TORONTO — With just over a minute to play in Toronto’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday, beefy Raptors forward Bismack Biyombo swatted away a shot attempt so hard, the ball sailed up into the stands.
Biyombo celebrated by wagging a finger in Dikembe Mutombo fashion in the direction of the Hawks bench.
DeMar DeRozan scored 30 points to lead Toronto, but it was the Raptors’ defence that was truly solid in a 104-96 victory — Toronto’s 14th win in 15 games — over the Hawks.
"I thought we played solid, it was a grind-it-out game, they’re a very good team across the board," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "I thought our guys competed, did a good job in our coverages, especially down the stretch."
Kyle Lowry added 19 points, and took a pivotal charge with 33 seconds left, as six Raptors scored in double figures. Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson had 12 points apiece, Luis Scola had 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Jonas Valanciunas had 10 points and 10 boards.
"We understood their rotations and tried to anticipate what they were going to run, that was big for Kyle getting a charge and Bis protecting the rim," DeRozan said of the defence down the stretch.
Al Horford scored 20 points to top the Hawks (36-29), who were wrapping up a five-game road trip.
The game was a tightly-fought Eastern Conference battle, with neither team leading by double digits until the Raptors (43-20) finally pulled away over the last four minutes.
The Raptors, who began the night two-and-a-half games behind Cleveland for first in the East, led 82-75 to start in the fourth quarter, then opened with three straight three-pointers to put nine points on the Hawks.
Fifth-place Atlanta pulled within six points a few times, but when Lowry stole the ball off Jeff Teague and finished with a finger roll, it gave the Raptors a 12-point lead with 3:33 to play.
The Hawks, the top defensive team in the league since the NBA all-star break, would pull to within six points with 1:05 to play, but it was Toronto’s defence that held firm to secure the victory.
"It was good, I think we just had a good opportunity, Bis cleaned that up at the end, and I was able to help out, it was just a good overall job for us," Lowry said.
DeRozan scored 30-plus points for the third time in five games on 11-for-20 shooting.
"I don’t even think about it," DeRozan said. "I just go there and try to play, try to be aggressive, try to put an imprint on the game, especially when we’re being aggressive, getting stops, trying to get to the free throw line, trying to get easy buckets."
The Raptors outscored the Hawks 50-34 in the paint, and outrebounded the visitors 48-33.
Both the Raptors and Hawks were coming off comeback wins from two nights earlier, the Raptors rallying from a 16-point deficit — and a stern halftime speech from coach Dwane Casey — to beat the Brooklyn Nets. The Hawks came back to beat the Jazz in Utah.
The Raptors had beaten the Hawks 98-86 in Atlanta on Dec. 2.
DeRozan led the way with nine points in a first quarter that saw the Raptors shoot a solid 53 per cent, but trail the Hawks 21-20 going into the second.
DeRozan’s superb play continued into the second quarter, and with 33 seconds left before halftime he sprinted the length of the court, slicing through the Hawks to finish with a huge dunk that sent the Raptors into the break with a 52-48 lead.
The Raptors stretched their advantage to eight points midway through the third and led 82-75 with one quarter left to play.
The Raptors host Miami on Sunday, then wrap up their seven-game homestand on Monday against Chicago.