The Toronto Raptors fell to the Atlanta Hawks 95-87 on Thursday, but the outcome really doesn't matter for Canadian hoop heads. Only one thing was truly important in this game: the return of DeMarre Carroll.
Carroll, who missed the team's last 41 contests after undergoing right knee surgery, was a surprise late addition to the lineup. Shortly before tip-off, Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted that the small forward was active and listed as questionable. The news caused Raptors Twitter to explode at a fever pitch, where our Sean Woodley sent out one of the worst tweets I've ever seen:
MORE LIKE DEMACTIVE CARROLL AMIRITE— Sean Woodley (@WoodleySean) April 7, 2016
The ex-Hawk Carroll logged 14 minutes in his old barn and his impact was felt immediately, as the Missouri product registered a pair of steals en route to a five point, five steal effort. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan finished with a team-high 16 points, while Jonas Valanciunas added 13 of his own to go along with eight rebounds. Jeff Teague paved the way for Atlanta by pouring in 23 and the dynamic front court duo of Paul Millsap and Al Horford ended with 14 and eight boards, respectively.
The Raptors trailed for the majority of the game before making things interesting early in the fourth quarter. Battling back to bring the deficit to three with less than a minute remaining, Teague completed a monster three-point play that proved to be too much for the Raptors to overcome.
It wasn't one of the Dinos' prettiest games, however you won't find too many upset fans over the setback. The Raps are locked into the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference and are (luckily) separated from the third-to-sixth seed battle that the Hawks, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets find themselves in. Considering Toronto has already locked up home court advantage and the Hawks haven't, Atlanta simply had more at stake in the affair.
Toronto had won three straight over Atlanta, so you had to figure the Raps were due for a loss against a red-hot squad that's won 16 of its last 21. Atlanta boasts the second-best defense in the Association since the calendar flipped to 2016, and Mike Budenholzer's system was on display once again in an impressive performance across the board.
If the Hawks can retain the third seed, these clubs could very likely be seeing much more of each other in the second round of the playoffs should they advance that far (I'm not jinxing it, I swear). The East has significantly improved overall in a season where new contenders have emerged, but that doesn't mean the Hawks should be overlooked in the postseason. Make no mistake: this is a very dangerous basketball team.
From now until the end of the campaign, Casey's highest priority is going to be properly integrating Carroll back into the fold. The prized free agent signing was far from 100 percent before the surgery, and he'll have four more opportunities to find his footing before the games really start to count.
What did you guys think of the game? Should Sean's Twitter account should be permanently disabled? Have your say in the comments.