A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Raps Prevail Over Struggling Hawks
TORONTO, ONTARIO – It would have been understandable for the fans at the Air Canada Centre to expect a lackluster and uninspired effort from the home team on the night of Friday April 8th against the Atlanta Hawks. When one considers the Raptors non-effort against the Grizzlies two nights earlier and the fact that the NBA’s worst team was in town, all the pieces were in place for a real stinker. Surprisingly, the inexperienced yet energetic Hawks, and a Raptor team that showed that it does have a little bit of pride, treated a small but vocal crowd to an entertaining contest.
The young Hawks came out of the gate quickly, knocking down open jumpers against a Raptor team that showed no interest in defending. When Jason Collier and Predrag Drobnjak combine for 22 first quarter points, something is definitely wrong. Chris Bosh, who has been logging heavy minutes of late, seemed a step slow and rookie Pape Sow, making his first NBA start, showed lots of hustle, but also showed he has a long way to go and a lot to learn about playing in this league. During the opening quarter Toronto displayed very little energy or enthusiasm. The players rarely communicated with each other and head coach Sam Mitchell’s exasperation was evident. Atlanta finished the quarter shooting 62% compared to 22% for the Raps and led 31-14 after fifteen minutes.
Toronto picked up the defensive intensity in the second quarter. The open jumpers that Atlanta had in the first quarter were now being contested. But Toronto’s offense remained ineffective. The Raps had just seven assists in the first half with their point guards accounting for just two of them. With the home team down 47-33 at the half, Coach Mitchell had a few choice words for his players in the locker room.
“I’m not going to say what I said. You can only imagine – it wasn’t good. I wasn’t happy because I felt like our guys – you know, [giving up] 31 points in the first quarter, and with [Al] Harrington out of the game, not to disrespect our guys, I don’t disrespect anyone, but without Harrington and another one of their starters, it was just unacceptable”, said the coach.
Whatever Sam Mitchell said in the locker room at halftime obviously worked as Toronto went on a 15-5 run and cut the deficit to four, 52-48, in just 3 ½ minutes. After scoring just 33 points in the 1st half, the Raps tallied 36 in the third quarter alone with Rafer Alston, Morris Peterson and Jalen Rose combining for 30.
“We talked about the situation that we were in last game, and the situations we were in during tonight’s first half, and how we want to go out. Do we want to go out as a team that lies down? Or do we come out fighting”, reflected Rose. “Fortunately for us, we went on a big-time run at the beginning of the third quarter and I think that gives you confidence when you make a run fast. It puts the opponent on their heels”.
The Raps continued to apply the pressure as the home crowd became more boisterous and energetic. Jump shots that weren’t falling earlier in the evening began to hit their mark and a Rafer Alston three-pointer at 5:03 of the fourth quarter gave Toronto the lead 86-84. The young Hawks did not fold though and battled back to take a 91-88 lead. A 7-0 Raptor run put them back in the lead 95-91 with a minute and a half to play, but once the again the resilient Hawks fought back to tie the contest at 96 and send the game into overtime.
It was the second consecutive time the teams met in Toronto and needed overtime to decide a winner, but unlike the previous meeting Toronto took control in the extra frame, outscoring the Atlanta 13-5 to come away with a 109-101 victory.
While some of the Raptor players attributed the victory to the pride they have as athletes, Atlanta head coach Mike Woodson felt that calls late in the game that did not go in his team’s favor contributed to his team’s loss.
“I thought there were a couple of times when we got fouled and we didn’t get the call. We can’t be in the position that we are in, being 11 and sixty-something, or whatever number of losses we have, we just can’t get calls down the stretch. I thought we had a chance to go up, and I thought Tony (Delk) got fouled and we came out empty handed. From that point on they never looked back”, said an obviously frustrated Woodson.
The victory meant that Toronto had staved off being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for one more night, but realistically the Raps had been out of the playoff race for weeks. Management now has its focus on the off-season, where they hope to use their two second round draft picks to help rebuild a franchise that will miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Edited / Karl James Kabasele