The battle of the Eastern Conference’s best and worst served up a twist last night, with the Atlanta Hawks hanging with the Toronto Raptors all the way until the fourth quarter. But a strong finish from the bench clinched a 106-90 win for Toronto.
At What Point did You Start Worrying?
Was it when the Raptors came out lifeless and immediately fell behind 11-4?
Or the 11-2 Hawks run in the second quarter that featured back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers from Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore that put the Hawks up 7?
How about the back-to-back technical fouls on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan for arguing with the officials right before the half, a four-point swing from the foul line that gave the Hawks a 1-point lead?
For me, I never felt like the Raptors were going to lose but when the Hawks went on a mini-4-0 run at the end of the third to take a 77-76 lead in the fourth I definitely felt uneasy. I wasn’t in the mood for another close finish, and I wasn’t super-confident in the Bench Mob after their subpar first half run.
But they did the job, with C.J. Miles nailing two triples (one of them a 4-point play), Pascal Siakam running the rim, and Jakob Poeltl gobbling up blocks and rebounds. I actually didn’t think Dwane Casey needed to bring his starters back in at all, but Lowry and DeRozan did get a couple minutes each to help secure it.
And a big sigh of relief was heard across the city.
Let’s Dig Up a Couple Positives
It’s hard to take too much away from this game; the Hawks are bad, the Raptors were a bit lazy but eventually flipped the switch and the expected outcome materialized.
Here are three things I liked:
- DeRozan got to the free throw line 14 times, his most attempts in a game since December.
- Malcolm Miller is showing no hesitation shooting (he went 1-for-3) and that’s good; let it fly, young man!
- The bench showed resilience within the game, bouncing back after a poor start to close it.
The other interesting thing was how physical the game was. The refs lot a lot of things go—and yet the Raptors still shot 36 free throws. Both Lowry and DeRozan picked up techs and both argued enough other calls to risk a second.
It’s probably a good thing—games will be more physical in the playoffs, so these reps are good—but I do want to see our two stars keep their composure and handle the adversity a little better.
The Nigel Hayes Signing Makes Me Worry About OG Anunoby
The Raptors added Nigel Hayes on a 10-day contract yesterday, although he wasn’t with the team last night (reportedly because they didn’t get his visa in time, #nbalifeincanada).
Hayes’ signing might be a sign of no-confidence in Norman Powell, who continues to struggle. But it might also mean the Raptors are worried that OG Anunoby’s ankle injury is serious and that he might miss an extended period of time. Seeing him in a walking boot for two straight games hasn’t been encouraging; that tells me he probably won’t return this week, and looking back at how he guarded James Harden in November makes me certain the Raps will really miss him against Houston.
Of course Hayes’ signing might be nothing more than a look at a G-leaguer who’s shooting the ball really well! Definitely curious to see what he looks like if he gets in against Detroit tonight.
Either way—fingers crossed for Anunoby’s swift return.
Let’s Speculate About What’s Next for Toronto
Looking ahead a little, there’s been a lot of talk about the Raptors possibly winning 60 games, a franchise first and a true mark of a great team.
At the All-Star beak I would’ve said no way, but with the way they’ve played lately (even with a couple ugly-ish wins) it is actually a very real possibility!
Still—I think they’ll fall just short. And I think it’s because of these next two games.
Tonight’s game is definitely a trap—on the road, on a back-to-back against a lesser opponent fighting for their playoff lives. And a big game against a great team looming.
I think there’s a pretty good chance the Raps drop this one.
As for the Rockets game, even though Houston is also playing a road back-to-back tonight and Friday will be their third straight road game, they haven’t lost since January 26!
I think we’re looking at a mini-2-game skid, a 13-4 record the rest of the way and 59 wins on the season.
And Beyond the Regular Season?
I think 59 wins will actually be a blessing in disguise; I think the Raptors are aiming for it and I think falling short will keep them motivated. (Whereas there might be a letdown after winning 60).
I think the Eastern Conference standings will end up just the way they are today: the Raps will indeed finish first , followed by Boston and Cleveland; Indiana 4th, Miami 8th.
The Raps take both in 5. And that sets up Cleveland-Toronto III in the Eastern Finals.
Which I’m not ready to think about just yet.
Looks like I’m doing the thing good teams should never do—look ahead! Let’s hope the Raptors prove me wrong tonight, and clean up their sluggish play from the last two games, and come up winners in Detroit.