TORONTO - It worked against the New Jersey Nets, but a small starting five was no match for the Atlanta Hawks.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey knew going back to the well against a bigger and much more athletic team like the Hawks was a risk, but without a better alternative he rolled the dice and took his chances.
It wasn’t pretty.
The Hawks spent the first quarter giving the ball away but once they settled down in the second quarter all that size and athleticism was just too much for the Raptors to overcome and a game that had once been close quickly became very one-sided.
The Hawks’ 19-point lead by the half was the kiss of death for a team like the Raptors that was struggling to score themselves and — for one of the few times this year — wasn’t playing up to their own defensive standards.
The 100-77 win by the visitors saw the Raptors allow an opponent to shoot better than 50% for the first time this year, the Hawks just beating that mark with a 51.3% accuracy rate.
“I thought we came out with a competitive spirit but I didn’t think we sustained it,” Casey said after the game.
The game came apart for the Raptors in that second quarter when Joe Johnson scored 12 of his game-high 30 points to all but put this one out of reach.
The Hawks outscored Toronto 33-19 in the quarter and never looked back.
In the second half, Casey abandoned the small lineup and brought Aaron Gray out of mothballs to start the second half and give the Raptors a bigger presence in the middle. He also put Rasual Butler on the locked-in Johnson. The strategy worked to a degree with the Raps winning the quarter by a couple of points but Johnson’s solid evening continued with another six points in that quarter.
“I thought Joe Johnson did a good job of taking over the game,” Casey said speaking specifically of the second quarter. “He just rose up and made tough shots. I thought he dominated the game. We were in a situation where we couldn’t double team and couldn’t get a body next to him.”
That early deficit was exactly what Casey was trying to avoid by putting two distributors (Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless) in his starting five not to mention the added speed it gave the Raps.
But where Bayless could lock in on a guy like Deron Williams in New Jersey and get him into a one-on-one battle that hurt the rest of the Nets scoring, the Hawks just had too many options.
In addition to Johnson’s 30, the Hawks got double-digit scoring nights from Mavin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Jeff Teague and Tracy McGrady.
The last time these two teams played in Atlanta it was Josh Smith who couldn’t miss. Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre Smith was the only starting not in double figures for the Hawks.
LET IT GO
Tracy McGrady continues to hear boos when he comes back to Toronto.
Really, hasn’t it been long enough?
Toronto sports fans’ fascination with booing former players returning in opposing jerseys is well documented. And some of it is well deserved. But there comes a point where the vast majority of the crowd have no idea why they’re evening booing a guy.
Coming out of halftime, one of McGrady’s contemporaries on press row was giving him the gears about being the old man.
McGrady looked over and smiled before saying, “Man, every time I come back here I feel young again.” He then went out and proved it finishing the night with 15 points. McGrady was a young man in a bad situation in his Toronto days. Let it go.
DeMar DeRozan didn’t exactly follow through on that solid 27-point performance in New Jersey. The Raps’ guard had just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting and got to the free throw line exactly four times after getting there a career high 16 times on Sunday. Casey said he was happy with the way DeRozan attempted to attack the basket, but didn’t get into the body of the Atlanta defenders enough to get to the line.
Butler was still limping after the game. He wasn’t sure exactly how the injury happened but he does know he rolled over on the ankle at some point. Butler came out of the game midway through the second quarter and did return to play later in the fourth. The team is calling it a mild sprain ... Casey was asked after the game to grade his team on its progress five weeks into the season. Casey said he would give the team a C. He would like to see the team a little more consistent than they have been but said there have been very few nights so far this season that he felt he hasn’t got every ounce of effort out of his players. “I would give us a C from a growth standpoint, but we’re a long way from being where we need to be,” he said.
Amir Johnson got back in Dwane Casey’s good graces Sunday with a strong defensive effort in the Raptors win in New Jersey.
Tuesday night it appeared he might be right back in the bad books with the head coach, but Dwane Casey said that was not the case.
“He has not done anything wrong,” Casey said when Johnson’s limited playing time — he had just under 14 minutes on Tuesday - was brought up. “I thought he had a heck of a game against New Jersey. Tonight I just thought getting Aaron in as far as bulk against Pachulia. There was no message being sent. I was just trying to find an answer.”
Casey didn’t seem to think his search was unwarranted.
“When you let a team shoot 60% in the first half you search for answers on the defensive end. I thought we let some of our missed opportunities offensively carry down to the defensive end.”
The fact that Johnson did not play a single second in the second half certainly suggests that at least some of the blame for that defensive lapse was laid at Johnson’s feet.