A game like Raptors-Hawks, considering all the essential pieces missing for Toronto for a third-straight time out, was never going to teach us much. It did have the capacity to confirm previously understood truths, though. In that regard, Thursday night did not disappoint, even if the buzzer-beating finale very much did if you’re a Raptors fan.
We’re well aware at this point that the Raptors are in fact annoying as shit. It’s more or less been their most defining quality since the beginning of last season’s middle-finger waving title defense. That held up against a Hawks team that had absolutely no business trailing in with 7 seconds to play in the game. Pest status, confirmed.
We also know that Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell are pretty freaking great — enough to keep the Raptors very much in games despite the skeleton crew flanking them. They continued their work as Toronto’s life preservers: Powell with 33 on 11-of-20 shooting; Lowry with 17-6-12 on a night that saw him pass Chris Bosh for second on the all-time Raptors scoring list.
And the third thing that was proven for what feels like the thousandth time in the last seven years: Tony Snell is a God tier Raptors killer. Half of his six points came at the most inopportune time imaginable, sinking the Raptors on a game-winner three at the buzzer to seal a third-straight Toronto loss.
It’s a loss that stings maybe more than any others suffered this season, for oh so many reasons.
Toronto had this game after three quarters. After a wretched opening 12 minutes, the Raps spent the bulk of the next 24 pounding the Hawks in just about every area of the game. They hammered the offensive glass uncharacteristically hard, their ball movement was as pristine as you could hope it to be for a team fielding no more than three reliable scoring options at a time. And their defense harassed Trae Young and his merry band of disappointments to the tune of just 47 points allowed in the middle frames. The Raptors looked inspired; Atlanta looked like a team that just fired a coach who was very much not the problem.
But good things don’t last in this sweaty night terror of a Raptors season.
In a final quarter that matched the 37-26 number the Hawks won by in the first, Toronto’s offense, perhaps predictably, dried up. With 6:13 to play, the Raptors had raced out ahead by 15, only to go a hair shy of four minutes without scoring a point. In that time, Atlanta pulled to within a single possession, which was about where they’d hang until taking the lead on the final play of the game. The final minute saw a pair of Norman Powell free throws that would have nudged the Raptors ahead by six with 56 seconds to play — the lone blemish on a night that otherwise served as ammo for the “bring Norm back next year” crowd. Atlanta even tried to own themselves, bobbling a lightly contested rebound out of bounds in a fashion usually only achieved by Aron Baynes (his 15 rebounds probably could have been like 25 tonight if not for the meat fists).
The thing about this game that is a real kick to the teeth is that even though the outcome is a fake one that surely would not have occurred if the Raptors weren’t currently enveloped by the plague, the tally in the loss column is very much not fake. Neither were the previous two equally meaningless losses. With the trade deadline just two weeks away, you’d hope that the Raptors front office would evaluate the team based on what it looks like at its best. But if the absences persist, and the list of teams to jump to get a good playoff seed grows, then the buzzards circling Lowry and Powell are sure to get more bloodthirsty.
Cutting bait on guys who could very much be part of another good Raptors team or four because a pandemic torpedoed the season is about as unsatisfying an end as you could conceive for the Lowry-era Raptors.
If it’s solace you want, though, it’s in knowing that this Raptors team is not one to fold. Getting three of the 20 best defenders on the planet back will help, whenever that happens. There’s still a good team lurking here, waiting to make a run. They just haven’t had a chance to prove that particular truth yet,