Raps rookie rocks Hawks

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

ATLANTA -- In what was billed as the worst regular-season matchup in NBA history, the Raptors proved they are the best of the worst.

But just barely.

Riding on the shoulders of impressive rookie Charlie Villanueva, the Raptors beat the Atlanta Hawks 102-101 in front of a tiny crowd of about 4,000 last night at Philips Arena. It was such a non-compelling matchup that ESPN dug deep into its archives during the day and discovered that the game showcased two teams with the lowest combined winning percentage (3-27, .100) in NBA history after a minimum of 30 games.

With their first road win in eight tries this season, the Raptors improved to 2-15, still behind the Hawks (2-13).

After the Raps blew a 10-point lead from early in the fourth quarter, Villanueva scored six points in the final three minutes, including the winning layup with 2.5 seconds left to snap Toronto's six-game losing streak.

On a play with Chris Bosh as the first option, rookie point guard Jose Calderon drew the double-team and dished it to a wide-open Villanueva who was cutting to the Hawks net.

"I went to set the screen (at the right elbow) and two guys went with Jose and left me wide open," Villanueva said. "Jose made a great pass and gave me the ball in the right position. I was a little bit surprised. I was expecting to see a man, but I was wide open. It was one of the easier ones, but I'm glad I got it."

Villanueva was the key to the win. He contributed 22 points and 10 rebounds, the last one a defensive grab that preceded his winning basket. He also found Bosh under the net for a three-point play down the stretch and shrugged off his 46% free-throw shooting percentage to hit a pair late in the game.

"I tell Charlie all the time that if you're active, the coach never has to run a play for you," coach Sam Mitchell said. "I can't recall one play I ran for Charlie all night and he scores 20-plus points."

Even after Villanueva's huge layup, the Raptors needed some luck as Joe Johnson stepped out of bounds for a turnover to seal the Hawks' fate.

The Raptors won, despite allowing the Hawks to shoot 55% from the field. It seemed every second Hawks basket was a dunk at times, but in the aftermath, no one cared.

"We didn't get tight this time, I know I didn't," said Bosh, who led the Raptors with 23 points. "We didn't get down on anybody. Nobody got down on themselves. "We just said: 'Okay, look, forget the past. This is our situation.'"

"I thought our guys just hung in there," a smiling Mitchell added. "They fought through it."

REPORT CARD

B Offence: The 102 points last night was nothing special but the Raps at least had balance with six players hitting 10 or more.

C Defence: The Raptors again allowed too many dunks and easy buckets in the paint. Joe Johnson had a career game for Hawks.


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