TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors were not exactly at their best defensively on Saturday. Their shooting struggles didn’t help either.
Trae Young had 29 points and nine assists to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 114-103 win, snapping the Raptors’ three-game winning streak. Dejounte Murray contributed 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Atlanta, which has won two in a row.
“They got to some spots,” said Toronto head coach Nick Nurse. “Trae is going to do a little bit of everything but I thought Murray was the one who really got in there and just kept consistently making those short turnaround jump shots there for a stretch.
“We didn’t sit down and guard some of their other guys very well and it did go off to them, too. I know there is not a lot of big numbers there, but … when those guys needed to make a play, they (did).”
With the loss, the Raptors (19-24) dropped the season series 2-1 to the Hawks (21-22).
“We talked about us having to control the tempo tonight and I thought we did a good job of that, not allowing them to get off to a good, quick start,” said Atlanta head coach Nate McMillan.
“To go into Indiana and win there, and Toronto is always a tough place to play on a back-to-back. We talked about the importance of the tiebreaker in this game and our guys came out ready to play and they played a solid game.”
Scottie Barnes had 27 points and 12 rebounds for Toronto (19-24). Pascal Siakam, who fouled out late in the fourth, added 15 points and O.G. Anunoby scored 14.
The Raptors closed out their six-game homestand going 3-3.
“I don’t know,” Barnes said regarding the team’s progression during the home stretch. “Started off slow (in) a couple of the games, which allowed teams to get a stretch on us.
“We had a good three games where we played really solid. … We’re getting there, I guess.”
After shooting 50-plus per cent from the field and a combined 41.7 per cent from three-point range in two games against Charlotte recently, the Raptors were 7-of-29 from distance Saturday.
Toronto went down 20-3 halfway through the first quarter, going 1-for-13 from the field and 0-for-5 from beyond the arc.
However, the Raptors turned things around after Anunoby hit a three with 5:39 left. Siakam and Malachi Flynn then combined for 15 points and Toronto cut the deficit to as little as seven, going into the second down 34-25.
“Well, we didn’t get off to a very good defensive start in general, but we didn’t score at all,” Nurse said. “Listen, I don’t think they were the greatest shots in the world, but I also don’t think they were awful, right?
“There were pretty good shots and you gotta make some of those to start the game.”
Precious Achiuwa provided a spark in the second, scoring 11 points off the bench, while Barnes contributed nine of his 13 first-half points in the frame.
But the Hawks kept Toronto at bay. Murray had a personal 6-0 run in a span of 53 seconds, including an alley-oop dunk, and Atlanta went up 69-57 at the break.
After the Raptors cut their deficit to 10 late in the third, the Hawks replied with a 10-4 run. A Young three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining put Atlanta ahead 96-79 heading into the fourth.
Chris Boucher capped an 8-0 run with a three-pointer to bring the score to 100-91 for Toronto. Boucher later hit another three with 3:07 remaining in the contest to cut the deficit to seven.
After both sides traded trips to the charity stripe, leading to both Siakam and John Collins fouling out, a Young three-point play with 55.3 seconds left sealed it.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, whose squad leads the NBA with 9.4 steals per game and had another nine Saturday, thinks the rim protection has come around more.
“We’re getting a few more blocked shots, we’re standing in there a bit better,” he said pre-game. “I think we’re making better reads out (and) once we do have it covered, we don’t have so many guys covering it at once.”
Canadian actor Simu Liu, known for his roles in movies like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, had a courtside seat Saturday.
The Raptors head to New York on Monday to take on the Knicks for the first stop on a three-game road trip. Toronto is 1-1 against New York this season, falling 112-108 in their last meeting on Jan. 6 at Scotiabank Arena and winning 113-106 at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 21.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2023.