The Atlanta Hawks completed a back-to-back on Wednesday night with a home tilt against the Toronto Raptors. Despite an overwhelmingly positive night from the offense, the home team could not generate the stops necessary to topple the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors, and as such, they were sent to the Thanksgiving holiday on the heels of a 126-115 defeat.
It was a largely back-and-forth start for both teams, but Toronto's DeMar DeRozan exploded out of the gate. The Raptors swingman scored 12 of the first 22 points for the visitors over the first eight minutes and while Paul Millsap tried to match him with two circus finishes of his own, Toronto held a small early advantage at 22-14.
The rest of the quarter was marred by sloppy play from Atlanta on both ends, and inexplicably, Tony Brothers assessed back-to-back technical fouls against DeMarre Carroll and Shelvin Mack to help Toronto extend their first quarter lead to 34-24. Toronto shot a blistering 73% from the field and 50% from long range in the quarter, and to be honest, it felt like a minor "win" to be down only 10 given those numbers.
Lou Williams, in all his glory, came out blazing against his former team. The South Gwinnett product scored 10 points (on 3 of 5 shooting) in his first 9 minutes of court time, and with some help from Greivis Vasquez, the Raptors zoomed to a 15-point lead midway through the second. Atlanta did manage to rally behind a big-time offensive spurt from Dennis Schröder (11 points, 3 assists in the first half) and a three-point barrage from Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague (four straight triples), and when Teague connected on a three-point play with 3:45 left in the second, the deficit was down to two at 54-52.
On cue, that burst was followed by 10-3 run by Toronto, but the Hawks did battle back at the very end of the half, closing within three points at 64-61 after a closing three by DeMarre Carroll. The half was marked by incredibly hot shooting on both sides, with Atlanta finishing at 58% from the floor and 62% from 3-point distance while the Raps shot 56% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc. It was an explosive half from Jeff Teague (17 points, 6 assists) and the offense to be sure, but Mike Budenholzer was surely cursing the lack of defensive attention in the locker room.
The second half began with a flurry from Al Horford, and that was encouraging to see. The big man scored the first six points of the third quarter, and along with Jeff Teague, he kept Atlanta afloat in the early going with eight of the first 10 points. It was a much more solid quarter from a defensive standpoint, holding Toronto to just 9 of 20 shooting (45%), and only a late three by Lou Williams kept the Raptors in front by a three-point margin.
Unfortunately, Greivis Vasquez took it upon himself to extend that disadvantage for Atlanta. Toronto's reserve point guard knocked down back-to-back triples to give himself 21 points in just 14 minutes of playing time (to that point), and when his mini-onslaught was over, the Hawks trailed by ten points at 103-93. The "good guys" would battle back a bit immediately following that push, as Carroll threw down a dunk and Horford finished off a mid-range jumper, but there was still an uphill battled to be waged at 105-99 with 6:27 remaining.
Horford continued his hot shooting by converting a mid-range jumper and a strong take against Toronto's interior defense, and when Korver put down two free throws with 4:45 left, the previously large lead was slimmed to just four. Sadly, Lou Williams seemed insistent on stealing the spotlight in his return, making a three on the next Toronto possession before extending the margin back to nine with two free throws at the 3:57 mark.
From there, Tony Brothers (again) took over. He assessed a questionable flagrant foul against Jeff Teague, leading to two free throws from Williams, and after the Raptors scored back-to-back buckets, the Hawks were stuck in a 13-point hole that would prove impossible to emerge from at that late stage.
It was a very big night from Al Horford, and that is, unquestionably, a positive sign. The big man accounted for 23 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists in 32 minutes, and it was great to see him take control offensively in an aggressive manner. Next to him, Jeff Teague was also brilliant at times, finishing with 24 points (for his fourth straight 20-point effort) and 12 assists, while Kyle Korver added 19 points of his own on 6-for-9 shooting overall and 4-for-6 from deep.
Sadly, the defense let the Atlanta Hawks down in this spot. For the game, the visiting Raptors shot 51% from the field and 48% from 3-point distance, and aside from some fluky performances (i.e. from Vasquez and Williams), there were plenty of defensive issues to go around. Mike Budenholzer's team will not have long to lick their wounds, as the Hawks are at home for another back-to-back on Friday and Saturday against New Orleans and Charlotte. Stay tuned to this space, but Atlanta will need much better work defensively in order to emerge with two victories.