By RACHEL BRADY
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
TORONTO -- For most of Tuesday night's contest, the Toronto Raptors looked like they were headed for an embarrassing loss to one of the basement dwellers of the Eastern Conference.
After trailing for the majority of three quarters, the Raptors ambushed the Atlanta Hawks 3013 in the final quarter and escaped with a 106-90 victory.
Behind 25 points from DeMar DeRozan, 15 from Jonas Valanciunas and 14 from C.J. Miles, the Raps won their fifth straight, sweeping the four-game season series with the Hawks.
Toronto (46-17) remains in first place atop the East standings, two games up on the Boston Celtics.
The Raps' starting small forward OG Anunoby missed his third straight game with a sprained right ankle. Malcolm Miller started in his place for a second consecutive contest, with Norman Powell once again getting the final four minutes of the first half that Anunoby would also usually play.
Toronto coach Dwane Casey said someone else might start in that position on Wednesday night when the Raptors play in Detroit.
The Raps signed another small forward to the roster on Tuesday, on a 10-day contract - Nigel Hayes from the NBA G League's Westchester Knicks. The 23-year-old out of the University of Wisconsin was ineligible to play Tuesday for the Raptors, as he was still acquiring his work visa. Casey said he was particularly excited about Hayes's vastly improved threepoint shooting.
The Hawks opened Tuesday's game with a surprising 11-4 run in the first three minutes. The Raps were caught on their heels defensively, they missed shots and carelessly turned the ball over three times. It hardly looked like a contest between the first place and 15th place teams in the Eastern Conference.
Five points from Miller helped to jolt the Raps to life, but they still trailed 28-27 by the end of the quarter.
The Raptors continued to labour in the second quarter, clanking shots every which way.
It was a three-pointer by Powell in the final minute that finally tied the game 47-47.
But the final minute of Toronto's frustrating and discombobulating half also saw both Kyle Lowry and DeRozan pick up angry technical fouls. After shooting 35 per cent in the half to Atlanta's 47, the Raps trailed 51-50 going into the locker room.
Despite being way out of contention for a playoff spot, the visiting Hawks kept pushing the Raps.
Lowry, who had gone scoreless in the first half (and would finish the night with four points of 2-of-6 shooting) continued to have a bad night. He picked up his fourth foul halfway through the third quarter, and it looked ugly - grabbing John Collins at the waist as he was leaping toward the basket, causing the Hawks guard to crash hard to the ground. Officials called the foul a Flagrant 1 for unnecessary contact.
Lowry had to head to the bench.
DeRozan rolled for a 12-point quarter, while Valanciunas chipped in a quick eight, and it helped the Raptors take a slim lead, as the third quarter was about to close. But it was slippery to hold, and the Raps couldn't get a grip.
Atlanta went up 77-76 going into the final quarter. Toronto was just 3-16 in games that it trailed after the third quarter this season, so there was good reason to believe a loss was brewing.
The Raptor bench stepped up in the fourth quarter, jump-started by a pair of threes from Miles - his third and fourth of the night.
They built a 10-point lead, the biggest and the only convincing one Toronto had had all night to that point.
A series of big plays in the quarter by Jakob Poeltl - including three buckets and six of his nine rebounds - helped the Raptors bolster the lead.
Soon, a game that began very shaky ended with Toronto looking deep down their bench, and letting youngsters close it out.
After finishing off their back to back in Detroit Wednesday night, the Raptors will be back home to play host to the NBA-leading Houston Rockets on Friday.
Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan drives past Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday. DeRozan led scoring with 25 points.
FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS