Five thoughts recap: Atlanta Hawks 121, Toronto Raptors 120

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At first, last night’s game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Toronto Raptors looked awful. Both teams looked rusty and neither seemed to want to play D. And the shorthanded Raptors looked like they wouldn’t put up much of a fight against the Hawks, falling behind by as many as 19 points in the second quarter.

Then things turned around and the Raptors suddenly looked like the better team, dominating the third to take the lead and pushing that lead to 15 midway through the fourth. They were well on their way to a win… until they ran out of steam and gave up a 28-8 run to close the game, one that ended on a Tony Snell three-pointer as time expired.

So, on the one hand, that’s a tough loss to handle. But on the other: what, really, did any of us expect? The Raptors are still missing three starters (not to mention most of the coaching staff), and have a week of accumulated rust, and as such, a subpar performance was somewhat expected.

That doesn’t make the ending suck any less though.

1. Not Enough Firepower

Nick Nurse opted to start last night’s game with, essentially, a three-man disadvantage on offense. Aron Baynes, DeAndre’ Bembry and Stanley Johnson are not real offensive threats, putting a lot of pressure on Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell to pick up the slack. That’s a tall ask.

And, uh, it’s not like Bembry, Baynes and Johnson were locking it down on D, either, as the Raptors once again gave up a huge first quarter (40 points).

I get that there aren’t a lot options when three of your best players are out. And on the one hand, I get the logic — you want some scoring on the bench too, hence why Chris Boucher didn’t get the start.

But on the other hand, the “play your best players the most” option tends to win out in my mind!

2. Baynes on Both Ends

Aron Baynes had a classic “trick or treat” game last night, wherein he did several good things (cleaned up some misses near the rim, blocked some shots, took a charge) but offset them with just as many bad things (several layups fired off the backboard, stuck out of position on the defensive glass, incredibly poor spacing in the half court offense and some brutally bad pick-and-roll defense late).

Still, he ended up with his first double double as a Raptor, so I’ll give him some credit; he also had a nice sequence at the end of the first half, blocking Trae Young at the rim on one end and then racing down to put back a Kyle Lowry miss on the other.

Chris Boucher still shoulda started though. 30 minutes is a lot for Baynes — I’d rather see him around 20.

3. Swing Music

Who doesn’t love a little ball movement?

For whatever reason I feel like we haven’t seen as much of this from the Raptors this year. Is it the absence of Marc Gasol? Fewer offensive weapons, giving defenses the opportunity to hone in on scorers? Probably a bit of both.

4. Stanley Nearly Did It

I may have called him “not a real offensive threat” above, but how about Stanley Johnson keeping the Raptors in the game late with his three point shooting?

Stanimal broke out the headband for this one, a new look for him, and it didn’t seem to be doing much for him early as he looked a step slow on the court. But he picked it up on both ends in the second half, and the confidence with which he knocked down those two late threes… well, it was damn-near inspiring. Johnson is now shooting 41.8% from downtown through 33 games played, which is 10 percentage points higher than his previous career mark. And although that’s only on 1.7 attempts per game, he’s only playing 14 minutes a game — per 36, that’s over four attempts per game. Again, it’s inspiring.

Unfortunately, last night’s big makes will be lost to time, thanks to…

5. Bad Collapse

Trae Young, obviously, is a massive threat, from anywhere on the floor. But I’m not sure the entire Raptors defense needed to converge on him once he got inside the three point line on the final play.

After all, you don’t need a genius-level basketball IQ to know that the last thing you want to do on D, when up two on the final possession, is give up an open three. And yet!

When Young got the step on Johnson after a switch, Lowry had to help off of Snell, and he and Johnson effectively had Young bottled up. But both Chris Boucher and DeAndre’ Bembry shaded over unnecessarily.

If Young had spun a half-second sooner, he’d have seen Danilo Gallinari open above the break as DAndre Bembry helped down; Bembry had enough time to recover, but the only guy who didn’t help was Powell, and he got stuck in no man’s land when Kevin Huerter made a cut, and instead of Norm trying to guard two guys (Snell and Huerter) he was guarding precisely no one when Young found Snell.

Basically I think Lowry and Johnson played the sequence well (and Johnson was the only player to recognize Snell was open and made a valiant attempt to contest) but Powell probably deserves the lion’s share of the blame — which is a shame because he carried the team on offense for much of the night.

*******

It’s another dumb loss in this dumb (and seemingly unending) season. Does any of this even matter? It barely felt like real basketball before, with empty or near-empty arenas and the Raptors playing in Tampa. Now, after three games without Fred, Pascal and OG, not to mention most of the coaching staff, with a whole week off in there too, it feels like some bizarro world version of basketball that shouldn’t even count. Why are they playing? Why are we watching? I don’t even know anymore.

So, uh… see you Saturday?