Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 108-103 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
One Yawn: This game was not worth your time if you had the misfortune of watching it. The frantic ending was the only moderately exciting stretch of the game, but as has been the case all season, the Raptors’ comeback fell short of influencing anything other than point differential. The Raptors were shorthanded in roster, but also light in spirit as they couldn’t summon the requisite energy to defend. Couple that with some truly selfish offense, and it made for a bitter viewing. 
Two Burst: Malachi Flynn’s late flurry didn’t swing the outcome, but it was still impressive. Flynn had been quiet for most of the night, but came alive with 15 points in the fourth quarter including four threes in the final two minutes to give the Hawks a reason to sweat for the first time all night. Flynn also produced a steal, and was the unexpected player to step up when his teammates were all floundering. Flynn looks a bit worn down by playing starter’s minutes during the most compressed portion of the schedule, but it was impressive to see him come up huge when the Raptors needed it most. His last three on the night was heavily contested with very little room in the corner, yet he drained it over a bigger defender. 
Three Nasty: Flynn was arguably the most composed Raptors player in the fourth quarter, which is as much a compliment to the rookie as it is an indictment on his veteran teammates. Down eight points with 50 seconds left, Chris Boucher decided it was his turn to bust out a stepback three with a defender right in his face. On the ensuing play, Gary Trent Jr. cut into the corner and heaved a generous airball again with a Hawks player in his face. Flynn took some heaves too, but he put them in position to chase the game by knocking down two open threes off basic ball movement by the team. For that concept to elude the other players, while the rookie is the one being responsible, is unacceptable regardless of who is playing or what the Raptors are still playing for. 
Malachi Flynn’s late push wasn’t enough as the sluggish Raptors lost to the Hawks on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Four Stuck: You would have thought Dwane Casey’s rock was back in the building by the way the Raptors pounded the ball. The Raptors had six assists at halftime and nine assists through three quarters, which shouldn’t even be possible in any game let alone one where the Hawks barely broke a sweat defensively. It wasn’t a case of guys missing shots and therefore the assist tally being low, it was the opposite. They weren’t passing and so their field-goal percentage was in the toilet. Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby looked each other off at least twice apiece, and they went about this game with a mind towards hunting their own shots and nothing more. Part of this is a product of the Raptors missing their three veteran guards in Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and DeAndre’ Bembry, but that’s not a free pass for the remaining players to hog the ball. Anunoby and Trent Jr. treated this game like high schoolers do with substitute teachers.
Five Damaging: It would be one thing if Anunoby and Trent Jr.’s shots weren’t dropping, but where was the defense? Both players carry defensive reputations, with Anunoby being a game-changing force when he wants to be while Trent Jr. is capable of being a huge pest. But you wouldn’t know it with how sloppy and inattentive they were in their assignments, unless their specific assignments were to turn Kevin Huerter and Bogdan Bogdanovic into the Peachtree Splash Brothers. On one particularly egregious possession late in the game, Anunoby mindlessly picked up a center in transition which forced Khem Birch into covering a guard, then as the play stalled for the Hawks, Trent Jr. decided to gamble on a steal but whiffed which left Brandon Goodwin wide open for three with a second left in the shot clock. It was shocking. 
Six Leading: The one Raptors veteran who played his role was Pascal Siakam, who worked tirelessly for his 30 points and seven assists in 40 minutes. Siakam was the only player who consistently created good offense for the Raptors, and he was highly efficient with his 13-of-19 shooting from the floor. Siakam had his midrange game working, he nailed a three, and generally took a very smart approach towards attacking the paint. Siakam also made several kickout passes for three, and finished with half of the Raptors’ assists on the night. Nick Nurse leaned on Siakam to be the point guard for the bench unit, and those units outperformed the Raptors’ starters.
Seven Active: Khem Birch was a standout player off the bench in large part because of his energy and aggressiveness. He was one point shy of his career-high of 14 points, nailing a rare three and a midrange jumper both off passes from Siakam, and getting out on the fast break with two steals. But the main function of Birch isn’t his offense, as his value is in his defense. Birch gives the Raptors something they didn’t have all season, which is an active body who can slide his feet, while also being strong enough to box out and secure rebounds. Boucher is still the first choice to start, but he is a defensive liability at least once per week, and that’s where Birch comes in. Nurse went with Birch for most of the fourth quarter before bringing in Boucher late, which was a sensible choice.
Eight Muddled: The Raptors had to lean on their two center lineups yet again, stacking Birch and Freddie Gillespie together off the bench, and Nurse will need to rethink his rotation. The starting combo of Boucher and Siakam is too light to secure rebounds and to protect the paint, while the second unit is too redundant with Birch and Gillespie both being post players. The easiest solution would be to swap Boucher and Birch so that the lineups are more balanced, especially if Birch continues to show chemistry with Siakam.
Nine Concern: Nurse revealed pre-game that there is still no timetable for VanVleet’s return, and that he wasn’t optimistic. VanVleet is battling a hip injury, and while he remains an active presence on the sideline, it’s moderately concerning that there aren’t more details on his status. VanVleet is arguably the Raptors’ most impactful player, and with the season already lost, it would be wise for the Raptors to give him an extended rest to make sure he gets fully healthy. Flynn is using the opportunity to learn in real time, and losing only helps their lottery odds from this point out.
Ten Grim: Nurse also mentioned that it’s still unclear as to how much COVID-19 has impacted his players since they’re all still just recovering. It’s worrisome just on that level alone, but it’s even worse within the context of what the NBA is trying to do. In order to squeeze in a 72-game schedule to satisfy TV deals, the NBA is playing on an extremely compressed schedule and the toll is being paid by the players, from the biggest stars down to the end-of-bench dreamers who might not get another shot. Meanwhile, the product itself is largely stale, as most games are uninspiring without the fans or the urgency that comes with 20,000 people creating an atmosphere. Here’s hoping the Raptors get through this unscathed, or as close to it as possible. 
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