During Dwane Casey’s tenure as head coach, the Toronto Raptors (13-2) have developed a defence-oriented reputation. But even they have nights like Wednesday in Atlanta, where they pretty well needed all of their 126 points scored to separate themselves from a hot-handed Hawks squad en route to a 126-115 win in an offence-heavy contest.
Every Raptor starter reached double digits, led by DeMar DeRozan’s 27 points on 8-16 shooting and infused by a 13-assist performance from Kyle Lowry, but it was the offensive performance of two reserves that made the difference down the stretch. Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams combined for 43 points on 14-23 shooting, including 7-12 on three-point attempts and 19 points in a pull-away fourth quarter. While Williams simply continued his recent hot streak, Vasquez finally found his rhythm with 21 points on 8-12 shooting in less than 17 minutes on the floor.
Leading by just three points against a Hawks team that matched the Raps’ shooting prowess (they both finished the game with 42 made shots on 82 attempts) and weathered several Toronto runs to keep things close, the visitors jumped out to an 8-2 start to the fourth quarter on the way to closing out a 35-27 final frame.
Vasquez gets hot
I haven’t really shed much light on Vasquez’s slow start to the season, largely because Williams has been so effective in filling the off-the-bench scorer role and his lack of production hasn’t exactly slowed the Raptors down. Still, if Wednesday night’s 21-point effort – and, more significantly, 12-point fourth quarter – helped get Vasquez back on track, it provides the Raptor bench with yet another weapon off the bench.
Second half adjustments
Its not as though Toronto had to change their approach drastically after a 64-point first half, but the first 24 minutes also saw them allow 61 points thanks to some sloppy ball-handling and poor defensive intensity. Not that the Hawks’ 54-point second half represented a shut-down defensive effort, but the improvements were noticeable. After committing an uncharacteristic nine first half turnovers, the Raps only allowed two in the second half. Likewise, they allowed just two second half three-pointers compared to eight in the first half.
Going into a big Friday night match-up with the productive Dallas Mavericks, this likely wasn’t the defensive effort that Casey was looking for. Just as they did in the season opener, Atlanta simply got too many open looks on the perimeter. This time around, it led to 42% shooting (10-24) from three-point range, 11-16 shooting from Al Horford for a 23-point night and eight made treys from the trio of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll.
Starting with a DeRozan cameo on TNT Fan Night, the league-wide recognition is getting there for the Raps.
When the Raps revealed their biggest strength in fourth quarter production (they own a league-best point differential in the fourth and have won 36 games in a row after leading through three quarters, also a league record), the Hawks may have revealed their biggest weakness. For the potency of their roster of shooters, they don’t have one guy who can stop a slide by willing himself to a basket. Atlanta will get their points and their three’s, but I’m still not sure I’d fear them in a playoff series.
The second 20th anniversary game of the season comes against the Mavs on Friday night (7:30pm, TSN). Led by Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs have been buoyed by a productive Monta Ellis (19.1 PPG on 46.4% shooting) and a rejeuvenated Tyson Chandler (10.8 points, 11.3 rebounds per game).
Prediction: Mavs 103, Raps 95 (record this season: 11-3)