The Atlanta Hawks left Philips Arena on Friday night feeling good after getting just their third victory on the season in a comeback effort over the New York Knicks. The feeling would not last very far into the Saturday night match up with the Raptors as the visiting team would outscore their hosts 39-14 in the second quarter and would lead by as many as 45 points en route to a 112-87 win.
Entering the the contest, it would appear that the Hawks might have some amount of an advantage as they were playing their second night of a home back-to-back while the Raptors were on the second night of a road back-to-back. But Toronto was coming off of a tough loss on Friday night in Indiana as they came up three points short in a game in which the officials missed two critical foul calls on Pacers guard Lance Stephenson in the final two minutes. The Raptors seemed to come into Atlanta and take all of their frustration out on the Hawks.
Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey addressed the subject in his post-game comments. “We’ve had two tough losses,” he said. “In a 82-game schedule, you’re going to have that. I thought our guys responded well.”
The score looked manageable at the end of the first period as the Hawks trailed by three points. But the Raptors made 8 of their last 9 field goal attempts in the opening quarter and that would be a foreshadowing of the way that the rest of the game would go. The Toronto bench closed the final minutes of the first period strong and the Raptors would outscore the Hawks 84-53 in the final three periods.
“Credit to Toronto,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “In particular, their bench was phenomenal in the first half. Impressive effort by them, their competitiveness, their toughness.”
It wasn’t just one guy. The entire starting five for the Hawks were each a -20 or worse in individual box plus-minus. Additionally, Atlanta’s three leading players in minutes off of the bench were -12 or worse in the same statistic.
When you hear the narrative of the NBA teams with elite length, the Milwaukee Bucks are frequently the first squad to come up in conversation. But the Raptors demonstrated in this game that they can throw as much length at an opposing team as anyone. They entered second in the league in deflections per game. And while they were credited with 10 steals (just the Thunder average more than 10 steals per game) and three blocks they controlled the Hawks offensive rhythm the entire game with possession after possession of disruptive defensive play.
As a result, John Collins, who had been on a nice streak of effective games was not able to make the impact in this game that we have come to expect. He had just four points and two rebounds, both on the offensive end of the court. Additionally, Dewayne Dedmon made just 1 of his 6 field goal attempts in the paint. The Raptors dominated in points in the paint, 50-26.
On the points in the paint, Budenholzer said, “It felt like they had 50 points everywhere, they were shooting 64 percent at the half. They hit enough three’s to make you worried about that. They’re driving it, kicking it, driving it again. I feel like our defense - not just in the paint but everywhere - was not good enough for an NBA game tonight.”
A Miles Plumlee sighting
Miles Plumlee appeared for the Hawks for the first time in the regular season. He played just over nine minutes in the fourth quarter. The only event he had that registered in the box score was a single turnover. But his availability did allow the Hawks to sit Dedmon and play Collins less than two minutes in the final quarter.
DeAndre’ Bembry continues to ramp up his workload as he returns from an injured wrist. On Friday against the Knicks, he logged more than 16 minutes. Thus it was encouraging to see him put in more than 23 minutes on Saturday and he showed a few flashes of the defensive impact player and offensive creator he can be.
He comes from the weak side of the defensive formation on this play to reject the shot at the rim of 7-footer Jakob Poeltl to create a transition opportunity for the Hawks offense.
He did a nice job defensively on the all-star DeMar DeRozan who had just two points on five field goal attempts. On this play, he uses his length to deny the back door pass attempt to him and create another transition opportunity for his team.
This play looks simple. Bembry uses dribble penetration to create an uncontested lay up for Tyler Cavanaugh. The Hawks can use as much creation of high probability shots as they can get.
The Hawks get four days off before playing at home again against the Cleveland Cavaliers the team against whom they got their second victory of the season. Stay tuned.