Atlanta Hawks’ Dwight Howard directs a teammate during first-half NBA basketball game action against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

How Hawks beat Raptors to avenge one of worst franchise losses

1. Dwight Howard was a force. The center finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds. Seven of his boards came on the offensive end (more on that later). He was 10 of 13 from the field and, more impressive, 7 of 10 from the free-throw line.

Howard set several career milestones in the win. He surpassed the 16,000 career-point mark and now stands at 16,009. He passed Elgin Baylor for 26th on the all-time NBA/ABA rebound list and now stands at 11,465. There is more. He also moved past Kevin Garnett for 24th place on the all-time offensive rebound list and now has 3,212.

“It’s a blessing to play this long,” Howard said. “Thirteen years is a long time in this league. I’m just thankful that I’m happy and I can still play.”

2. The Raptors went with small lineups at times and the Hawks made them pay on the boards. The Hawks held a 44-28 rebound advantage, including 15-8 on the offensive end. Howard, Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore came up with key offensive boards down the stretch. Howard grabbed one and kick to Korver for a 3-pointer in the third quarter that helped halt a Raptors rally.

“Dwight, his effort and his commitment on the offensive boards, he had some big ones,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “… They went small. One way to make them pay for that a little bit is on the boards.”

3. The Hawks set a different tone defensively right from the start. Paul Millsap, and later Mike Muscala, guarded center Jonas Valanciunas and Howard guarded power forward Pacal Siakam. The move gave the Hawks some early success as they grabbed a lead in the first quarter that they never relinquished.

“We just thought the way they operate, the way they do things, it might put our guys in better positions to be successful. Dwight has a presence in the paint and meeting a roller or a driver. Paul guarding more pick-and-rolls. Proud of Dwight’s execution. Proud of Paul’s execution. They were good.”

4. How about that first half. The Hawks scored 35 first-quarter points. They scored 37 second-half points in the 44-point loss at the Raptors two weeks ago. The Hawks led by as many as 19 points in the first half and took a 17-point cushion into the third quarter. The Hawks shot 56 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range in the first half. The Raptors last, and biggest, lead of the game came when they led 23-21 with 3:57 left in the first quarter.

The Hawks had something to prove after the shellacking two weeks prior. The start was a big part of avenging that loss, one of the low points of the season.

“It feels great,” Thabo Sefolosha said. “We showed a lot about this team, being able to come back and play our game. We showed growth in those (13) days.”

5. Korver summed up the difference in the two meetings with the Raptors in, essentially, two words. Ball movement. The Hawks moved the ball much better, often completely four or five passes before getting an open shot. Korver had six 3-pointers and the Hawks were 11 of 25 from long distance for the game. But the ball movement also opened up drives to the basket and put backs. The Raptors were on their heels for much of the game.

“Energy and ball movement,” Korver said of the difference between the two games. “We did a lot of one-on-one the last time we were here. We tried to do it by ourselves. We played good team basketball tonight. The ball was hopping. We rebounded the ball. That’s all about energy and focus. A lot better game than the last time.”

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