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Late comeback bid falls just short as Hawks fall to Raptors, 122-117

Toronto Raptors v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With few exceptions, the Atlanta Hawks host an annual contest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, in short, it is always a date to circle on the team’s calendar. 2020 was no different, with the Hawks welcoming the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors to town for an afternoon battle. Given Atlanta’s shaky performance in a blowout home loss at the hands of the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, there was likely a bit of additional urgency for the home team and, for three quarters, that was evident. The closing period belonged to the visiting Raptors, however and, despite a valiant comeback attempt, the Hawks fell by a final score of 122-117.

Before tip-off, an off-court highlight occurred with the always fantastic choir intros of Atlanta’s starting five.

When the game started, though, the early returns weren’t strong for the Hawks. Toronto zoomed to a 7-0 run out of the gate, with Atlanta committing two turnovers and the Raptors snaring three offensive rebounds in the first 91 seconds.

There was improvement coming and a lot of it came from Trae Young, with the lead guard racking up five assists in the first nine minutes and knocking down triples to boot.

The Raptors did use a 12-2 run late in the quarter to take a double-figure lead to the second period, but Atlanta’s shooting would keep them engaged. In fact, the Hawks scored eight straight points to climb within three, including a pair of threes from Kevin Huerter.

From there, De’Andre Hunter got into the act with a pair of long-distance connections, and the Hawks buried four threes as a team in the first five minutes of the quarter.

Overall, the Hawks opened the second quarter on a 23-9 run to reclaim the lead, with the defense also doing its part in holding the Raptors without a point for more than four full minutes.

The rest of the half featured the two teams trading blows, but the Hawks took a three-point lead into the locker room. Young led the way with 15 points and 10 assists prior to halftime, but it was Atlanta’s defensive uptick in the second quarter that was partially responsible for the scoreboard advantage.

Out of the halftime break, the Hawks came out firing, using a 10-4 run to claim their largest lead to that point at 70-61.

The rest of the quarter was a significant struggle, with only faint signs of life. Vince Carter did contribute a three-pointer and a blocked shot, leaving the Hawks with an eight-point lead.

The Hawks then battled a scoring drought and, late in the period, Toronto used a 12-1 run to take the lead. Fortunately, Atlanta’s foibles came with the lead and, even with the letdown, the Hawks were in a winning position as the fourth quarter arrived.

Toronto threw a haymaker to open the closing period, however, scoring the first six points and prompting a timeout from Lloyd Pierce. At that juncture, the Raptors had accumulated an 18-3 overall run and the Hawks suddenly trailed by seven points with 10:30 to go.

Following a timeout, Cam Reddish knocked down a (much) needed three-pointer and, after two free throws from Young, the Hawks were back within two at 89-87. The Raptors responded in kind, though, with Norman Powell hitting three consecutive three-pointers to put Toronto in a commanding position with an 11-point edge.

Reddish did make a layup to halt the onslaught momentarily but, after Serge Ibaka converted a three-pointer and Powell buried another triple, the Hawks were essentially dead with a 107-91 deficit and less than six minutes remaining. Toronto then extended the margin to 21 points and that looked to be the point of doom.

The Hawks then (somehow) cut the lead to 114-107 on a four-point play by Young with 1:39 to go, bringing life to the proceedings.

With the Raptors melting down against pressure defense from Atlanta, Young scored four more points in three (yes, three) seconds and the Hawks were within a single possession at 114-111. Toronto finally stabilized, ceasing the monsoon of turnovers, but the Hawks were still able to slash the margin to two with 34.5 seconds remaining. The back-breaker then arrived when Collins fouled out on a three-shot foul against VanVleet, who knocked down the trio of free throws to put Toronto up 120-115 with 14.2 seconds left.

Individually, Young led the way for Atlanta, scoring 42 points (including 18 of 21 from the free throw line) and dishing out a season-high 15 assists. Collins notched a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, with Hunter (11 points, six rebounds), Reddish (13 points, eight rebounds) and Fernando (12 points, four rebounds) making substantial contributions.

After a day off on Tuesday, the Hawks will return to action at State Farm on Wednesday evening when the team plays host to the L.A. Clippers.

Stay tuned.