TORONTO – Well, it was close – for a little while.
The Hawks easily defeated the Raptors 110-89 Friday night at the Air Canada Centre in a game they led by as many as 26 points. The Raptors held two brief leads, 7-6 and 9-8, in the opening minutes. After an Al Horford jump shot with 7:58 left in the first quarter, the Hawks would never trail again.
Here are my five observations from the game:
1. There is often concern when the Hawks play a team with a big center. Enter the Raptors’ 7-foot big man Jonas Valanciunas. He never presented a real problem for the Hawks after he won the opening tip. On the Raptors’ second possession, Valanciunas tried to back down Horford. The Hawks center simply took a step back and sent Valanciunas tumbling to the crowd as he expected push back. A bad pass turned into a Jeff Teague fast break dunk. Valanciunas finished with just four points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.
2. Kent Bazemore is starting to be a weapon on offense. The Hawks signed the guard to help as a wing defender and he has done that. He is also starting to find his way offensively as he returns from foot surgery. Bazemore finished with 10 points, making all three shots, including a 3-pointer. His long-range shot is worth noting. He has made 5 of his last 9 attempts.
3. The Hawks insisted they were a better team than the one the Raptors beat twice in the first 13 games of the season. They were right. The Raptors were back to full strength with the return of DeMar DeRozan (who is really good, by the way) and it didn’t matter. DeRozan scored 25 points. The other Raptors starters combined for 28 points. The Hawks are a different defensive team.
4. The Hawks continue to say all the right things during this torrid streak of wins in 25 of 27 games. The have shied away from getting caught up in their success. Kyle Korver gave a loud ‘Oh no’ when asked at what point he and his teammates are impressed with their play. Coach Mike Budenholzer continued to say the Hawks have yet to play a full 48-minute game – although they are getting closer. He lamented the 10 first-half turnovers and wasn’t happy with the rebounding early in the game. The fact remains, the Hawks went into Toronto a drubbed the team with the third-best record in the conference.
5. One Raptors observer asked me – during the game – whether I would enjoy spending time in San Francisco in June. It was a reference to a possible Hawks-Warriors NBA Finals. Obviously, it’s way too premature to think about such talk. It does speak volumes about what the rest of the NBA thinks about these Hawks.