Raps over the hump

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

ATLANTA -- Those sneaky scoreboard operators could have tried to take 10 points off the Raptors last night and it still wouldn't have mattered.

In their first trip back to Georgia since the infamous Scoreboard-gate night -- when a T.J. Ford layup with four minutes remaining somehow avoided detection in a game the Raps would go on to lose by four -- the visitors left nothing to chance in this one, building a 17-point lead by the half on their way to a 103-91 win.

The win moved the Raps a game over the .500 mark for the first time this year. To find the previous time the Raps had more wins than losses this late in the season, you have to go all the way back to Jan. 19, 2004, when they beat the New York Knicks to go to 20-19.

While no one is going to be marking the occasion with T-shirts or anything, getting back above .500 is significant.

"It's key because it says we are getting better and we're winning basketball games," head coach Sam Mitchell said. "We just have to continue to stay focused, come out play defence and give ourselves a chance to win."

The win, combined with New Jersey's loss in Orlando, widened the Raptors' lead atop the Atlantic Division standings to two games.

Last night's game here would have been a laugher from the first half on had Hawks star Joe Johnson, fresh off being snubbed for the all-star game, not become a one-man show in the third quarter, scoring 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting after managing just six in the first half.

Some early fouls contributed to Johnson's uncharacteristically slow first half, limiting him to just more than 101/2 minutes. He more than made up for it in the third quarter. Fortunately, for the Raps, the run lasted just that one quarter and Johnson finished the night with just five more points, 28 in total.

"We got stops at critical times tonight,' Mitchell said. "Every time they made a run, it seemed like we would get a stop and make a basket. We're learning how to win and we're playing with confidence. Even when we don't play great, we have guys who are making plays at the right time."

Morris Peterson had a terrific night for the Raptors with 21 points off the bench on 8-of-12 shooting. He was 5-for-7 from three-point range.

"There were some crazy things that happened tonight," Peterson said. "Rasho caught a lob. I got a dunk tonight. We were hitting three-pointers off the backboard, we were scoring on no-look shots. I think it was our night tonight and we just took advantage of it."

The 21 from Peterson was his highest output since his 23 in a 120-115 win over Golden State in mid-December.

The alley-oop by Nesterovic had the Raptors bench up and on its feet with cries of "Who knew?" clearly audible.

Chris Bosh, who finished the night with a team high 24 points, suggested the Nesterovic shocker might be worthy of its own T-shirt.

" I hope you all taped that because it will never happen again," Bosh said. "Get the game film."

Nesterovic admitted he couldn't remember the last time he converted such a play.

"You just react. You don't think," he said. "It caught everyone by surprise, even me."

It was that kind of night.

The Raps now head home for an off-day today before hosting the streaking Los Angeles Clippers tomorrow with a noon tipoff.

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REPORT CARD

A Offence: The Raps shot 49% from the field and were especially hot in the first half, shooting 55% and putting up 63 points.

B Defence: Things were looking pretty good until someone lit a fire under Joe Johnson in the third quarter to get the Hawks back in this one.


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