Here are 10 takeaways from the Raptors’ 121-120 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. To receive 10 things, the latest Raptors Over Everything podcast and full postgame reaction in your inbox the morning after every game, subscribe to the Yahoo Sports Raptors Reaction Newsletter.
One — Gutted: In a heartbreaking season for the Raptors, this one hurts the most. The undermanned Raptors battled out of a 19-point deficit, took a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter, only to lose it at the final buzzer. And it wasn’t Trae Young, or any of the Hawks’ flashy offseason signings that hit the game-winner, it just had to be journeyman forward Tony Snell — who inexplicably has a history of burning the Raptors — to nail the final three. There were regrettable moments, and the Raptors really have nobody to blame other than themselves, but this rag-tag group played well enough to win, only to come up empty. That has been the motto of the entire season.
Two — Unfortunate: Two of the most crucial mistakes in the final minute were committed by Norman Powell. The first was that he missed two free throws with 56 seconds left. That was shocking considering that Powell is hitting 90 percent from the line on the season, and that he made all five attempts in this game before missing the two most important looks. The second mistake was on the final possession, where the Raptors specifically said no threes as they were protecting a two-point lead, only for Powell to slide down to the paint to cover a smart cut from Kevin Huerter, which is the right play 95 percent of the time, except that left Snell wide open from three.
Three — Unfair: To Chris Boucher‘s breakout season continues as he easily outplayed both Capela and John Collins as the best big on the floor. Boucher is entirely comfortable in the offense, so much so that it’s no longer a surprise to see him finish with 29 points in 30 minutes. The Raptors rarely run plays specifically for Boucher to shoot, mostly because he instinctively knows where to be. Lowry was feeding Boucher on rolls to the rim, the lob pass over the top made for easy finishes for Boucher, and of course the pick-and-pop three always seems to deliver when the Raptors are in a tight moment. The next step for Boucher is to be more solid on defense. He bit on too many pump fakes from Young, Danilo Gallinari, and even Solomon Hill, which landed him in foul trouble and limited his effectiveness. When his defensive instincts matches his offense, that’s when Boucher will start. talent gap there.
Four — Exhaustive: Chris Boucher’s breakout season continues as he easily outplayed both Capela and John Collins as the best big on the floor. Boucher is entirely comfortable in the offense, so much so that it’s no longer a surprise to see him finish with 29 points in 30 minutes. The Raptors rarely run plays specifically for Boucher to shoot, mostly because he instinctually knows where to be. Lowry was feeding Boucher on rolls to the rim, the lob pass over the top made for easy finishes for Boucher, and of course the pick-and-pop three always seems to deliver when the Raptors are in a tight moment. The next step for Boucher is to be more solid on defense. He bit on too many pump fakes from Young, Danilo Gallinari, and even Solomon Hill, which landed him in foul trouble and limited his effectiveness. When his defensive instincts match his offense, that’s when Boucher will start.
Five — Clutch: Stanley Johnson is another player in the mold of Boucher, where his overeagerness cuts into his overall productivity. Johnson likes to set the tone by playing physical defense, but he doesn’t have any pedigree with the officials so it only lands him in foul trouble. Johnson was limited in the first half after picking up three fouls in short succession, but he did play a role late in the game, knocking down two catch-and-shoot threes after Powell had collapsed the defense. It’s clear that Johnson doesn’t lack for confidence, and his improved three-point shot is his meal ticket to extending his career. The defense is there, especially when he finds the right balance between aggression and exuberance, and he’s also quietly hitting over 40 percent of his threes.
Six — Solid: On paper, this looked like a horrible matchup for Aron Baynes against a squirrely pick-and-roll tormentor like Young. However, Baynes was up to the task defensively, cutting off the rim and forcing Young into less efficient floaters and even once blocking his layup. Dropping him back in the paint isn’t always how Nick Nurse likes to defend, but that is where Baynes has his bearings as compared to pressuring the perimeters. Baynes was also tireless on the glass, recording 10 rebounds by halftime before finishing with 15. His scoring is still too much of a liability to play him in the fourth, but there’s no doubt that Baynes is coming around. He’s averaging over 10 points on 54 percent shooting over his last seven games, and has been steady every time out.
Seven — Utility: Deandre’ Bembry is so fundamentally solid in his role that his occasional mistakes really stand out. Bembry is taking on Fred VanVleet’s role in guarding the main perimeter threat on the other end, and while Young had 37 points, it was a case of great offense (and even more generous officiating) besting good defense. Offensively, it’s clear that Bembry feels pressed to create more with two of the Raptors’ leading scorers missing time, but Bembry is starting to make a habit of committing unforced turnovers which needs to be eliminated. Even with other guys out, there is still no need for Bembry to force anything. Making smart and low-risk plays is what Bembry is best at.
Eight — Fit: Yuta Watanabe was very good in the margins, and although his boxscore only says he made one three on two attempts in eight minutes, there’s a reason why he was a plus-13. Watanabe is diligent on defense and makes extra efforts to contest shots and secure rebounds, while offensively, he can set a decent screen despite being slender which is a real need for the second unit. Having said that, with the Raptors already so pressed for scoring, Watanabe’s role will be determined by how much he can bring offensively. Watanabe has the second-lowest usage rate among all rotation players, which passes the eye test too as it seems like his main goal is to get out of the way. In the same way that Johnson is confidently taking his shots, Watanabe needs to do the same, otherwise Nurse will keep him on the bench.
Nine — Milestone: Lowry surpassed Chris Bosh to become the second-leading scorer in franchise history. Much of it comes down to longevity, as Lowry needed 60 more games to surpass Bosh, but that’s hardly a surprise. Bosh was more of a natural scorer who didn’t need to always create his own shot, whereas Lowry’s main goal is to create offense for the team either with his shot or more often through his passing. Lowry only trails DeMar DeRozan, who is more than 3,000 points ahead, and there is something so perfect about the two of them being at the top. Although they were ultimately split for the sake of the championship, it was the efforts of those two players who laid down the entire foundation of the franchise.
Ten — Worrisome: The Raptors have lost three straight games with this shorthanded roster, and there’s no telling when their main guys will be back. Some players bounce right back from COVID-19, while others have needed three or four weeks like Jrue Holiday and Karl-Anthony Towns. And even if they do return, how long will it take for them to recover their conditioning? The Raptors will struggle to win any game without three starters, and health might undercut the Raptors right before the trade deadline. The timing of this all could not be worse.