TORONTO — Maybe it was a wake-up call, or a lesson that needed to be taught. In either case, the lowly Atlanta Hawks put a scare into the Toronto Raptors.
DeMar DeRozan had 25 points as Toronto rode a late fourth-quarter surge in a 106-90 victory over Atlanta on Tuesday night for the Raptors' fifth-straight win.
Although ugly, it increased Toronto's lead in the Eastern Conference to two games over the idle Boston Celtics. The win also underscored that the Raptors have to play hard for a full four quarters, even if it's against a team like the Hawks, who entered the game tied for the third-worst record in the NBA.
"Look at film. Look at the mistakes. Look at the things we did wrong. Understand what's our flaws at the beginning of the game," said DeRozan when asked what he and his teammates could learn from the game.
"Overall, we just need to understand that no matter who we play against, teams that aren't going to the playoffs, whoever we play against, we're going to get their best shot. We've got to understand that."
All-star point guard Kyle Lowry was limited offensively, scoring four but adding seven assists as the Raptors (46-17) trailed for most of the game. Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and seven rebounds.
Kent Basemore led Atlanta (20-45) with 14 points. John Collins added 14, while Dewayne Dedmon had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
In the first two quarters, the Raptors shot 35.4 per cent from field-goal range and 33.3 per cent from beyond the arc. The Hawks were better, with 47.4 per cent field-goal shooting and 45.5 per cent from three. Atlanta had 11 turnovers to Toronto's seven. Mike Muscala made a quartet of free throws — two on technical fouls charged to DeRozan and Lowry — in the final minute of the second quarter to give Atlanta a 51-50 lead at half.
"It's like you keep cracking the whip, and reiterating the fact that everybody's got to give it their best shot no matter what the record is," said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. "If you don't play, hustle is going to beat talent. Hard work and physicality is going to beat talent every time."
The Raptors opened the third with a 7-0 run but then the ugly play continued for both teams. Toronto missed all seven of its three-point attempts in the quarter, while Atlanta went 1 for 8 from beyond the arc.
"I mean, we won. Sixteen-point win, held them to 90," said guard Fred VanVleet. "Obviously, we know we've got to play better. Just find that rhythm."
Lowry earned a flagrant foul with 6:22 left in the third when he wrapped his arm around John Collins's waist as the Hawks forward leapt for a breakaway dunk on a turnover. Collins landed on his feet but went down hard on the play.
A Dedmon three-pointer gave Atlanta a 77-76 lead heading into the fourth.
Delon Wright made a driving layup with 6:30 left to play that sparked a 14-0 Raptors run that turned the game around. It was punctuated by C.J. Miles drilling a three-pointer 41 seconds later, driving the sold-out Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800 into a frenzy as he flexed over the Raptors logo at halfcourt.
Atlanta wouldn't score for nearly five minutes after Wright's layup and by the time Jaylen Morris floated in a bankshot, it was too late.
"We got out, we were aggressive and we got our hands on the basketball," said DeRozan. "Whenever we get a chance to get stops and just get out and play we are at our best. It took until the fourth quarter for us to bring that out."
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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version listed the incorrect score.