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Raptors refuse to lose to Hawks despite nine-man roster

ATLANTA — The Raptors had any number of reasons to call it a night early and chalk this one up to a loss due to exceptional circumstances.

A nine-man roster for the game would have been excuse No. 1 on a day that four players were shipped out the only one coming back was still hundreds of miles away packing up his life for a new home.

A large early deficit with that same undermanned roster and the hometown Hawks with a bounty of bodies to send out there would have been No. 2.

But down 17 early in the first half, the Raptors refused to buckle and turned this thing around in a hurry on their way to a 119-101 win.

Kyle Lowry, as only Kyle Lowry can, started it, imploring his teammates not to let go of the rope. Then the Raptors began to run the Hawks off the three-point line where they were an astounding 13-for-22 in the first quarter.

Then Pascal Siakam got hot and Fred VanVleet followed and it didn’t take long before the Raptors had this game well under control on their way to a season series sweep of the rebuilding Hawks.

By game’s end, Siakam had a career-high 33 points, VanVleet had a career-best 30 and Lowry was flirting with a career-high in assists, settling for 13 on the night.

Siakam wound up playing 41 minutes of the 48-minute game. Lowry, who has been dealing with a bad back off an on since late December, turned in 36 hard minutes before the lead got to a point that Nurse was able to get both he and Siakam out of the game for the final three.

“I wasn’t warring with myself very much at all tonight,” Nurse admitted of the minutes piling up for his short-handed roster. “I was just trying to get that W. The game is here in front of you and it’s a game to win. Not until there were about three minutes to go did I say: ‘What am I doing here? Get these guys out!

“There was a lineup that was grooving and Pascal was part of it. He ran a long stretch there. And Freddy was part of it, he ran a long stretch there, so we let ’em roll.”

VanVleet, another guy dealing with some off-and-on back trouble for much of the year ,also put in a yeoman’s effort with 37 minutes.

Nurse seemed to think he looked like a guy getting back to health. VanVleet was only too happy to play along with that narrative.

“No, not even close, but let’s run with that story,” VanVleet said of his perceived health. “Maybe we speak it into existence and it will help some things out. Honestly, it was just guys finding me and one of those games. Usually ,I just take what the defence gives me except for the last three minutes of the game when I was hunting for that 30. Teammates were finding me and I was able to get some to fall.”

The Hawks, a respectable 12-12 in their past 24 games, are not going to make the playoffs this season, but they play hard, particularly at home. This was not a gimme on the schedule but as Nurse pointed out before the game, the standings at the top of the Eastern Conference are getting crowded and every win counts.

The Raptors went into this one with some serious doubts but found a way to win a game they really needed to win.

ALL-STAR DRAFT

It’s one of the better changes to the all-star format.

The drafting of the teams by the two top vote getters in the fan vote makes for good television and Thursday night was no exception.

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo were the team captains and each picked four more starters followed by the reserves and then a legacy pick.

Kawhi Leonard was chosen fifth overall and will play on Team LeBron.

Kyle Lowry was selected 21st by Antetokounmpo, one pick before Bradley Beal was chosen with the final selection.

The highlight of the show though came when James picked Anthony Davis first overall among the reserves to which Antetokounmpo asked “Isn’t that tampering?”

OG HAS NURSE’S ATTENTION

It’s not like Nick Nurse has gone out of his way to talk about OG Anunoby’s tough season off the court and the lack of production on it this year but he has over the past few weeks lamented that they needed more from the sophomore who will represent Toronto in the Rising Stars Game at the all-star game later this month. But following Tuesday’s winning effort in Philadelphia, Nurse is starting to see some progress.

“We’re still working hard at getting OG going, and I thought he took a huge leap forward the other night in Philly,” Nurse said. “He was as active and athletic and into the game, so that was good to see, and it’ll be another chance for him to get some big minutes tonight.”

Nurse believes it’s a case of his young sophomore limiting his scope and just focussing on a few things first and then re-expanding his game later.

“We’re just trying to get him to play hard and use his body and use his talents, his athleticism and not worry so much about other things yet. Those will come a little bit later.

“I just think the rhythm’s gone and maybe expectations coming into the year got a little twisted up,” Nurse said. “We got down to a point and we gotta get him back going but we can’t do it all at once and I think playing hard, and getting on the offensive glass and running and defending, and again, we need his size, we need his athleticism out there, and let the rest of it come later.”

QUICK HITS: Section of fans in Atlanta have traditionally been very vocal, chanting and cheering on their team, but this year they’ve added a little nasty to the proceedings. For instance, with Serge Ibaka at the line, the chant of “Orlando reject” began. Then with Lowry at the line it became “You should have been traded.” At one point they were chanting Ibaka’s long-time ex-girlfriend’s name while he shot free throws … Nurse talked about using all of the guys he had available before the game and he did to a point but it became clear that Jordan Loyd wasn’t quite ready for an NBA game that was still in the balance. Nurse tried to steal a little rest for one of his regulars with 8.4 seconds left in the third quarter sending Loyd out with the Raptors defending the final possession. Loyd wound up fouling a three point shooter with 1.8 seconds left and a four point lead became a three-point lead to the head coach’s dismay.

mganter@postmedia.com

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