Between the usual injuries, a lack of practice time, being stranded in Indiana for a period of time and getting to Atlanta late (not to mention a 13-34 team playing on the road against one of the East’s better teams), this was one of the very few nights I would actually accept excuses from the young Raptors.
But in the first quarter, you would have a hard time faulting Toronto’s effort. The Raptors were in a close game for the entire first period, getting solid contributions from most of their bodies. On the (sore) back of Amir Johnson, who led the way with eight points and four rebounds in the first 12 minutes, the Raps looked to head to the second down 25-24, before a Joe Johnson buzzer-beater sent them to the second quarter down four.
If there was one thing you could complain about throughout the first half, it was the usual piss-poor Raptors defence. As usual, a mix between man-to-man and zone defence did nothing to slow down the efficient Hawks, who shot 57 per cent in the first half. Atlanta deserves credit more than the Raps deserve to be dumped on though, as the Hawks did a fabulous job of sharing the ball, racking up 17 assists on 24 made field goals in that first half.
The combination of a big night from Joe Johnson, their lights out offence and the defensive post presence of Al Horford, Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia made it easy for the Hawks to slowly run away with the ball game, and they headed into halftime up nine.
The third quarter was difficult to get a read on. It seemed like the Raptors were being outplayed, out-hustled and about to be run out of the gym. They trailed by as many as 12 at one point. And yet you looked at the score after three and realized that in the end, Toronto had actually made a dent in the deficit over the course of the quarter.
Regardless of how close the game was (75-69) heading into the fourth, or how close the Raptors had kept it for most of the night, you knew, or at least should have known, that an inevitable (13th straight) loss was on its way. Maybe you didn’t see it getting as large as an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but you knew where this was going.
Overall, I though the Raptors’ effort, considering the circumstances, was alright, and they ultimately lost a road game to a much better team. However, a couple of glaring negatives stuck out for me.
First, what the hell is wrong with Andrea Bargnani? Fine, we already knew his effort was inconsistent and his game was frustrating, but we also knew he could flat out score, even on an off night. So the fact his shot (4-of-12 tonight) and overall scoring has gone missing for a solid month has to be concerning. If he’s not scoring, then what in God’s name can Andrea do on the floor? And if I hear Jay Triano continue to talk about how he’s been banged up or playing too many minutes as an excuse instead of calling out the faltering big man, I may just puke.
If you needed a sequence of events to summarize Andrea’s recent play, it came in the third quarter. Bargnani missed a runner, actually did what we want him to do and grabbed his own rebound, then proceeded to miss a 10-foot jumper that hit the side of the rim. Yeah, you get the point.
Sonny Weems, the only Raptor even close to being as frustrating to watch as Bargnani, continued to make a mockery of the coaching staff with a selfish 5-of-14 night that still “earned” him 33 minutes.
In the month before his injury and the string of games since, Weems has made far too many poor decisions on the floor and is playing me-first basketball, which doesn’t mesh with a young team trying to grow together. Honestly, D-Leaguer Trey Johnson has a much higher basketball IQ than Weems. If this is what Matt Devlin meant when he shouted “Sonny’s back!” in the first quarter, then yes indeed, Sonny is back.
Another negative was seeing Jerryd Bayless, one of the few guys bringing a consistent effort, go down with a sprained knee. If Bayless misses time, and Barbosa isn’t back yet, will we see the return of Sundiata Gaines, or will Julian Wright fill in as a point-forward?
On to the positives of the night. No Raptor shone brighter than Amir Johnson, who continued his recent hot streak with a 20-point, 13-rebound performance that included him hitting his first seven shots. Amir’s emergence over the last week or so and his ability to avoid foul trouble might be the best thing we’ve seen during this ugly streak.
Another thing I liked tonight was seeing DeMar DeRozan turn a negative into a positive. DeRozan looked to be in store for another rough night at the office as he struggled through foul trouble in the first half. But give the 21-year-old credit. He came alive in the second half and finished with 16 points on a respectable 8-of-17 shooting, though his lack of free throw attempts was definitely a concern.
While some of the problem is just DeMar hitting a wall, you have to wonder how much of it has to do with Weems’ return to the lineup and starting five. The two may be best friends off of the court, but it’s painfully clear to see that Weems takes a lot of DeRozan’s shots and space away on the floor.
Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson -40 Min, 20 Pts, 8-11 FG, 4-4 FT, 13 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 Blk
Hawks Player of the Game: Joe Johnson -39 Min, 37 Pts, 15-21 FG, 5-8 3Pt, 2-3 FT, 2 Reb, 8 Ast
Goat of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 27 Min, 12 Pts, 4-12 FG, 0-2 3Pt, 4-4 FT, 5 Reb, 1 TO