Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 132-121 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
One — Exhausted: The Raptors just didn’t have their fastball after giving their all in their win over the Nets on Friday, and it showed on defense. The Raptors were a step slow the entire night, chasing after shadows and whiffing on open shots, and they just couldn’t keep up with the Hawks, who were well rested after being blown out on Thursday. Give them credit, the Hawks also played a very good game with several players stepping up, but this was also a bit of a scheduled loss for the Raptors.
Two — Slippery: Nick Nurse’s defensive strategy almost always revolves around locking down the opposing team’s first option through a series of double teams and aggressive traps. That strategy held James Harden to eight field-goal attempts in 40 minutes against the Nets, and he tried to deploy it against Trae Young but it didn’t work. Young beat the defense in every way possible and the inability to stop him in the pick-and-roll is the reason why the Raptors conceded 132 points. Young is quick and skittish, and he routinely blew past Fred VanVleet, who is at worst a top-five on-ball defender in the league. When the traps came, Young anticipated plays before they even started, and would fire quick passes to beat the Raptors in rotation. And to top it off, the officials were calling it so tight that a mosquito sting would give Young two trips to the line. It’s a credit to Young’s talent and ability that he made the Raptors look so clueless.
Three — Gamble: Of course, it helps when supporting players make shots. When the Raptors successfully forced Young to give up the ball, his teammates just couldn’t miss from deep. Atlanta entered this game 25th in three-point percentage, and yet they shot 19-of-36 from deep, with every single player (outside of Rajon Rondo’s lone miss) shooting 50 percent or better. The Raptors will concede threes as a trade-off for their aggressive defense, and tonight they just got torched.
Four — Active: It’s a shame that Chris Boucher’s career night came in a loss, because he did everything within his power to give the Raptors the win. Boucher collected seven offensive rebounds as part of his 29-point night, and he worked tirelessly right until the final whistle despite playing the last 20 minutes of the game without a breather. It’s even more impressive considering that the Hawks were camped out with multiple bodies lurking in the paint, and that Boucher had to beat out two premier rebounders in Clint Capela and John Collins for loose balls. On the other end, Boucher was asked to fly around the floor defensively, and he collected his usual pair of blocks.
Five — Nothing: The contrast between Boucher’s all-out effort, and the geriatric performance by Aron Baynes was alarming. Baynes moves like QEW traffic at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday, and Nurse wisely capped his minutes at 15 considering he was already a minus-10. Capela torched Baynes so badly in his first shift, collecting offensive rebounds, swatted his shot, or just simply waited under the basket for Baynes’ airballed three to fall. In the second half, Young whizzed past Baynes without even a hint of hesitation, which is when Nurse finally had enough. Add in the missed layups, and it was just a miserable watch. Baynes was really coming around before this performance, but there are just certain matchups where the 34-year-old can’t catch up.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 7, 2021
Six — Struggle: To be fair to Baynes, the loss wasn’t on him. The Raptors failed to defend with or without Baynes, and what they really needed to do was score at a high clip to match the Hawks. That didn’t happen because Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry were both off. VanVleet capitalized on some shoddy officiating to boost his total, and Lowry had some life at the end, but they couldn’t generate enough offense over the course of the game to match what the Hawks were getting from Young. VanVleet forced a few too many contested layups, while Lowry was off from three including a rare airball, and Boucher could only run down so many of their misses. It was just an off night for the two point guards.
Seven — Automatic: Norman Powell did his best to make up the difference as he notched his sixth 20-point game over his last seven outings. Powell gave the Raptors the bulk of their points in transition, as Lowry and VanVleet were eager to target him on hit-ahead passes, and Powell was firm and sharp in how he directly attacked the defense. The mark of a great Powell game is when he can get to his customary 20 points without even relying on the three (he was 1-of-5), because that shows you the rhythm and decisiveness in his game. Nurse will have a very difficult decision to make once OG Anunoby returns from his calf injury because Powell’s production just isn’t the same when he comes off the bench.
Eight — Lacking: Boucher was essentially a starter tonight with Baynes being benched, and that left the second unit just completely devoid of scoring punch. DeAndre’ Bembry delivers innovative passes and Stanley Johnson knocked down two wide-open threes with the defense cheating off him, but there just wasn’t any firepower or any credible threat to worry the Hawks. The onus falls on Lowry or VanVleet to be the featured scorer when they are leading the second unit, and since both of them are inconsistent scorers, there will be many nights where the bench gets outplayed. This is where Terence Davis needs to step up, but once again, his mindless approach to defense corrupts his positive contributions on offense.
Nine — Hustle: In addition to scoring in the post, Pascal Siakam is also looking more like himself on defense. Siakam was the Raptors’ most disruptive defender tonight, getting into passing lanes, breaking up passes, blocking shots, and being diligent in containing drivers. This all points to Siakam being in better physical condition, as the groin injury that sidelined him seems to have worn off, and Siakam is back to flying up and down the floor without a dip in intensity.
Ten — Promising: The Hawks have clearly improved from being a basement dweller spinning their wheels to becoming a competitive team with a decent shot of sneaking into the playoff picture. Young is the same as ever, perhaps with a few more tricks in his bag, and Collins is still a very talent scorer, but they just have more structure around them. Capela is a huge piece that brings rebounding and interior defense, whereas their young wings in Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish have clued in defensively. Throw in reliable veterans like Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, and eventually Bogdan Bogdanovic when he returns from injury, and there’s something promising in Atlanta.
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