After losing the season opener to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, the Hawks are aiming to recuperate and beat the Toronto Raptors in their first game at Philips Arena this season. To help preview the upcoming game against the Raptors, Adam Francis of Raptors HQ has shared his insight and answered some questions on the match-up.
Question (Daniel Christian): What's one thing the Raptors have to improve upon after their win over the Celtics if they want to beat the Hawks?
Answer (Adam Francis): Yikes. There's definitely more than one thing I could answer this question with but let's go with the offense for now. The club basically went one-on-five for the final eight minutes on Wednesday night and, while Rudy Gay scored in the bulk of said situations, that won't be the case every night, especially against teams with talent superior to Boston. Tonight I'll be watching to see if the ball sticks again.
Q: Rudy Gay is a controversial player in the NBA. Fans tend to think he has superstar potential, but a lot of bloggers aren't so keen on him. What's your assessment of his play overall and how do you see him faring against the Hawks in particular?
A: Gay is always a match-up problem for opposing clubs because he can score inside and out, is extremely long and athletic, enabling him to play a few different spots on the floor, and he can hit the three-point shot with regularity. The problem is, he doesn't always play to his strengths, thereby making him a liability at times on offense. That's probably the main narrative with Gay, and thus his ginormous contract becomes problematic. I think though he will have a big night against Atlanta because they simply don't have a player who can contain Gay's attributes.
Q: Where do you think the Raptors will hit the Hawks the hardest (i.e. what will be the Hawks' most difficult obstacle to overcome to secure a victory)? Also, where do you think the Hawks will hit the Raptors the hardest (i.e. what are the Raptors' primary weaknesses the Hawks may be able to exploit)?
A: I think this game could be a tale of two styles; the Hawks have the advantage up front with elite players like Millsap and Horford while the Raptors' backcourt of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and the aforementioned Gay will be a major headache for Atlanta. So I expect both teams to spearhead their attacks relying on these units.
Q: Who do you think wins the game and why?
A: In the end though, I think Toronto gets the win. I foresee a back-and-forth affair but I think the Raptors' eke out the W thanks to some big plays from guys like Gay and Lowry, and that is the difference.
My take: The Raptors and Hawks both have playoff aspirations this year, and both seem to have a realistic shot at slipping into the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. Steve Novak aside though, the Raptors don't have any wing players who serve as three-point threats. No player in the Toronto backcourt shot as good as 37% from three last year and, while the Raptors are stocked with athletic slashers, they don't have the same ability to bombard treys from on high like the Mavs did on Wednesday. I'd look for Atlanta to pack the paint in this one and focus primarily on stopping penetration, something neither Teague or Korver is especially good at.
Regardless of the aforementioned paint-packing, I think most would agree that the rotations need to be better than they were against Dallas. Toronto may not have as talented of three-point shooters, but if you keep giving NBA players wide-open looks, it will eventually bite you in the rear. Where this is particularly concerning is in the pick-and-pop/roll game. Teague will need to do a better job fighting through screens and Millsap will need to do a better job defending the big's next move if this team is to be successful.
Again, having said all that, this Raptors offense seems less potent than Dallas'. The Mavs were making everything, even the contested shots. We'll learn more about this defense tonight and over the next few weeks.