For a game featuring a total of 46 turnovers, tonight’s Raptors vs. Hawks contest was surprisingly exciting. That’s because, despite the sloppiness, it was a close game, one the Raptors couldn’t run away with and the Hawks refused to give away. It was also because of who plays for Atlanta these days — yes, the fiery rookie Trae Young, and the spry second-year man John Collins, but also Raptor killer Jeremy Lin, and of course: Vince Carter.
Carter’s run in tonight’s game, (perhaps) his last ever in Toronto, was not particularly remarkable. He totalled just over 13 minutes, scored six points on a couple of threes, and grabbed a rebound. But there he was on the court, his team down one to the Raptors, with 17.1 seconds left. It would have been some kind of ending if Carter had managed to get his hands on the ball and put up a shot with the game on the line. Alas, it was not meant to be — which is perhaps a bummer for fans of nostalgia, but not so much if you’re a fan of this version of the Raptors.
Ultimately, what did happen was that Young went in for a wild lay-up, missed, the Raptors secured the rebound, threw the ball down court to OG Anunoby, and he dunked it. Game over, no story book ending. Raptors win 104-101. Again, not bad, all things considered.
The story book ending would have been something though. If only because the rest of Tuesday night’s contest — which, again, featured way too many turnovers, and some of the softest defense from Toronto in recent memory — was not much to look at, or even care about. The star of the show was once again Kawhi Leonard who paced the Raptors with 31 points, on a largely casual 11-of-18 shooting, to go with six assists, four rebounds, and another six steals. It was Leonard who ripped the ball away from the Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry in the final minute, leading to a mad charge down the court with the Raptors down one.
Coach Nick Nurse admitted after the game that given the semi-5-on-4 odds of the specific late-game situation, he opted against a timeout. The gambit worked — Kawhi dribbled out of traffic, found OG, who swung it around to Kyle Lowry, who made the obvious dump pass to Serge Ibaka for the dunk. The turn of events was, as expected, loudly well-received, even if it felt like the Raptors should have not been in that situation with the Hawks to begin with.
On the night, the Raptors got 16 points and six assists from Lowry (on 5-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-9 from three) in just his second game back after sitting out with a back injury. From the outside it looked like Lowry was easing himself into this one. He didn’t shoot for the game’s first 11 minutes, and generally tended to pick his spots. His counterpart in the backcourt, Fred VanVleet, was tasked with picking up the slack. Unfortunately, Fred didn’t quite have it tonight, shooting 1-of-6 from the field (and just 1-of-4 from three) for nine points, to go with four assists and five rebounds. The pair did manage to pick up one technical (on Lowry, after an F-U three) and have a near-confrontation with Young (after he took exception to FVV’s apparent tough defense).
In the frontcourt, the Raptors got a double-double from Pascal Siakam with 13 points and ten rebounds — though it felt like he left a lot of production on the table. This may explain why Nurse chose to go with OG down the stretch, whose 14 points (on 5-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-2 from three) were much appreciated. Nurse said afterwards that he thought Anunoby’s effort on defense, particularly his active hands, were effective and necessary (some kind words OG has needed of late). Less noteworthy, but no less necessary: Ibaka came through with a customary 13 point-6 rebound performance. He wasn’t as crisp on the night as you’d like, but Ibaka still made himself present on both ends of the floor when it counted.
Other than Anunoby, Toronto’s bench didn’t contribute much. It’s clear Greg Monroe is not an every day player anymore; Delon Wright has been coasting for longer and longer stretches; and Norman Powell, try as he might, was a team worst -17, after going 1-of-7 from the floor, and 0-of-3 from three. It happens — but it’d be nice to see them put up a better performance against an objectively poor team.
Still, credit to Atlanta. Their talent level is nowhere close to Toronto’s — which Kawhi himself proved when he absolutely had to — but they came to win the game. And they also almost gave us a dream (or terrifying) situation down the stretch. If the Hawks had actually wanted to win the game, maybe a Lin-Carter pick-and-roll would have been the ticket. Ah well, we’ll always have the memories.