OT, a host of jumpers that screamed settling, and never quite stepped up defensively like you would want a “star” player to do.  Defensively, the stops never came and the Raptors’ lack of size in the frontcourt showed as Atlanta got key offensive rebounds and second-chance points.  With the Raptors down two and inbounding with 14 seconds left in OT, the dagger came via an Amir Johnson offensive foul on Paul Millsap.  An uncharacteristic foul that sealed the game for the Hawks.  A shame it had to end like that.

The Raptors ended up shooting well for the game (49%) and were +10 on the glass.  Yet that didn’t matter as their defense was non-existent, as exemplified by the Hawks committing only seven turnovers all game.  That’s astonishing given the game went to OT and the Hawks average 15.3 turnovers a game for the season. Simply put, the Raptors did not apply enough pressure on Jeff Teague, failed to repel their big men in the paint, thus rendering their own high offensive output meaningless.  Even more importantly, with the game hanging in the balance, they couldn’t manufacture good shots.  You can blame that on DeRozan settling or Casey’s drawing board, or any other factor, one thing is for sure: I’m done writing about this one. Let’s move on and let it be said that, given the margin of the game, if this shot would’ve gone in….

Game notes courtesy of Associated Press: Teague previously scored 34 points at Cleveland on Dec. 26. … Toronto C Jonas Valanciunas left the game with a lower back sprain and didn’t return. … The Hawks lost rookie G Dennis Schroder, who sprained his left ankle while hustling back on defence in the fourth quarter. … Carroll took an elbow near his left eye and had to be taken back to the locker room to get four stiches. He finished the game with a bandage over his wound. … Atlanta C Pero Antic and Lowry picked up double-technicals in the third quarter for jawing at each other after a play that left Antic sprawled on the court. The big man tried to draw a charging foul on Terrence Ross, and both players went down in front of the Hawks bench. As the teams headed to a timeout, Antic and Lowry picked up Ts.

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