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Raptors play with fire — again — but somehow survive

Once more, into the breach.

WHAT HAPPENED

Must be nice to play about 10 minutes of good basketball, win going away and get ready to move on to the next one.

But it’s playing with fire and eventually the Raptors are going to get burned and as Dwane Casey put it after the game:

“We play that way tomorrow night it’s going to be a TKO in the second quarter.”

And you wonder if there might not be some people in the organization who might not be all that broken up if that was to occur.

An ugly loss – and just have the feeling one is coming – might be the kind of wakeup call they need and would certainly validate Dwane’s constant reminder that if they don’t play well and hard all the time, sometime soon they’re going to get bitten on the collective butts.

It didn’t happen last night because C.J. Miles made some big fourth quarter shots, Jakob Poeltl got all energetic in his second half run and, well, the Hawks really aren’t any good.

They won despite Kyle Lowry basically having a night off – six shots, four points, four fouls and a cantankerousness level towards the refs almost off the charts.

They won despite missing 26 of 36 three-pointers and being beaten for a dozen offensive rebounds.

They won despite themselves.

“There was no Xs-and-0s (at halftime),” was how VanVleet put it. “It was just us as players digging in, being a little bit better, being more sharp and not getting frustrated with the officiating and we did a better job in the second half but people look at the teams, Toronto vs. Atlanta and expect a 50-point blowout in the first quarter of the game but it doesn’t really work like that, you have to keep grinding and eventually things will shake loose.”

THREE POINTERS

Knowing what he is

Pascal Siakam did attempt one three-pointer, a corner look that he not surprisingly missed, but it was one he didn’t even think about taking that was more impressive.

Early second quarter, Siakam gets the ball just above the break on the far side across from the Hawks bench and no Atlanta player was remotely interested in guarding him. He could have pulled a Harden and stood and twirled the ball in hands before stepping into a three.

He didn’t, though. He knew better, he took a couple of dribbles before making his patented – well, only – move, the hard spin. The shot got blocked and was headed out of bounds when it ended up being saved right into the hands of C.J. Miles, who made a three for a 34-31 Raptors lead.

Now, the play ended luckily for the Raptors but it only began because Siakam realized his limitations and passed up a shot he might once have taken.

Taking no chances

You could tell Kyle Lowry was getting rest at the end of the first quarter – some nights it’s him, some nights it’s DeMar – because the Raptors didn’t even look as his tradition two-for-one shot.

They got the ball back off a Hawks miss with 31.7 seconds left and Lowry for sure would have raced up the floor, hoisted a three with maybe 27 seconds left, knowing Toronto might get another shot before the quarter ened.

It’s how he rolls.

But Fred took his time, missed a pullup jumper with about 12 seconds left and the quarter ran out.

Making my point

You know how I’m always going on about the intricate challenges of officiating NBA games and how bad I think some officials have become at managing incidents and emotions and those times when they need to exercise better judgement?

Tony Brothers made my case for me last night.

He had made a questionable call from about midcourt on a play under the basket with about seconds left in the first half and DeMar DeRozan was livid.

DeRozan was being subbed and was walking to the end of the Raptors bench, still ticked and still chirping Brothers.

Brothers was standing right on the baseline next to the Toronto bench while play was stopped for the substitution and what he should have done was say one thing to DeMar and walk to the other side of the basket, away from the confrontation. He knew DeRozan was going to the bench and if DeMar had followed him, then T him up for sure.

But, no. Brothers basically baited DeRozan into the tech by standing there when he could have diffused the situation by taking five steps away.

That’s just bad officiating and game control; I don’t know what DeRozan said but Brothers made it possible for him to say it instead of walking away.

LITTLE THINGS

So, at 27-5 at the Air Canada Centre with nine home games, sure looks like the franchise record for home  — 30 in the 2006-07 season – is in danger.

The 22 turnovers the Hawks committed were ghastly and the 25 points the Raptors turned them into were huge. It was the second most by a Raptors opponent (Philly, 25, just before Christmas) this year.

We got a little bit more ‘cause that’s what we do.

Off to Detroit, you say?

Okay.

How about my guy Jack Armstrong winning his second straight Canadian Screen Award as the best sports analyst?

Pretty cool and well deserved and if there was a Canadian/American Stool Storytelling award , he’d be up for that, too.

Great guy, great road company, great home company and I would presume there would have been a couple of glasses raised in his honour last night when they got to Detroit.

Yeah, we should start the plea for mail right now, gonna be a very quiet day tomorrow until I have to settle in front of the computer to watch The Mighty Badgers in the early evening.

That means time to answer your queries and you should click on askdoug@thestar.ca to send them.

Entertain, quiz, challenge, titillate me; whatever your heart desires.

TV conflict tonight: Gotta watch the locals play down in Detroit but the TFCs are against the Tigres at the same time so there’ll be some commercial/halftime/quarter break clicking for sure.

About the best thing about this Champions League thing is getting to see teams you’ve never seen before so I’m quite interested in the Mexican side, how it plays, how it reacts to BMO, right down to what their kits look like.

And I’ll do it armed with this missive from She Who Supports Arsenal that gives you a pretty solid grounding in what the game might be like.

TORONTO STAR