DeMar DeRozan Scores 34 Points, but Toronto Raptors Fall to Atlanta Hawks 125-121
TORONTO — Like a winning boxer anticipating a far tougher rematch, the Raptors knew the Atlanta Hawks would come out throwing overhand rights on Friday night.
The team knew what was coming after drilling the Hawks by 44 points at the ACC recently, yet still couldn’t dodge the flurry. Or maybe it was too many Raptors players ducking out of the way, period, as the Hawks scored at will and hauled in every rebound in sight?
“That’s going to be a totally different team then we played a week ago,” DeMarre Carroll said in Philadelphia a couple of nights prior. “After losing at home (to Orlando on Tuesday and giving up 131 points), I know Coach (Mike Budenholzer) got on them. Me knowing him, they’re going to come out of the gates and play real hard.”
And sure enough, the Hawks took it right at the Raptors in a 125-121 victory that didn’t seem as close as the score indicated.
Kyle Lowry was brilliant (6-for-8 from three for 27 points), DeMar DeRozan added 34, but it wasn’t nearly enough, as the Hawks simply competed at a different level than a home side that had won 10-of-11 games heading in.
Atlanta had a 44-28 rebounding advantage (including a telling 15-8 edge on the offensive boards)), scored 16 more points in the paint and scored 36 second chance points to 14 by Toronto.
Whether the Raptors went big or small, there was no answer for Dwight Howard (27 points, 15 rebounds) or Paul Millsap 14, five and four assists, who had been injured for the prior meeting.
“Oh, he’s an all-star, he’ll change that whole team up,” Carroll, the ex-Hawk starter had predicted of Millsap, his close friend.
Millsap did just that, making life easier for an engaged Howard and for everybody else.
The Hawks lived on the offensive glass and consistently came away with the ball when they needed to, notably, when Kent Bazemore grabbed one that led to a layup and an eight-point Atlanta lead, instead of Toronto going the other way with a chance to make it a one-possession game inside of the final three minutes.
Atlanta built up a lead as large as 19 points and was able to hold on when Toronto finally showed up for the bout.
The Raptors hit 10 more three-pointers (on 48 per cent shooting) and came in leading the NBA or ranking in the top three of many offensive categories. The team has already scored at least 120 points in eight games, the second-most in a season in franchise history.
The visiting Hawks helped usher in this era of enhanced offence a couple of seasons ago, with head coach Budenholzer bringing over some of the tricks of the trade he learned in San Antonio.
The Spurs had blitzed the Miami Heat on the way to an NBA title using a “pace-and-space” attack which spread the floor with shooters. The 2014-15 Hawks then raced out to 60 wins, leading the NBA in passes and nailing 818 threes, which heading into that season had only been topped by five other teams in history.
Budenholzer said pre-game that this is a copycat league, with teams going with what has worked in the past. Dwane Casey agreed.
“I think it’s a prettier game. It’s easier to look at it more so than the old bump and grind, two players in the parking lot,” Casey said.
“Somewhere the analytical gods are smiling,” he added, in a nod to the statistical mavens who favour three-point shooting and shots at the rim above all other attempts. “The game has changed . . . 10 years ago you would’ve said is a bad shot today is a good shot, getting as many threes up – good threes, quality threes up as you can. So the league is going that way. There’s more players shooting threes now, different types of players, not only (swingmen) but (power forwards and centres) are now shooting threes.”
Casey said that no matter how offences evolve, his focus remains elsewhere.
“I’ll always believe in it because I know that you’ve got to play some semblance of defence to win big in this league,” he said. “There’s going to be nights where those shots are not going to fall and in playoff basketball the game slows down and you don’t have as many possessions and as many shots . . . Usually in the playoffs the possessions go down, the foul calls go down and the scores go down.”
But we aren’t even a third of the way through the regular season yet, so, for the next while, it will continue to be bombs away for the Raptors and just about everybody else.