By Frank McLean
If you are a Toronto Raptors fan, you have to love Friday night’s 105-80 beat down of the Eastern Conference leading Hawks right in Atlanta. The victory gave Toronto a 3-1 win in the season series.
When they arrived in Atlanta, the Raptors were still reeling from 110-89 loss to the Hawks in Toronto on January 16th. In that game the Raptors totally forgot to play defense in the second half and gave the game to the Hawks by turning the ball over 19-times.
On Friday night they turned the tables. They closed the paint to the Hawks making life difficult for all-star guard Jeff Teague to drive to the hoop and Atlanta’s usually lethal 3-point shooting went ice cold.
Toronto led by just 4-points at halftime, but they held the Hawks to just 13-points in the third quarter and led by 19 going into the fourth. In other words this game was pretty much over.
The Hawks turned the ball over a shocking 23 times Friday night. As a team the Hawks were just 8-for-38 behind the 3-point line and Kyle Korver was as frigid as the winter weather on east coast going just 2-for-11. The Hawks find their success when sharing the ball, but Toronto’s defense held them to just 19-assists.
Raptors Head Coach Dwayne Casey was pleased with his team’s effort.
“Our defense, mainly starting in that third quarter, came out with an intensity we needed,” Casey said. “We were in the same spot we were in that game in Toronto, close for two quarters and then they came out and busted it open in the third. That was our challenge at halftime, not to let that happen. Our guys came out and dug in and met that challenge. That’s the way we have to play.”
Two other factors that played a major part in the Raptors win were DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams.
DeRozan wasn’t selected to this year’s All-Star team. He was there last year, but missing 21-games in the first half the season due to injury hurt his chances. Friday night he came out and scored the Raptors first 8-points of the game and finished with 21-points and 8-rebounds. He let people know that he is still one of the best guards in the NBA.
Atlanta native and former Hawk Williams reminded his old team that they made a mistake by trading him to Toronto. Williams scored a game-high 26-points and made a career-high 7 three-point shots on 10 attempts from beyond the arc. Back on November 26th, in the Raptors last visit to Atlanta, Williams chipped in with 22-points in that win. The Raptors are now 11-and -1 when Williams is Raptors leading scorer in a game and 16-and-3 when he scores at least 18-points.
You might think the Hawks wished they had a little Sweet Lou Friday night, but this really all goes back to the Raptors loss in January in Toronto. The Raptors were embarrassed at home and there was a little payback this time around. They were not going to let it happen two times in a row, but as Casey always says, “today’s game is just one-in-82.”
So it’s on to Houston Saturday night and the Raptors first of two meetings this year with the Rockets and NBA’s leading scorer James Harden. Friday night was the start of four games in five nights on the road and 9-of-11 away from the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre.
Toronto is now 16-8 on the road this season and they will have to keep playing a stifling defensive road game if they want to have any success in this year’s playoffs.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.
You got to hand it to the Milwaukee Bucks. A team that was considered a major rebuilding project at the start of the season with a brand new coach in Jason Kidd, not much was expected from this club, but after their 82-75 win in Toronto Monday night over the Raptors, they have now racked off 4-straight wins. – Frank McLean