10 Things: Raptors record 37 assists in revenge win over Hawks

10 Things: Raptors record 37 assists in revenge win over Hawks

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 123-121 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

1. The Raptors are no strangers to heartbreak in Atlanta. Last year, it was a missed Scottie Barnes layup and then losing on an alley-oop in overtime. Last month, the Raptors led with seven seconds left, but failed to box out Saddiq Bey on a putback dunk to lose yet again at the buzzer. It was close once again down the stretch, but the Raptors came up with the requisite plays to finish strong. A clutch three from Gary Trent Jr. off a precise kickout from Scottie Barnes nudged the lead to five late, and Trent Jr. preserved the advantage by pressuring a hand-off on the sideline to force Atlanta to step out of bounds in a three-point game with the clock turned off. Although it isn’t their main goal, the Raptors are 3.5 games back of the play-in having defeated the two teams directly ahead of them in the past 24 hours.

2. There has been lots of roster instability in his rookie year, but head coach Darko Rajakovic has consistently established ball movement as his core identity. The Raptors don’t have 1-on-1 creators like the Hawks, yet they still managed to shoot more efficiently across the board by sharing the ball. Toronto finished with eight players in double-figures — including all four players off the bench — and the team finished with 37 assists. The Raptors leveraged their playmaking centres to create space for cutters to flash to the basket, and that inside-out approach also led to open kickouts for threes. The Raptors recorded more than 32 assists once last season — this game is already the 11th time the Raptors have beaten that mark this year.

3. The second unit as a whole was excellent with Scottie Barnes rounding out the group, but the standout performer was Gradey Dick. The rookie shooting guard continues to build in confidence as he finished with 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 22 minutes. He nailed his usual assortment of catch-and-shoot threes, but he also added a variety of other finishes. He hit a curling midrange jumper, a crossover into a pull-up with a foot on the line, a transition dunk and a handful of cutting baskets. Dick’s ability to be a constant threat with his movement pairs perfectly with the Raptors’ strong passing bigs who can screen and feed him.

4. Since returning from his conditioning stint in the G-League, Dick has shot over 50 per cent from three. The threat of his shooting has enabled him to open up the rest of his game, including his ability to create advantages. The play below was the Raptors’ best passing sequence of the night, and it was all created by Dick’s movement and reading of the game which eventually led to a triple for Ochai Agbaji.

5. Barnes was excellent with both the starters and the second unit and finished with a double-double of 20 points and 10 assists. Barnes mostly looked to absorb double teams to set up teammates for layups and threes, but he also created his own shot in the rare occasions where the Hawks defence played him in isolation. Barnes bullied on a few drives and swished two pull-up midrange jumpers over Atlanta’s two best wing defenders, Jalen Johnson and DeAndre Hunter. That should be the next tool for Barnes to add to his game, as he still does lack a consistent go-to move in the halfcourt. With his strength and size, Barnes should be able to get to a midrange pull-up against most defenders, but it will require him to tighten his handle and improve his shooting touch.

6. Trent Jr. cooled off from his scoring performance on Thursday, but made up for it with his tenacity on defence. He had the hardest assignment of the night in covering Trae Young, who was stuck on eight points until he made a leaning prayer for a three in the final seconds of the game. Much of that was thanks to Trent Jr. who stuck with the slippery guard who is notorious for his cynical foul-baiting that drove the Raptors mad in their last matchup. As always, the Raptors showed plenty of help with a second defender to force Young into giving up the ball, but Trent Jr. did the bulk of the heavy lifting for the starting lineup. He was rewarded for his efforts with a dagger three with a minute left in the fourth.

7. Agbaji was the other standout defender on the night, and he had plenty of work. Atlanta features three deadly scoring guards in Young, Dejounte Murray, and Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Agbaji saw time on all three. Agbaji combines good strength and quickness to cut off drives while still being able to recover to contest on pull-ups. His lone block on the night came on a roll to the rim by Johnson, who thought he had created space with a spin move, except Agbaji moved his feet before meeting him up top for a leaping block to deny the bigger player. Offensively, he is mostly a standstill shooter, so a 4-for-5 night from deep is about as good as it gets.

8. Rajakovic now has two choices for who he wants to close with at centre. Both Kelly Olynyk and Jakob Poeltl were productive in their minutes, and it’s rare to see two centres combining for a dozen assists unless their name is Jokic. Atlanta went to their small-ball look with Johnson at centre around four guards, so the Raptors closed smaller with Olynyk, who promptly delivered two miraculous baskets. The first was a turnaround post jumper which fortunately bounced off the glass, and the second was a stretching finger roll where Olynyk wisely drove the diminutive Young to the rim.

9. This was a missed opportunity for Jordan Nwora, who was promoted from third string to starting in place of RJ Barrett who sat out the second night of the back-to-back on account of his ailing knee. Nwora’s best game as a Raptor was against Atlanta when he scored 24 points, but the sequel was disappointing. Nwora forced his offence instead of waiting his turn, and was unceremoniously sat down twice by crossovers from Saddiq Bey. With so many wings to choose from, Rajakovic won’t be calling Nwora’s name that often when his full roster is available, even though there is still some talent to be unlocked in the 25-year-old.

10. Immanuel Quickley led the Raptors in scoring once again. He was shot out of a cannon to begin the match, scoring three times in transition to force Atlanta into calling an early timeout. Quickley aggressively looked for his shot and immediately established himself as a threat. From there, he drew double teams and traps, of which he found the roller to create 4-on-3 advantages for his teammates. It was also encouraging to see Quickley maintain his dribble in the paint, which created layups for himself and assists to his teammates.

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