In a refreshing change from the last few rock-fights, the Toronto Raptors led wire-to-wire against the Atlanta Hawks, looked good and comfortable across the board, and walked away with the easy 108-93 win.
The Ball Movement was Pretty
The Hawks aren’t exactly a defensive juggernaut (26th in the league in defensive rating) so perhaps you can’t take too much away from this, but the ball movement last night was the best its been in in the last five games.
It started out wonderfully—6 assists on the first 8 made field goals, with Kyle Lowry finding Jonas Valanciunas on a couple lovely pick-and-rolls and then Lowry—after blocking a Dewayne Dedmon floater—leading a 3-on-2, hitting DeMar DeRozan in stride who in turn found OG Anunoby for a dunk.
CJ Miles capped it off by finding Jakob Poeltl with a nice driving dish for a lay-in.
On the night, the Raptors had 25 assists on 39 made baskets, and even added four secondary assists.
The Stout Defense was Great to See As Well
Again, it’s hard to take too much away here—the Hawks are far from the top of the league in offense—but I thought the Raptors played excellent defense. They closed out well—even though the Hawks don’t have great shooters—and held the Hawks to 2-of-14 from deep through three quarters (the Hawks did manage to pick up their 3-point shooting in garbage time). The Raptors also tallied 20 deflections and 10 steals.
Meanwhile, they also played excellent D at the rim, blocking 12 shots (my personal favourite was Ibaka slowly trailing a slow-moving Denis Schroeder one-man break and casually swatting his shot away: the world’s slowest chase-down block ever.)
The Hawks only scored 24 points through the first 18 minutes, and it set the tone (and built the cushion) for the rest of the night.
It’s a Such a Sigh of Relief When the Threes are Dropping
There’s been so much talk about the Raptors culture reset and the focus on reducing long twos this year, and games like this really show exactly what that talk is all about. When the three-point shots are dropping—the Raptors were 11-of-25 through three quarters—it just makes everything else so much easier.
We saw the same thing in the Cleveland game two weeks ago.
The problem of course is the consistency. The Raptors have too many nights where the shots don’t drop, and too many streaky and below-average shooters. Does it make sense to bring in a Marco Belinelli? I guess we’ll find out in the next two weeks...
Jonas Valanciunas is Proving his Worth
I think we all know there are gonna be games in which Jonas Valanciunas will have little impact thanks to the opponents’ style of play (and, unfortunately, games where he is limited with foul trouble). But in the right matchups, he is showing us something. He had another double-double last night (in about 20 minutes), and was simply in the right place at the right time all the time, getting nice dishes from his guards and key rebounds throughout.
As a fan, it’s also incredibly fun to see him so fully engaged. Jonas seems like a fun teammate to be around, I think he enjoys his teammates and the franchise and when he’s contributing at a high level, there’s an extra spring in his step that’s cool to see.
I do hope that the Raptors made rebounding a focus of their off-day practices this week. It’s hard to tell against a bad team like Atlanta—the Raps were +5 on the glass and the offensive boards were even, and Fred Vanvleet was the team’s second-leading rebounder with 7—and Friday’s opponent, Utah, isn’t a great rebounding team either. Still—these are the opponents you want to be able to clean up your problems against. Let’s hope tonight was the start of a better rebounding trend.
Serge Ibaka Showed Some Life Signs
It was refreshing to see Serge Ibaka play a halfway decent game for the second game in a row... although if “halfway decent” is the barometer by which we’re measuring, that tells you just how poorly he’s been playing lately. He shot 4-of-9, 2-of-4 from deep, and even tallied a couple of assists. His rebounding numbers are still woefully low, though—just 3 in 24 minutes.
I’m not sure what to make of Serge these days. He had that great stretch in December but has slumped since and it’s not clear why. Something you often hear on the Raptors broadcast as that Ibaka plays better when there’s an extra day of rest in between games. That in and of itself is disconcerting—surely game-to-game fatigue should not affect a world-class athlete that much? But he’s been consistently bad-to-average over the past 15 games, rest or no rest, so it’s not even ringing true right now. (Over that period he’s shooting 41% and under 24% from 3-point range.)
Even the rebounding numbers—already a low 6.0 on the season—are trending down, to under 5 a game in the last 7.
I’m not sure what the issue is, if it is fatigue or if it’s just a slump. But here’s hoping he snaps out of it soon, because the Raptors sure do need him, on both ends of the floor.
The Raps had looked pretty uneven over their recent 3-3 stretch. Sometimes when you’re struggling through the January slog in the NBA, a game against a terrible team is what’s needed to clean some things up, and hopefully last night’s game did the trick. We’ll see when the Jazz come to town Friday.