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Toronto Raptors vs Atlanta Hawks Score: 126-125 Hawks outlast Raptors, but not for lack of effort

The bench showed up in a big way, it just wasn’t enough as they drop their fifth straight

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors started off their six game road trip with a back-and-forth battle to the finish against the Atlanta Hawks.

In rather sub-par circumstances for the Raptors, injury trouble saw a number of players, including Jakob Poeltl, RJ Barrett, and Immanuel Quickley spending the game on the bench. With extra minutes available for those who were able to suit up, the effort and energy was evident throughout the matchup and helped contribute to the strong performance by the Raptors.

Unfortunately, turnovers and second chance points were the biggest shortfall, and while it’s a tough loss, especially with the incredible effort that the Raptors put forth, there are plenty of positive takeaways as we continue to watch the team develop and think about what it will look like in the future.

After splitting the first two games of the season, this was the first matchup where Atlanta would be facing the new roster. On a four game losing skid and after being on the receiving end of Luka Doncic’s 73-point masterpiece, it was obvious that the Hawks wanted a win.

Atlanta started with possession, setting the tone early with a lob pass from Trae Young to Clint Capela for a poster over top of Scottie Barnes. Of course, Scottie responded quickly, finding Thaddeus Young underneath for an easy shot.

The tie didn’t last for very long though, with the undermanned Raptors starting to make mistakes on defence. Miscommunications and some savvy off-ball movement from the Hawks found them wide open in the paint for a number of emphatic dunks early on.

Toronto was able to stay in the mix for a little while, with Gary Trent Jr. hitting a pair of 3-pointers, topping it off with a nice take to the rim. After a timeout by the Raptors, the Hawks were able to go on an 8-0 run, creating a deficit that the Raptors weren’t able to overcome.

Substitutions late in the quarter brought the bench on, with Jontay Porter demonstrating some of the reasons the Raptors decided to take a chance on him. With back to back 3s and some impressive defence in the paint, the Raptors were able to prevent any further separation, ending the quarter 34-26.

In the second quarter, the bench continued to deliver, with Jordan Nwora cashing in 5 points in the first minute of the frame, putting the Hawks on their heels. Gradey Dick delivered from the stripe and beyond the arc as well, helping the Raptors build an incremental lead.

Changes in the defensive schemes helped reduce a number of the opportunities the Hawks had in the first quarter, preventing any easy shots, especially inside the paint. Scottie returned to the floor, helping facilitate the offense, finding Chris Boucher for an and-one, and continuing to show why he’s going to be such an important part of the franchise moving forward.

Gradey and Jordan continued to deliver, and by the time they both checked out, they had 7 and 11 points respectively. The starters returned to the floor, now with a seemingly renewed sense of energy and defensive effort, but were certainly a little bit less organized, prompting Darko to tweak the lineup, hoping to answer the Hawks’ effort as the quarter started to close.

Despite losing a number of opportunities on the offensive end, the Hawks also struggled to convert, so Toronto was able to hang on to a narrow 4-point lead on the way into the locker room.

After the break, the Raptors’ intensity looked far better, with Scottie aggressive down low in the first few possessions. His presence in the paint intimated the Hawks, and their defensive coverage of him allowed Toronto to get open and convert.

The Hawks weren’t going away though, inching closer during a stretch where Toronto struggled to make a basket. A number of whistles pulled some of the energy from the game, and with the Hawks making it a tie, Toronto needed time to regroup, especially now that Atlanta was in the bonus with over 7 minutes left in the quarter.

Once Atlanta established a lead, the Raptors woke up a little bit, with Scottie leading the charge on offense to get it back for Toronto. The rest of the quarter was back and forth, with consecutive breakaways and shots made by both teams.

A couple of calls late found Trae Young and Saddiq Bey at the line, but the Raptors were able to stay within one possession after a crafty move by Scottie to end the quarter 97-95 in favour of the Hawks.

Atlanta started the quarter with a buzzer-beating layup and a high floater off the glass, which was enough for Darko to call timeout.

After allowing 40 points in the previous frame, it’s more than likely the coaching staff called for a more engaged defence, not unlike what we saw in the second quarter. The Raps responded, making defensive adjustments and moving the ball to erase the deficit, but it wasn’t enough to stop Atlanta from building a healthy lead halfway through the frame, as the Raptors again struggled to find their offence as their shots stopped falling.

Credit to Raps though, because rather than giving in, they started to slowly chip away at the lead once again. Dennis Schroder helped settle them down and made a number of crafty plays, but eventually fouled out of the game on a call that ended in an unsuccessful challenge.

In the fading seconds, Gary Trent Jr. was able to drill a 3-point shot that put Toronto up, but Atlanta responded, with free throws and a high floater, regaining the lead. With under 30 seconds, no fouls to give, and no remaining timeouts, the Raptors drew up a play.

At first, it looked like it could not have possibly gone worse, with heavy contact resulting in no call, Dick missing the second chance opportunity, and then Atlanta gaining possession, but Nwora forced Trae Young to turn the ball and with both Dick and Barnes following the play, an easy dunk for Scottie put the Raptors back up.

Unfortunately, with more than 7 seconds left, Atlanta drew up a play during their timeout that saw Saddiq Bey cashing in on a putback dunk that buried the Raptors, seeing them fall by a single point.

On a night like tonight, where so many of the main guys are missing from the line up, you have to bet on the bench to make winning plays and contribute.

Toronto really couldn’t have asked for more, with incredible defensive energy and effort that brought the Raptors alive late in the first and at the start the second. They set the tone that truly felt like the only reason Toronto was competitive at all in this matchup.

Some of the most encouraging contributions were from Jordan Nwora, who finished with 24-9-6, Gradey Dick who had one of his best games so far posting 15-5-3 and Jontay Porter with 12-7-3. With all the changes to the roster and a lot of decisions left to be made with the new direction of the team, it’s nice to see some early returns from the new guys. The entire bench posted a positive +/- and contributed handily to this game with 56 of the points in this matchup.

Another perhaps more controversial theme from this game was the continuation of Scottie vs. the refs, a story that has been building for most of the season, peaked following the matchup with the Lakers, and has since continued.

Throughout the game, there were a number of possessions that Scottie felt he should’ve been given a call, but with the whistle staying quiet, his frustration built. It eventually bubbled up to the point that Scottie committed a take foul to have a conversation with the refs.

Of course it’s a matter of opinion on whether or not he really was fouled, but some of them certainly felt like they could’ve been. It’s not uncommon that certain players in the league get the benefit of the doubt, especially when there’s considerable contact, so it will be interesting to see if as Scottie continues to grow and develop as a franchise player, whether he starts to get those calls.

While not the desired outcome, the Raptors will have to take the high notes from this game and channel that into the next game as the road trip continues on Tuesday, Jan. 30 against the Chicago Bulls. Tune in at 8pm on Sportsnet.