This one wasn’t like the last for the Toronto Raptors, who had a rude awakening against the Atlanta Hawks. The Raptors lost 125-121 after mounting a spirited comeback late in the game to make an otherwise uneven game close.
When the teams met earlier in December, the Raptors won one of the most dominant games in franchise history, by a record 44 points. It wasn’t even close, with even the team’s rookies beating up the sorry Hawks. Tonight was different.
The Hawks haven’t had an easy season, sitting at 13-13 after several impressive years under coach Mike Budenholzer. There have been growing pains, adjusting to Dwight Howard as a new franchise cornerstone. Tonight, it came together. Howard was the beast he has been billed to be. He exploded for 27 points and 15 rebounds.
Beyond the stats, Howard was truly too much for the Raptors’ bigs to handle. Jonas Valanciunas struggled, but Lucas Nogueira completed failed. Neither could stay in front of Howard, and when they did, he easily outmuscled them in the paint. Nogueira looked like a confused tree branch, moving randomly in the wind.
After a mostly one-sided game, the Raptors attempted a comeback in the fourth quarter, getting within striking distance on the back of the usually special shooting touch of Kyle Lowry. After being down by 19 points, the Raptors got it back to a four point deficit with less than a minute left. But, the comeback effort wasn’t enough, spoiled by poor defence coach Dwane Casey couldn’t seem to correct as the game went on.
Here’s the easiest way to understand why the Raptors lost: the Hawks had 15 more rebounds, including seven more offensive boards. That just can’t happen.
Still, it wasn’t all bad for the Raptors, who at least showed up late in the game. As always, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan led their team with great offensive performances. DeRozan had 32 points, five rebounds and four assists. Lowry added 27 points and six rebounds. When things got close with under a minute left, they helped the rest of the team believe they could come back, which is valuable experience for a team that will be competing in tough games all season, including the playoffs.
offensively, the Raptors were let down by the bigs, who failed to produce when the team needed it. Of any tall man, Valanciunas had the best game, managing just 11 points and six rebounds.
With the loss, the Raptors are now at 18-8 on the season. The Hawks move to .500, back on the early playoff bubble in the Eastern Conference.
Next up, the Raptors will take on the Orlando Magic on Sunday.