The Atlanta Hawks avoided a regular season series sweep against the Toronto Raptors with a 95-87 victory at Philips Arena last night. The win doesn’t change the overall complexion of the season series — the Raptors winning the series 3-1 — but it was a good note to end the season series on.
The Raptors were led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s, who both scored 16 points apiece, while the Hawks were led by Jeff Teague’s 23 point outing and Paul Millsap’s double-double of 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Quick playoff seeding implications…
Last night’s victory kept the Hawks in third place in the East, however, the Miami Heat picked up a big win last night against the Bulls to keep the pressure on the Hawks. The Heat play the Magic in Orlando tonight on the second night of a back-to-back, and the Hawks will have to hope that the Heat drop a game if they want to remain as the third seed, as the Heat own the tiebreaker over the Hawks.
In saying that, the Hawks have to focus on their own schedule, and there may not be a bigger game than Saturday’s home tilt against the Boston Celtics, who are right behind the Hawks in the standings.
Playoff Hawks arrive early
Prior to tip-off, Fox Sports Southeast’s Olivia Harlan reported that the players had told her they had shifted into “playoff mentality” for the last week of the regular season. As I heard that, I thought to myself, “Interesting. I guess we’re about to find out if that’s true or not”. It did not take long for the Hawks to turn their words into action.
The Hawks have been guilty of slow starts of late, but they were ready to get it from the get-go — they really wanted this one. And you could tell they wanted it, their energy was fantastic to start this game. The Hawks set the tone on the defensive end with four first quarter blocks, including a great block from Jeff Teague on Kyle Lowry.
“They came out and played like it meant more to them than it did to us early. We played like, ‘OK, we got the second (quarter),’ and again, you cannot approach games that way.” — Coach Dwane Casey
“They came out aggressive on both ends. A team that’s fighting for something and a team that we beat three times — I’m pretty sure that they didn’t want to make it a fourth — so they came out ultra-aggressive.” — DeMar DeRozan
The Hawks would eventually hold the Raptors to under 40% shooting — 38.1 to be exact — and just 87 points in what a playoff performance, even if the atmosphere wasn’t always playoff-like.
Kyle Korver believed that last night was the best they’ve played the Raptors this season.
“I thought we were just focused for 48 minutes… I thought today was the best 48-minute game that we played against them.” — Kyle Korver
It’s hard to argue against that. This was definitely an important win, not just because the Raptors have had the Hawks’ number this season, but because it’s possible these two teams could meet in the second round of the playoffs.
Limiting DeRozan and Lowry
When the Hawks met the Raptors last Wednesday, Toronto’s All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 43 points, 17 assists, 11 rebounds, and five steals. Their production that night was a huge reason as to why the Raptors won that game.
Last night, however, they couldn’t replicate that success, as they combined for 32 points (on 13-of-39 shooting), 10 assists, and eight rebounds. DeRozan in particular had himself a tough game last night, as he shot 7-of-24 from the field as he scored 16 points — 7.6 less than his average scoring output per game. Added to this, probably the greater triumph for the coaching staff last night, was the fact that the Hawks were able to keep DeRozan away from the free throw line. DeRozan — who attempts 8.5 free throws per game — only attempted two free throws last night.
We’re going to look at a few examples of how the Hawks made life difficult for DeRozan.
The Hawks made sure they made life difficult for DeRozan near the rim — ensuring that any shot in that area was always going to be a tough shot. Kyle Korver leads the way with this first example.
Great foot movement by Korver to stick with DeRozan, making sure DeRozan felt him with that bump, and finishing the play with a good contest near the rim.
Kent Bazemore did not play any part in last night’s victory, as he was sidelined with knee soreness. Thabo Sefolosha slotted into the role of starting small forward and was given the primary job of defending DeRozan.
In the last possession before half time, the ball is in DeRozan’s hands as the Raptors go to him to make a play. Since Bismack Biyombo isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, Al Horford can afford to stray away from him and help by cutting off the driving lane on Thabo’s left hand side. Millsap cheats on his defensive assignment of Jason Thompson, and leaves him wide open behind three-point line in order to cover Biyombo in Horford’s absence.
There is no way DeRozan is getting passed Horford and Sefolosha, and he is forced into taking a jump shot, and a contested jump shot at that.
Beautiful footwork displayed by Thabo, there may not have been a way past for DeRozan even if Horford wasn’t there.
This next sequence is probably Thabo’s best defensive sequence of the game. Jonas Valenciunas comes to set the pick to free up DeRozan. Thabo fights over the screen and sticks right to his man, as if there was no pick set at all. DeRozan is hounded by Sefolosha, and he is forced to give the ball up. The ball is quickly returned to him, and he sizes up Sefolosha again. Again, Thabo displays his excellent defensive prowess and DeRozan takes a very tough, contested jump shot that is no good.
That’s crunch time, playoff defense right there. An excellent defensive sequence from Sefolosha.
When Mike Muscala entered the game, DeRozan must have been licking his lips thinking about how he was going to exploit the young big man at the rim. But Muscala has other ideas… In this play, DeRozan gets the step on Sefolosha and charges toward the rim. Muscala slides over as the help defender and does a great job making DeRozan’s life difficult his vertical challenge, and DeRozan is unable to score nor draw the foul.
That’s fantastic vertical defense against a player who draws the whistle an awful lot — your challenge had better be good if you want to keep DeRozan off the line. Great defense from Muscala.
Again, the Hawks made life at the rim very difficult for DeRozan. Look at his shot chart from last night.
Around the rim for the season, DeRozan is shooting over 53. The Hawks did a great job limiting his success around the rim while also not sending him to the line repeatedly.
“I think defensively to make it difficult on those two guards (Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan) is always a priority. I thought a lot of different guys guarded them, a lot of different guys hopefully made it difficult on them. Our defense gave us a chance to win a tough game against a very good team…” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
“It was a total team effort (defending Lowry and DeRozan). We are working on a couple new things on defense. I think some of that helped tonight. I think guys were really locked in and focused. The details, we didn’t mess up on the details as much tonight. We were able to really execute.” — Kyle Korver
“It was pretty much the same thing that we have been doing but we talked about keeping the energy up and really trying to bother them on those pick-and-rolls and not just giving them some open looks after that and keep trailing them. I think we did a pretty good job.” — Thabo Sefolosha
By limiting Toronto’s backcourt, like Coach Bud said, it gave the Hawks a chance to win this game.
“Runnin’ runnin’, and runnin’ runnin’…”
Last night, the Hawks got out in transition — scoring 22 fast break points last night — as they outscored the Raptors 22-2 in fast break points. Coach Bud said that running with the Raptors was especially important last night.
“That’s a priority for us. We’ve got to get out and run every night. Against Toronto, it’s even more of a priority.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
On a night where the Raptors only turned the ball over 11 times, the Hawks weren’t able to score excessively off of turnovers as they normally do. So, to be able to make up that difference in scoring through scoring in the fast break department was huge.
“We really want to get out and run tonight, especially at home. I thought Jeff did a great job of pushing the ball. But you have to get rebounds in order to run. I thought we did a better job on the glass tonight. We were motivated to play well tonight. We knew we had to beat them.” — Kyle Korver
“We were happy with the pace that we played at. We felt that was a big difference for us.” — Al Horford
DeMarre Carroll returns to action
After missing the last 41 games, former Hawk DeMarre Carroll returned to the court last night. He scored five points in 13 minutes of action. It was just great to see him return after being sidelined for so long — it’s not cool to see anyone sidelined for that long.
“It felt good. I got it in, did what I was supposed to do, and that’s be active, do the dirty work. Try to get steals and play good defence.” — DeMarre Carroll
Chris O’Leary of thestar.com wrote a piece on DeMarre’s return and the challenge DeMarre now faces. You can check it out here, it’s a good read.
Dennis Schröder’s struggles continue
It was another night to forget for Dennis Schröder. Zero points (on 0-for-7 shooting), three rebounds, three assists, and three turnovers in 15 minutes. Chris Vivlamore of the AJC tweeted that Schröder has shot 8-of-40 in his last four games. Yikes… It’s a very bad time for anyone to go into a tailspin, with the playoffs just around the corner.