TORONTO – A little bit of over-confidence has crept into the Toronto Raptors’ game, says James Johnson.
And so after a 110-89 trouncing at the hands of the red-hot Atlanta Hawks on Friday, a night that served as a gauge of how far Toronto still has to go, the Raptors gathered in the locker-room for a players-only meeting.
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“We had a long talk,” Johnson said. “It’s going to stay internal, but we just got a little over-confident and we started taking to heart that we’re a good team and we haven’t accomplished nothing yet.
“Our detail, our mental aspect of the game, we can’t go out there and think that we’re just going to out-athletic anybody, or out-shoot anybody anymore,” Johnson continued.
“People are scouting us and they’re scouting us pretty well, we’ve just got to change some things up and get back to where we were.”
DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points to top Toronto (26-13) in his second game back from a 21-game injury layover, but got little help from his team. Johnson scored 17 points off the bench, while Kyle Lowry finished with 11.
The Hawks’ starters outscored the Raptors’ by a whopping 75-53 margin.
“Whatever wall we’ve hit, we’ve hit it and we’ve got to bust through it, we’ve got to get a sledgehammer and bust through it, all of us together,” coach Dwane Casey said, through a hoarse voice.
Al Horford scored 22 points to lead the Hawks (32-8), who stretched their league-high winning streak to 11 games.
“I think we have a winning group,” Lowry said, about the team’s frustration. “We have a bunch of guys that want to win. The frustration level is there. I don’t think we’re pointing fingers. We’re just trying to figure out how to get back to our winning ways.”
When asked about the players’ meeting, Lowry wouldn’t elaborate.
The Raptors had beaten Atlanta twice previously this season, 109-102 in their season-opener, and 126-115 in Atlanta on Nov. 26.
But those wins came when the Raptors were on their early-season roll, and Atlanta hadn’t yet hit theirs. The Hawks are playing at an entirely different level now, trouncing the Raptors with clinical precision Friday, and with their strength at every position.
“A game like that, that was not us,” Casey said. “It’s no one person. We’re still in that rut and the only way we’re going to get out of it is to work our way out of it.
“There’s no pointing fingers, there’s no one person in that room’s fault. If it’s anybody’s fault, put it on me, but, it’s all of us in it together and that team right there (Atlanta) is a well-oiled machine.”
The Raptors began the night trailing the East-leading Hawks by four-and-a-half games.
They knew they were in for a rough night against the league’s hottest team, which had also clobbered Washington – one of the East’s top teams – last week. They weren’t wrong as they trailed almost from the opening whistle, fell behind by as many as 24 points in the third quarter, and went into the fourth down 85-68.
A basket by Lowry on Toronto’s first possession cut the difference to 15 points. But the Hawks quickly snuffed out any hopes of a Raptors’ comeback, taking a 26-point lead on a bucket by Paul Millsap with 5:45 to play in front of a disgruntled Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800 that included Toronto FC’s newest acquisition Jozy Altidore and Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista.
The ugliness continued and by the time Greivis Vasquez drained a three with 1:26 to go to cut Toronto’s deficit to 19 points, many fans had already left the building.
“We just hit one of them tough weeks, tough week-and-half,” DeRozan said. “We’ve just got to bounce back. You can’t play a perfect season. It’s good that we’re having it now so we can regroup and get back on track.”
It was another rough night for Terrence Ross, who had five points on just 1-for-8 shooting. Jonas Valanciunas had just four points to go with six boards.
Casey had talked pre-game about the importance of protecting the ball, but the message seemingly went unheard by his players, who had already coughed up the ball 14 times before halftime. They would give up 24 points on 19 giveaways overall.
The Raptors wore their purple jerseys as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations, and honoured former Raptor Muggsy Bogues with a video tribute during a timeout. Bogues, who travels the world doing promotional work for the NBA, said the Raptors are situated well in the wide-open Eastern Conference.
“The Raptors have a really good opportunity to come out of the East if they continue to keep grinding, continue to keep getting better, on both ends of the floor,” Bogues said. “What they’ve got now, they’ve proven they can beat anybody they play against, it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”
The Raptors got off to a messy start, shooting just 32 per cent in the opening quarter. But they managed to keep the deficit in single digits and trailed 24-19 heading into the second.
The Hawks stretched their lead to 11 points before the Raptors’ second unit cut the lead to five. But Atlanta ended the first half with an 11-2 run to put the Hawks up 52-38.
DeRozan had 13 points in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough to carry a Raptors squad that couldn’t pull to within closer than 14 points in the frame.
The Raptors end their six-game homestand on Sunday when they host the New Orleans Pelicans.