The Atlanta Hawks (20-45) flew north to face the Toronto Raptors (46-17) Tuesday, a matchup between two organizations on opposite ends of the NBA’s competitive spectrum. Toronto opened the night with a tight grip on the first place seed in the Eastern Conference, while Atlanta sat tied for 13th with the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic.
The first-place Raptors looked to complete the 4-0 season sweep of Atlanta, while the latter looked to get a young roster valuable experience against another great opponent.
Toronto entered the night with best offensive net rating in the East (4th overall, 110.9), as well as the third best defensive net rating in the NBA (102.6). Comparatively, Atlanta came into tonight’s game 26th in offense (103.3) and 22nd in defense (107.7).
Yet, if you watched the first three quarters, you would have never imagined such a disparity between the teams existed. The Hawks jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead in the opening moments of the game due to a Kent Bazemore three and a John Collins fast break jam. Atlanta proceeded to lead for almost the entire first quarter, finishing the opening period with a 28-27 lead.
The Raptors took the lead back on the first possession of the second quarter and kept it until the Hawks exploded on a 13-2 run behind two threes from Prince and one from Bazemore to take a seven point lead with under five minutes remaining in the half.
Things got a bit heated in the final minutes of the second as All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan both picked up technical fouls for their outspoken displeasure with the officiating.
The Hawks capped off the period with a one point lead due to a late Mike Muscala free throw from DeRozan’s technical, despite 11 first half turnovers. Toronto shot 8-for-24 (33 percent) from the three point line for the half and went to the locker room frustrated, to say the least.
Taurean Prince had nine points at the break while Bazemore had eight points on 100 percent shooting with two steals at half. DeRozan led the way for the Raptors with ten first half points.
As expected, Toronto came out of the tunnel attacking the basket. DeRozan opened the second half with a tough and-one layup, followed by another acrobatic finish after a Hawks turnover. Lowry cut to the basket after yet another Hawks giveaway for an easy two prompting Atlanta Coach Mike Budenholzer to call a quick timeout in efforts to halt the 7-0 run.
Atlanta came out of the timeout on a 6-0 run to tie the score at 57. Both teams spent chunks of the the first six minutes of the third with the lead before DeRozan began getting to the rim at will possession after possession, a tactic he has mastered over the years. Whether he was getting fouled or soaring past the defense for a dunk or layups, the Hawks, like the rest of the league, could not keep him out of the paint.
Elsewhere in the third, there was what many viewed as a dirty play, with Kyle Lowry being assessed a flagrant foul for a hack on John Collins. In fact, Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney (out with injury) shared his displeasure on Twitter.
That’s a dirty ass play...— malcolm delaney (@foe23) March 7, 2018
DeRozan finished the third with 12 points, going 5-for-7 from the free throw line in the period. Toronto shot 16 free throws as a team in the period, making 14, but the Hawks closed the quarter on a 8-2 run to take a one point lead (77-76) into the fourth.
Bazemore sailed to the basket for a smooth finish off of the glass, extending the Hawk lead to three to open the fourth. The Raptors responded with a 12-4 run to recapture the lead heading into the middle of the quarter, prompting a Hawks timeout. Atlanta struggled as Toronto’s defense led them to a 95-85 lead with four minutes left in the contest.
A game clinching 16-0 Toronto run proved to be the difference in the game, as the Hawks battled the heavily favored Raptors closely for over three quarters. Atlanta’s efforts did not go unnoticed but the talent gap finally bled through to the scoreboard down the stretch, with Toronto taking the 106-90 victory.
DeRozan led a balanced Toronto attack with 25 points and four assists while Valanciunas added 15 points and seven rebounds. C.J. Miles also had 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
Bazemore and Collins led the way with 14 points a piece for Atlanta. Dedmon posted a double-double with 12 points and ten rebounds.
Toronto certainly had to work harder than they expected to earn their 46th win of the season, while Atlanta has played two hard fought games against top competition in the past five days (last Friday vs. Golden State).
The Hawks will be back in action in Indiana Friday night for another match-up with the Pacers, who they beat in Atlanta on Feb. 28.