The Raptors, at 46-17, are just good enough to sleepwalk through games. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they should. On Tuesday night, the Raptors took on the energetic and hopeless Atlanta Hawks. While Toronto eventually pulled away for a 106-90 win — their fifth in a row — it was a restless, uneven affair. Maybe Toronto’s squad needed a shot of espresso? I know I did.
For most of the game’s first 24 minutes, the Raptors and Hawks were unfortunately neck and neck. To open, it was Toronto’s lazy offense and sloppy play (including four turnovers), that allowed the Hawks to jump out to an 11-4 lead. But then, some modest three point shooting, and the usual plays from DeMar DeRozan got them back up and into it. Still, Toronto shooting 36 percent (to Atlanta’s 52) through the opening frame augured poorly for the rest of the game. (And suggested some bizarre carryover from Sunday’s poor shooting against the Hornets.)
The second quarter saw more of the same, even with the Raptors’ bench mob in to help speed the game up, and presumably stir all of Toronto’s participants. It didn’t quite work — in fact, for a stretch to close the second quarter, after Kyle Lowry and DeRozan both earned technicals, it felt like Toronto might actually fall into the rarely seen grumpy coma. (It’s like when you eat too much and are mad at yourself about it.) They just could not stay sharp enough to put this Hawks team away.
Would you believe the third quarter was a rerun of the first half? It was that kind of exhausting. Toronto opened with a 7-0 burst, then gave seven straight points right back, and generally had me pulling out what remains of my hair. The two teams traded buckets, or more accurately, they traded clanging misses and wild forays to the basket. Lowry’s flagrant foul on a streaking John Collins was something of a nadir, except — lo and behold — the Raptors’ old friend, referee Tony Brothers, began making calls in favour of DeRozan. It looked like momentum was ready to shift again — perhaps for the final time?
DeRozan did indeed start cooking, putting in seven straight points, drawing fouls, and playing like the automatic bucket getter he is. But like a recurring nightmare (or, more appropriately, like a fly buzzing around the room) there were the Hawks again. A 10-4 run from Atlanta closed the quarter, the Raptors shot 0-of-7 in the frame from deep (a brutal 10-of-36 from three overall), and somehow the Raptors were down one point as they headed into the final 12 minutes. Yes, down one point. To the last place Hawks.
Fortunately — and it brings me only a small mote of pleasure to report this — the Hawks stink. Also, the Raptors bench is very good. It was this reserve group that eventually decided they’d had enough and wanted this game to end for real so they could get some rest. C.J. Miles hit some threes, Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright were everywhere on defense (until the latter sprained his big toe), Pascal Siakam flew around the court, and Fred VanVleet conducted the show like a maestro. A 16-0 run, and 30-13 quarter overall, put the game to bed for Toronto. It actually was that simple.
In the final tally, DeRozan finished with 25 points on a neat 6-of-12 shooting; Jonas Valanciunas went for 15 and 7, while shooting 4-of-11 from the field; Miles drained a bevy (4-of-9) of threes for 14 points; Wright had 10 points and three steals; VanVleet had seven assists; Poeltl had three blocks. The song, as always, remains the same. I don’t meant to sound as though I’m yawning as I type this — the Raptors won again! — but also: good night.