After coming off a winning road trip, the Toronto Raptors returned home, but playing in front of its own fans was not enough to help rally against a deep Atlanta Hawks team. In fact, it wasn’t even close and the game was already out of hand by halftime.
A late second quarter meltdown and a big first half from shooting guard Joe Johnson was too much to overcome for the Raptors on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre. The Hawks leading scorer continued his hot streak and racked up 24 of his game-high 30 points in the first half to lead his team to a convincing 100-77 win.
With 5:56 left in the second quarter the Hawks were up by only two points - 33-31. From there Toronto struggled and Atlanta went on a 20-6 run to end the half and finished with an unbelievable 60 per cent from the floor after two quarters. The Hawks never looked back and led by as many as 26 points in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Joe Johnson did a good job of taking over the game,” said Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey. “He just rose up and made some tough shots. I thought he dominated the game.
“He was in a situation where we couldn’t double team and couldn’t get a body next to him. We didn’t do a good job of getting back in transition.”
Although Johnson did hit some tough shots, he also had a number of easy baskets and great looks.
“I got two really easy baskets and that just gets you into a rhythm,” said Johnson. Ì kept getting great looks. I thought guys did a great job of penetrating and kicking, and getting guys a lot of wide open looks.”
Johnson has elevated game since teammate and Al Horford suffered a torn left pectoral muscle in early January. Many expected the Hawks to struggle without the two-time all star but the team has stepped up and put together a 9-2 record since.
The Hawks (16-6) also got contributions from small forward Marvin Williams, centre Zaza Pachulia and point guard Jeff Teague, all three added 10 points, while former Raptor Tracy McGrady came off the bench to add 15.
For Toronto, Jerryd Bayless had a team-high 14 points and Ed Davis added his first double-double of the season, finishing with 11 points and game-high 11 rebounds. Gary Forbes came of the bench to score 10 and starters DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson each chipped in with nine points. Jose Calderon had a game-high nine assists.
The Raptors (7-15) are very familiar with losing its star player as well with Andrea Bargnani sitting out his third consecutive game after re-injuring his left calf last week. Fortunately, he won’t be out nearly as long as Horford, but is still out indefinitely.
The Raptors had a dismal shooting night finishing with just 37 per cent from the floor. Toronto also did not show the defensive intensity that the young team has been accustomed to this season allowing the Hawks to shoot 51.3 per cent.
In particular, Amir Johnson struggled and did not match up well against Pachulia. Casey sat him in favour of Aaron Gray but was not benching the centre or sending a message. Amir Johnson played only 13:42 but averages over 24 minutes a game.
“He has not done anything wrong,” said Casey. “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, I was just trying to find an answer. When you let a team shoot 60 per cent in the first half you search for answers on the defensive end.”
After coming off an impressive outing against the Nets on Sunday, DeRozan had another tough game, especially being aggressive and driving to the basket.
“It was definitely tough,” said DeRozan. “Atlanta is a tough match-up for any team. They took advantage of us going kind of small and trying to get inside presence from the get go.
“They got out to a great start in the second quarter We should have never let that happen and that is what killed us.”Added Bayless, “They just started going to the post. Joe Johnson is an amazing player and he was able to get some shots to go. It was a downward spiral from there.”
The Raptors won’t have much time to dwell on the loss and are back in action again on Wednesday night. The team left immediately after the game to travel to Boston where they will play the Celtics at TD Garden with tip off at 7:30 p.m.
This article was originally published on Oye! Times