Snell of a way to lose, Raptors squander late lead and lose at the buzzer

The Atlanta Hawks' Tony Snell hits a buzzer-beating three-pointer to cap off a late-game comeback over the once-again, shorthanded Toronto Raptors.

Oof.

Those ones hurt. It felt exactly like when your favourite character in a book suddenly gets whacked (my heart has never sunk deeper into my belly when Jon Snow took those several stabs in the gut pre-resurrection).

It’s the betrayal of the heart. That’s why the pain’s so grave. I thought this one was over early. The Raptors were rolling; confidence was surging; you could feel Atlanta’s demoralization. I was on my way to writing this recap early in the 4th.

Then it flipped. And I wasn’t ready for it.

The first quarter was Pistonian of last week. With no Fred Van Vleet, OG Anunoby, or Pascal Siakam for the third straight game, due to COVID Health and Safety Protocols, the Raptors’ defence was once again porous. The Hawks got whatever they wanted: they penetrated the paint unencumbered, dialled up open threes at an alarming rate, and devastated the Raptors in bench points 11-2 – Danilo Gallinari, who averages twelve a game, was responsible for eight of those points in a two-minute stretch.

Conversely, the Raptors bumbled about – as one may expect coming off a vacay. Norm (who never does of recent) and Baynes (who always does of recent) both missed lay-ups, Lowry had a turnover, and they gave up two quick offensive boards. The lead was 14-4 by the eight-minute mark and it seemed as though we knew what kind of game this was going to be: a hot Norm, a passive Kyle, zero help from anyone else, and a soft-serve of interior play – must be nice to have a dependable centre on both ends of the floor. The quarter ended with everyone not named Norman shooting a combined 3/16, and Atlanta up eleven and on pace for over 140 points.

The first part of the second quarter was more of the same. Atlanta went on an 11-0 run – insert more bench three-pointers here – in the first two minutes of the quarter pushing the lead to nineteen. Blowout alert was imminent.

Then the Raptors suddenly perked up like when that second coffee finally kicks in halfway through the morning. On defence, they focussed on Young more – he was 3/11 in the second and third quarters with three turnovers – running him off the three-point line and collapsing on his drives. They prevented him from finding those easy lobs and kicks he so masterfully exploits by closing the passing lanes and forcing him to make longer, more difficult passes. Though, it came at a price: he shot twelve free-throws in those two quarters.

On offence, the Raptors were more purposeful and successful. Hitting shots always helps, but they sought to attack Atlanta’s obvious weaknesses. Young and Gallinari are butter on the perimeter; the Raptors just needed to warm up their knives. They put both in pick and rolls and isolations overwhelming Young’s petite frame and ripping past Gallinari’s leaden feet.

Of course, everything runs more smoothly when one team misses shots. In those two quarters, the Hawks shot 33% from the field. Off misses, the Raptors were able to run the ball and get to the hoop before Atlanta’s defence settled. Terence Davis, DeAndre’ Bembry, and Norman all scored in transition. Boucher made a habit of sprinting directly under the rim in anticipation of lob passes for easy twos.

They also were moving the ball more freely and in rhythm. The Raptors had six assists in the first half; in the third, they had ten alone. They were getting past that initial line of defence, finding the right pass, and making several ‘extra’ passes to find the open shot. By the end of the third, the Raptors’ bench had also caught Atlanta’s in points and helped push the Raptors to a ten-point lead.

Speaking of the bench, can I give a shout-out to the Paul Watson, Yuta Watanabe, Chris Boucher, Bembry, Powell small-big-ball lineup? They were plus-8 in ten minutes and played the kind of hard-nosed Nursian bench-mob basketball Raptors fans so fondly reflect upon. Bembry gave Young fits on both ends of the floor; Boucher was all over the place on the glass; and, the combined length and switchability of the three forwards mitigated Atlanta’s attempt to find space for Young and Gallo.

This game was strangely symmetrical. The fourth quarter began in the same fashion as the previous two quarters. Stanimal had a pick-six right out the gate. Then Atlanta put a mini-mini-run together only to have it quashed by a Lowry three and a Boucher three at the nine-minute mark that put smiles on all the Raptors’ faces and had Kyle Lowry – who also passed Chris Bosh for second on the Raptors all-time scoring list earlier in the game – going for a Lex Luger flex. It realllly seemed like the game was donezo when Klow hit another bomb and Boucher – who was the Raptors’ player-of-the-game – had an And-One.

I was jacked. I watched the game at 5 am this morning and was on three cups of coffee. And, I’ll be honest, I thought this game was over. Big win, LETS GO!

I started researching for the recap. Then I saw the score on Basketball Reference, and felt betrayed by what I saw, wait, what? It was Jon Snow’s death all over again.

I refocussed on the game and watched the Raptors go full dumb-dumb. When you’re up late in a football game you run the ball, never pass. It burns time and limits any possibility of turning the ball over. In basketball terms, that’s no early shots, no bonehead plays, and no errant passes.

Instead, the sequence of offensive events went as follows:

Lowry turnover.

Powell missed lay-up.

Boucher missed fast-break lay-up.

Baynes missed lay-up.

Boucher offensive foul.

Lowry turnover.

Lowry missed lay-up.

Lowry missed three.

In the meantime, Atlanta mounted a 14-2 run. It was a major meltdown. I don’t want to say it had to do with fatigue – not that I would dare judge these guys’ effort. There was just a lack of concentration and sheer overconfidence. They subconsciously, or consciously, declared the game over prematurely and let Atlanta waltz back into the game.

A bright spot, during The Unraveling, Stanley Johnson had two threes in the final minutes – one of which was on a sweet drive-and-kick by Bembry. If he starts hitting those on a regular basis and at a bit higher volume and Bembry remains aggressive we’re going to be getting a lot more meaningful minutes from those two.

Back to the collapse. With nearly a minute left and the Raptors up four – still, the game felt in hand – Norm misses two free-throws. Uh-oh.

The Raps get the ball back up two, and Lowry goes full iso-ball, no one else gets a touch. Which I get, I’ll live and die with our boy, but, maybe, let’s get a little bit more of the attack-and-kick-and-swing stuff that had thrown Atlanta off-kilter for a large portion of the game.

Whatever, I’ll live with it. Besides, the Raptors got the ball back off the miss. There were twenty-six seconds left in the game and the shot clock was at 14.

Next play. Norm also goes full iso-ball with a classic old-Norm lost-in-the-paint flip-up that Bembry receives(?) or rebounds(?) only to then miss a four-foot fade-away to beat the shot clock.

Last play of the game. If you’re going to leave someone open far from the hoop, it’s gotta be Tony Snell, I get it. Yes, he’s shooting 57% on the season from three, but it’s on two shots a game, and he’s 1/2 thus far in the game. Math tells you he’s not likely to hit it, particularly in such a big moment.

That being said, Lowry should know better. Trae drives the ball and gets by Stanley Johnson on the switch. At this point, Trae basically has a wide-open lay-up to tie the game. Tie, remember, not win, tie. Lowry sneaks over weakside to stifle Trae. Norm, who’s off-ball defence is not-so-hot, neither stops his man, Kevin Heurter, from cutting nor switches over to take Snell, who smartly relocates for Trae to find him on the kick. BANG!

Game over.

It was overzealous of Kyle to both help like that and rely on Norm to make the right read. Norm claims he didn’t see Kyle go to help. That’s the problem, you should expect, and also see, Kyle go.

Detailed breakdown of play here:

Stanley looked to almost recover with Boucher helping strong-side, Kyle’s help was not all that necessary. Alas, can you blame your hardest-working guy for being overzealous on one single play. No.

You can, however, blame a team that was rollllling for being overconfident and letting up. And that’s where the collective blame lays.

The Raptors surprised themselves with how well they played for the second, third, and part of the fourth quarter. They celebrated too early, and it cost them.

Check the Rap Up with Sahal and Oren for more on the game and a larger Raptors discussion:

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