Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 130-114 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
One — Easy: The Raptors put away the Hawks without breaking a sweat. Frankly, the Hawks are just not a serious team, and it was surprising that they even hung with the Raptors down to the wire in their two previous meetings. Atlanta is only competitive when Trae Young is at his best, and tonight he made just one three and committed seven turnovers as the Raptors locked in on denying his touches and double-teaming him on defense. That alone was enough to win the game.
Two — Milestone: Kyle Lowry finished with 11 assists to surpass Jose Calderon as the franchise leader in assists. His teammates went nuts when Lowry broke the record on a lob pass to Terence Davis, as Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet did jumping jacks in celebration. The entire bench was on their feet waiting for Lowry to check out (he was in the hunt for a triple-double, but finished two rebounds short) and mobbed him as Lowry was featured on the jumbotron. Leading the franchise in assists gets you lots of love, and it was clear just how much the team admires Lowry for his generosity.
Three — Path: It’s been an incredible and unlikely journey for Lowry. He came to Toronto because the Raptors whiffed on Steve Nash in free agency, was initially coming off the bench behind Calderon, had his bags packed before Knicks owner James Dolan called off the trade, reshaped his whole body, suffered every heartbreak imaginable during the playoffs, reinvented his entire game, before finally becoming a champion and cementing himself as a franchise icon. The lesson with Lowry is that having heart and a bit of good luck will get you as far as you want to go in life. He is a role model for every Raptors player from now until forever, and he more than any other player set the culture of winning for this organization.
Four — Heir: What’s great is that Fred VanVleet is already installed as the successor to Lowry for whenever that time comes. VanVleet mirrors most of Lowry’s best qualities, and has evolved from his understudy to being the second coming. VanVleet’s threes helped the Raptors pull away for good in the third quarter, and his on-ball defense against Young was tremendous.
Five — Worry: Marc Gasol subbed himself out early in the third quarter due to tightness in his left hamstring, and he did not return. It’s the same area that sidelined him for a month in December, and once again, it cropped up on a completely innocent play. Perhaps it was just precautionary, but it’s definitely not encouraging. Gasol’s minutes have been kept on a tight budget all season. OG Anunoby also appeared to strain his shoulder on a closeout late in the game. Nick Nurse did not provide an injury update after the game, other than to say that both players will undergo testing.
Six — Reliable: Serge Ibaka is an incredible luxury as a backup option. Just as when Gasol missed time with injury, Ibaka stepped up and did the work for two. No, the Raptors aren’t as solid or creative as when Gasol is on, but Ibaka’s direct approach can be just as effective, especially against a weak defense like the Hawks. Ibaka delivered 24 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench along with two blocks. You’ll take that every day of the week, and those numbers will always be there so long as Ibaka gets extended run alongside Lowry.
Seven — Opportunity: The silver lining is that Chris Boucher got some meaningful run for the first time since the Raptors got healthy. Boucher did what he always does, winning offensive rebounds, challenging shots, and making the type of all-out energy plays that really stand out on an otherwise sleepy Tuesday in January. Finding minutes for Boucher has been difficult with a full roster, but Nurse should really try to find some way to work Boucher into his rotation. One opportunity would be to play Boucher more at power forward alongside Gasol or Ibaka instead of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Eight — Useful: Matt Thomas also got a quick shift off the bench, which is rare outside of garbage time. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Raptors ran a zone defense for the entirety of those minutes, because Thomas stands out as the only player on the roster that is a below-average defender. In order to make those minutes count, the Raptors need to run more set plays for Thomas to get his shot. One play that worked was the hammer play that is typically designed for Lowry or VanVleet.
Nine — Forgotten: Any residual bitterness towards Vince Carter has dissipated, or at least quieted, now that he’s in his final season. Maybe it’s a case of time healing all wounds, or the championship erasing all former grudges, but it’s nice to see peace between Carter and the fanbase. Yes, he left the franchise under regrettable circumstances, and it would really go a long way if he acknowledged that, but the fact remains that he is a monumental figure in the history of the franchise. Carter was cheered each time he checked in and on all four of his made baskets.
Ten — Tribute: The Raptors continue to honor Kobe Bryant. There was a showing of his Oscar-winning short “Dear Basketball” before the game. They also observed 24 seconds of silence, which featured the numbers 24, 8, and 2 in the countdown that wereycs highlighted in memory of Bryant and his daughter Gianna. There were chants of “Kobe” that ran out through the crowd as a tribute video was played. And there was also the more subtle elements, like lighting up 81 on the scoreboard, or when “K.O.B.E.” was played during a break in play.
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