ATLANTA — In NBA circles, there’s a certain trade-off that involves successful teams… and bottom-feeder opponents that can only dress nine players on a given night.
On one hand, the referees will likely show mercy to the depleted squad, in the form of precluding anyone from fouling out.
On the other, the home-standing club, playing at full strength, will most certainly walk off the floor with a victory.
The Hawks nearly put a monkey wrench into that time-tested notion on Wednesday, needing some last-minute, ahem, luck to eke out a 93-92 victory over the Toronto Raptors at Philips Arena. It marked Atlanta’s third consecutive home victory of rallying from a double-digit deficit.
Understandably, Hawks head coach Larry Drew didn’t derive much pleasure from the above stat.
“The longer we allow (the Raptors) to hang around, the more comfortable they (got) — that’s exactly what happened,” said Drew, who lamented his team’s lack of focus before tipoff. “That was not an energized first half. (Toronto led 55-45 at the break.) We didn’t play with a sense of urgency.”
For the night, Al Horford (22 points, 10 rebounds, six assists), Josh Smith (20 points, 11 boards) and Kyle Korver (17 points; five three-pointers) carried the Hawks to victory. On their final possession, Smith found Horford for an easy dunk off a roll to the basket — the result of the Raptors momentarily devoting two defenders to the dangerous Korver (off the Horford screen).
What happened next sparked some controversy:
With the Hawks up one and 21.5 seconds left on the clock, Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (game-high 23 points) drove to the hoop from beyond the arc, but lost the ball to his left. That sent Korver diving first for the loose ball — even though Toronto’s Alan Anderson would somehow emerge from the scrum and produce an off-balance shot after stepping over Korver.
Anderson’s jumper faintly clanged off the rim, enabling DeRozan to seize the ball in the paint. With just seconds to spare, he attempted a three-footer but was stripped by multiple Hawks defenders — amid contact. Horford eventually snagged control of the ball and hurled it downcourt to clinch Atlanta’s harrowing win.
As the buzzer sounded, Raptors coach Dwayne Casey was despondent about the lack of a final whistle. He even garnered sympathy from the Hawks TV announcers in the replay aftermath.
“We contested (DeRozan’s final shot),” recalled Smith after the game. “After that, I don’t know what happened.”
Horford added more detail to the disputed finish — sort of.
“Everything was happening really fast,” said Horford. “My first instinct was to block the shot, and the ball just kind of hung around… so I grabbed the rebound.”
Wednesday’s clash served as a perfect example of how unfair life can sometimes be in pro sports.
The Raptors, already mired in the Atlantic Division basement and playing without big men Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas, were decimated, numbers-wise, long before the opening tip — the result of Toronto executing a three-team swap with Detroit and Memphis earlier in the day.
In exchange for landing Rudy Gay — perhaps the NBA’s best forward to not make an all-star team — the Raptors dealt point guard Jose Calderon to the Pistons and forward Ed Davis to the Grizzlies. Hence, the short layup lines during pregame warm-ups.
Atlanta tallied 26 assists and shot 48 percent from the field (36-75). On the negative end, the Hawks were outscored in three quarters — needing every bit of their 30-14 run in the third quarter to collect the victory.
The Hawks (26-19) host the surging Bulls on Saturday night.