By Devon Jeffers
Updated: December 31, 2005

Late Rally Leads Toronto To Victory Over Atlanta

TORONTO, ONTARIO – Wednesday, December 28th’s contest between the Raptors and the Hawks was what one would expect from two young squads positioned at the bottom of the NBA standings. There were enough moments of excitement and youthful exuberance to tease fans as to what the future might hold, but many more moments of confusion and ineptitude that served as a harsh reminder of each club’s current situation. Fortunately for Toronto and its fans, the Raptors got it together late in the fourth quarter as they rallied to beat Atlanta 108-102 for only their second home victory of the season.

Both teams started off the game on fire. Whether it was good shooting or poor defense is debatable, but those who have followed the Raptors this season would probably argue it’s the latter. Morris Peterson continued his strong play of late and was the catalyst for a strong opening quarter that saw Toronto jump out to a 35-26 lead.

With Chris Bosh on the bench to start the second quarter, the Raptors found it difficult to score and several turnovers led to easy baskets at the other end for the Hawks. At that point the fans became restless and turned their anger on the oft-maligned Rafael Araujo (aka ‘Hoffa’). The second year center missed three easy inside scoring chances and the boos rained down. It’s a wonder the youngster has any confidence left when the home crowd treats you like the enemy. Mercifully, head coach Sam Mitchell pulled Hoffa from the game. Bosh re-entered the contest but continued to struggle in the first half. After scoring a career high 37 points the previous night in Detroit, CB4 was held to just six in the first half. Atlanta seems to have an endless supply of players 6’7″ to 6’9″ and they were able to switch on the pick and rolls and use their strength and athleticism to hold Bosh in check. At the end of the first half the Raptors’ lead was trimmed to two, 53-51.

The third quarter saw the lead see-saw back and forth with neither team able to take command of the game. Every time Toronto appeared to pull away, turnovers would allow the Hawks to reel them right back in. In fact, the Hawks ended the quarter on a 10-4 run and it took an off-balance jumper at the buzzer by Mo Pete for the Raps to tie the score at 79.

“Jalen teases me all of the time about those shots during practice. A lot of times at the end of practice, I like to take a few minutes, to take a few fade-aways or last-second shots. You never know when you’re going to need them “, said Peterson after the game.

The fourth quarter started the way it ended, with the Atlanta scoring easy baskets and Toronto appearing to have forgotten how to run an offense. With 8:26 left in the game the Hawks had increased their lead to eight and the opportunity to pick up a rare home win appeared to be slipping away from the Raptors. There was no energy from the ACC crowd and no Raptor seemed prepared to provide the spark needed for one final push. That spark did eventually come though, and from an unlikely source. Jalen Rose was one of the team’s leading scorers last season but now that the youth movement has taken effect he has had his playing time reduced significantly. After a runner by Raptor guard Mike James cut the lead to five, Rose stole the inbounds pass, hit the layup and was fouled. He converted the three-point play and Toronto was back in the game, down 91-89 with just under six minutes to play.

“You don’t stay in the league 12 years by just being able to do one thing. I’ve shown that it’s just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and I’m happy to contribute”, said the veteran Rose.

It was that play that energized the team and the crowd, and Toronto took control of the contest, making stops and converting on the offensive end to take the game 108-102.

“I thought we got some stops. I thought the steal by Jalen (Rose) to get a three-point play – I think we were down eight with six and a half (or) seven minutes to go, I can’t remember who scored before Jalen, I think Mike (James) scored on a driving lay up and then Jalen got the steal which cut it to three. We got some good plays, we got to the free throw line but we got some stops. We forced them into some tough shots and it’s just good to get a win at home for a change.” said a relieved Sam Mitchell in the post-game media conference.

Once again the Hawks folded down the stretch and lost a game they were capable of winning.

“It was almost a carbon copy of our game last night against Charlotte, where we controlled it, and then down the stretch, we just didn’t make plays. As a coach, you love to coach in games like this, because you want to see who can make plays in the crunch time of the game. The last two outings we’ve come up a little short in that area.” a frustrated Mike Woodson said.

The win was the Raptors first at the ACC since a Nov. 20th win over the Miami Heat and if this young team hopes to climb out of the league cellar they will have to learn to take care of their home court.

Edited / Karl James Kabasele