The Atlanta Hawks may be playoff bound, but a loss to Toronto reveals that Atlanta has doesn’t measure up to the best in the East yet.
Thanks to a Warriors victory over the Wizards, the Atlanta Hawks have officially claimed a playoff berth.
Rather than celebrating with a victory of their own in Toronto, however, Atlanta flopped in a loss against the Raptors.
The Hawks’ weaknesses started with turnovers. The Raptors managed 14 steals, many coming in the first half. The Raptors also closed lanes, preventing Al Horford and Paul Millsap from scoring at the rim.
Toronto was impressive in its ability to shut down Millsap. He turned the ball over four times and shot 3-of-8 from the field for seven points. Millsap looked frustrated most of the night. Several plays that could have been fouls were not called against him. Each time Millsap fought back, Toronto’s defense stripped him of the ball or forced poor shot opportunities.
Meanwhile, Atlanta’s defense struggled against Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Demar DeRozan. Lowry’s 11 assists placed both DeRozan and Valanciunas in position to score all night. Horford lost his position battle against the bigger Valanciunas, giving up easy baskets from close range.
There are some positive for the Hawks. Although the starting five struggled most of the night, the bench played well enough to keep Atlanta in it. After falling behind by 24 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Hawks managed to cut the lead to nine, forcing the Raptors to play their starters toward the end of the game.
The strong performance from the bench gives Atlanta confidence in their depth heading into the playoffs. They know that with the guys they have off the bench, they can remain competitive in any game.
Competitiveness won’t be enough if Atlanta hopes for a long playoff run. Sure, they can get through the first round like this, but how would it fair against Cleveland or Toronto in the playoffs?
The Hawks have played inspired basketball since the end of February with league leading defense. Against the Raptors and Cavs, Atlanta is a combined 0-4 with 3 total games remaining against them.
That gives Atlanta three opportunities to get into the heads of the top two teams in the East. The first opportunity comes Friday. Cleveland will travel to Atlanta for the first of two April meetings between the clubs. Cleveland has been struggling with internal strife and coaching issues, so now is the time for Atlanta to strike.
Not only would a solid home victory prove to Cleveland that Atlanta is no joke, but it would also be a confidence boost for a Hawks team that underperforms against the league’s best teams.