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Hawks fall in tight road contest in Toronto, 104-101

A valiant effort for the short-handed Hawks.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were not expected to challenge, much less defeat, the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday evening. The good folks in Las Vegas installed the Hawks as massive underdogs and, in general, the team had a “nobody believes in us” feel before tip-off. For 48 minutes, however, the Hawks were wildly competitive and the Raptors needed every bit of regulation to escape with a 104-101 victory over Atlanta.

The early going was sloppy on both ends but, in stark contrast to Atlanta’s last face-off with a top-tier opponent, the Hawks were able to hang around. In fact, there were some nice moments, including an eye-popping dunk from John Collins.

One of the headline stories of the evening was the potential that Vince Carter could be making his final trip to Toronto and, in appropriate fashion, the home crowd welcomed the future Hall of Famer with a big-time ovation.

On the court, Carter also contributed, knocking down a three to cap what was a 10-2 run from the Hawks.

That spurt gave Atlanta the early lead and, despite immediate resistance from the Raptors, the Hawks were able to close strong and take a three-point lead into the second period. Jeremy Lin was a significant bright spot in the opening frame, scoring 10 points on perfect shooting, and the Raptors failed to convert a single three-point field goal to aid in the visiting team’s advantage.

The second quarter was an exercise in back-and-forth basketball, with the two teams exchanging runs. Atlanta briefly pushed the lead to seven early in the period before Toronto slashed it back to one in short order. On cue, the Hawks then used a 10-3 run to take their largest lead at 47-39 and... the Raptors soon followed suit with a 9-0 spurt of their own to reclaim the lead.

In the end, the Hawks took a one-point lead into halftime and that was both surprising and impressive. The Raptors made 6 of 9 three-point attempts in the second quarter but the Hawks were able to withstand that push by forcing turnovers and generally operating in an effective offensive manner.

Coming out of the break, the Hawks had a sluggish start, prompting a timeout from Lloyd Pierce just 72 seconds into the third quarter. Fortunately, the damage was minimal, though, and Atlanta scored six straight points after the stoppage, punctuated by a steal from DeAndre’ Bembry and a lay-up from Lin in transition.

The Raptors did bounce back, though, tying the game on a Kyle Lowry three at the 6:20 mark and generally playing positive basketball. The Hawks struggled offensively when the home team tossed out a zone defense and, while Atlanta did compete down the stretch of the third period, the Raptors used an 11-2 run to grab relative control and took a three-point lead with 12 minutes remaining.

In the fourth, things started with a bang, as the Hawks connected on a lob dunk on the opening trip.

The Raptors then threatened to run away a bit before two missed free throws at the 10:23 mark kept Atlanta’s deficit at a manageable five points. The Hawks then scored seven straight, re-taking the lead at 88-86, and that forced a timeout from the Raptors with 8:20 to go.

Things then reset with six minutes remaining, with the game tied and the Hawks in a legitimate battle against one of the best teams in the NBA. From there, it was a see-saw battle all the way to the final buzzer.

In fast-forwarding to crunch time, the Hawks held a 101-100 lead after a layup from OG Anunoby with 1:57 remaining. Dewayne Dedmon then missed a three from the top of the key but, in what appeared to be a godsend, Lowry clanked a wide open three of his own (on the subsequent possession) after a kick-out from Leonard. After an empty trip for the Hawks, Leonard missed a three but, shortly thereafter, Bembry turned the ball over and the Raptors worked the ball to Serge Ibaka for a go-ahead dunk with 17.1 seconds left.

The Hawks then called timeout but, when play commenced, Trae Young couldn’t shake Leonard on the way to the rim, missing the would-be go-ahead attempt. Toronto then executed an outlet pass for an insurance dunk and that was the final blow in the three-point final margin.

All told, it was an incredibly impressive effort from the Hawks, particularly on the defensive end. Atlanta’s offense wasn’t anything to write home about and, in fact, the team committed a season-high-27 turnovers. Still, this was a “kitchen sink” effort from the visiting squad and it nearly resulted in a win.

Collins and Lin led the way for the Hawks, with the second-year big man tallying 21 points and 14 rebounds, while the veteran guard scored 20 points and dished out nine assists. Elsewhere, Young scored 19 points, grabbed five rebounds and provided five assists, with Bembry stuffing the stat sheet to the tune of 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals.

The Hawks will face a quick turnaround after leaving Toronto, with a road game on the docket against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. Stay tuned.