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NBA: Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks

Scrappy Raptors drop heartbreaker in Atlanta, lose on 124-122 OT buzzer-beater

A valiant effort by what’s left of the Raptors roster, but a missed bunny in regulation gave the Hawks a chance to steal the game away in overtime.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The short-handed Toronto Raptors nearly pulled off a massive upset as they nearly managed to eke out a victory over the Atlanta Hawks in regulation. However, an injury to Scottie Barnes and a missed bunny at the buzzer in regulation allowed the Hawks to turn the game into a battle of attrition in overtime. Fatigue cost the Raptors in the final moments, allowing AJ Griffin the game-winning layup, as the Raptors fell 124-122.

Due to the avalanche of injuries, coach Nick Nurse had to field yet another starting lineup, making this what? The seventh or eighth new starting lineup since the Raptors saw the Hawks 20 days ago? The lineup of Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Thaddeus Young, and Juancho Hernangomez surprisingly had four minutes under their belt this season, with more than half coming from their most recent game against the Miami Heat.

It’s a valiant effort for the Raptors’ coaching staff and the available bodies tonight, with more than half of the rotation missing tonight’s game. Scottie Barnes was locked in from the jump, as he almost had a near triple-double, finishing with 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, and two blocks. O.G. Anunoby added 27 points and five assists, and the Raptors also had their deep bench step up.

Thaddeus Young netted 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and four steals while coach Nurse finally let Malachi Flynn out of the doghouse. We got a glimpse of Tampa Bay Flynnsanity, as Flynn dropped his season-high 17 points and three assists while making Trae Young chase his own tail several times. Juancho Hernangomez provided the spark to start the game, as his surprise start probably messed up the Hawks’ scouting report.

Unfortunately, the Raptors struggled from behind the arc, shooting 8-for-37, with Fred VanVleet leading the way with his 1-for-11 shooting. VanVleet was largely ineffective in the second half. Scottie Barnes was in a zone for the most part but had to leave the game momentarily due to an ankle injury late in the fourth. He came back, but getting him back into a rhythm took a while.

Fatigue was evident late in the fourth, as Anunoby’s shots were short, and the offense was clearly labouring down the stretch. They also had several great defensive possessions only to end up not securing the board, allowing the Hawks another shot at the cup.

Trae Young led all scorers with 33 points and 12 dimes, with rookie AJ Griffin coming off the bench to provide scoring punch late in the game, including the game-winner, en route to 17 points and five rebounds. Overall, an unimpressive victory by an otherwise-healthy Hawks team who had to go through the eye of a needle to eke out a win against most Raptors players that wouldn’t typically play in this game.

The Raptors’ loss ties the head-to-head matchup at one game apiece, and with teams bunched up, the third and final game in January might be a crucial one for tiebreaker purposes.

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Despite being short-handed, the Raptors managed to keep up with the Hawks to start the game. Much like in the movie Hustle, Bo Cruz’ defense was the difference to start the game. His deflections, defensive reads, activity, and ample scoring punch kept the Raptors in the game early. However, the Trae Young-Clint Capela combo was hard to stop, as the two combined for sixteen points in the first period. The Hawks managed to force the Raptors deep into the shot clock midway through the first, building a 16-10 lead. However, Scottie Barnes, Malachi Flynn, and O.G. Anunoby finished the quarter strong, with Barnes’ out-of-balanced three-pointer giving the Raptors a 31-29 lead after the first period.

The Raptors had a solid second quarter, and if there’s any doubt or frustration about Barnes, this game, just through two quarters, should make the fanbase forget about all of that. Barnes was in his element stretching back to the latter part of the first quarter, as his defense, three-point shooting, passing, and aggressive drives to the basket were on display. I mean, look at him baptizing Clint Capela to give the Raptors a 51-43 lead:

Unfortunately, the Hawks’ defense hunkered down, forcing the Raptors into difficult half-court sets, while the Young-Capela looked unstoppable, with a 12-4 run to tie the game at 55. Luckily for Nurse, Thaddeus Young probably had his best quarter in several years, putting up 14 points and two steals to give the Raptors some breathing room. That was enough to compensate for Anunoby’s troublesome quarter that saw him pick up his third foul via a bogus call. The Hawks had a chance to make it a one-possession game at the end of the half, but Trae Young was called for an offensive foul on his corner three attempt — his leg kicked sideways, catching Barnes on his closeout, and a furious coach Nate McMillan got a tech in the process. To add salt to injury for the Hawks, the next possession saw Barnes go coast-to-coast (again!), this time, to go for a layup to beat the buzzer. The Hawks converged on him but were whistled for goaltending, giving the Raptors a 62-55 lead at the half.

The Raptors opened the second half flat. The Hawks got a nexus lane to the cup, and their transition defense was non-existent. Worse, the Hawks kept the Raptors in the half-court and got nothing to show for several possessions. Trae Young’s trifecta capped off an 11-6 run to give the Hawks their first lead since the first quarter at 68-66, but the Raptors got their bearings defensively. Anunoby wass back bulldozing defenders and taking candies away. Barnes looked locked in, putting up 11 points and three assists in the third period, scoring at the end of the quarter for the third consecutive time as the Raptors held serve, 89-82.

With his most aggressive game of the season, Barnes started with an aggressive post-up to open up the final period. It looked like the Raptors were about to pull away, but Justin Holiday made a banked trifecta, and Hernangomez’s dunk rattled through the hoop as he hung on to the rim, forcing the reps to call an offensive goaltending. AJ Griffin’s layup cut the Raptors’ lead to 95-90. Tampa Bay Flynnsanity and Anunoby kept the lead to at least three possessions until an unfortunate play where Barnes got injured. Trae Young and Barnes’ legs got tangled, and Barnes had to be taken out. Meanwhile, the Hawks completed an 8-0 run to tie the game at 109 with 90 seconds remaining.

Trae Young then grifted for Flynn’s sixth foul to give the Hawks the lead. Anunoby got to the line on the other end to tie the game, and the Raptors managed to stop Trae Young’s floater. Nurse called for a timeout with 18 seconds left, starting with an Anunoby isolation against Hunter. Anunoby missed his middy, but Koloko got the offensive rebound, and kicked it out to VanVleet with six seconds left. VanVleet drove to the basket, dumped to Barnes at the buzzer, but Barnes missed what was essentially a wide open layup. Whether he tried to rush at as the clock was winding down, or he was off balance because of his ankle, or both, we’ll never — and off we went to OT!

The Raptors were showing signs of fatigue even before the overtime period. The extra time showed just that, as the Raptors’ defense was half-a-step slow, not to mention failing to secure crucial boards. Griffin’s floater over Koloko gave the Hawks a 118-115 lead, and it took a while before the Raptors got something from their offense, with Barnes’ assist to Thad Young. Trae Young got Koloko on a switch the next play, pushing the Hawks’ lead to 120-117, while Koloko got fouled on the other end, splitting his freebies. The Raptors sent Trae Young to the line and he promptly made both, while the Hawks allowed Anunoby for a quick dunk with eight seconds left. De’Andre Hunter missed two freebies the other way, and the Raptors called for time to setup a kamikaze Anunoby drive, earning him a trip to the line to tie the game with less than four seconds left.

Neither side had a timeout left, but the raptors fell asleep as the Hawks inbounded the ball. About as bad a defensive breakdown as you’ll see had Young streaking away from four Raptors defenders with Griffin on the opposite side of him — leaving Anunoby with a 2-1 mismatch between Trae Young and Griffin. Griffin completed the easy alley-oop from Trae Young as time expired.

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Despite the heartbreaking loss, this is a good development for coach Nick Nurse and the Raptors. They are now starting to find better utilization of their bench, and the challenge for this coaching staff now comes down to how to put things together. Pascal Siakam was having a top-10, if not top-5 season prior to his injury, and Anunoby’s stepped up, playing like an all-star in his absence. Scottie Barnes is back, and we know what Fred VanVleet brings to the table. The way the bench stepped up tonight, they deserve a much longer look and a better integration into the rotation.

Up Next: The Raptors head home and rest until Wednesday, where they’ll face Yuta Watanabe and his Brooklyn Nets.

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