Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 99-96 loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
One — Horrendous: This was an uncharacteristic performance by the Raptors, who couldn’t muster the composure nor the focus to win this game, which is antithetical to their season. Sure, the Raptors closed the gap in the second half and even took the lead late, but they never found a rhythm. The Hornets left the door wide open so many times, but each time the Raptors were undone by unforced mistakes. Bad shots, missed rotations, and a wholly needless foul doomed them on a night where they did not deserve the win.
Two — Unfortunate: The blame for the loss will ultimately fall on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who put two hands on Terry Rozier’s back before the Hornets inbounded with the game tied. That foul effectively ended the game, as Rozier shot the technical free throw while also retaining possession with 2.1 seconds left. Moments earlier, Hollis-Jefferson called his own number in a late shot clock situation by ploughing aimlessly into Bismack Biyombo, and was rudely turned aside while also wasting the possession.
Three — Leadership: Serge Ibaka made sure to comfort Hollis-Jefferson on his way out of the locker room, which shows decency on the part of Ibaka. As it happens, Ibaka committed the same mistake — fouling before an inbound pass — that forced the Raptors to endure overtime against the Hornets earlier in the year. Hollis-Jefferson was in a tough spot all night, as he was left yet again playing the center position in a pinch since Ibaka (knee soreness) and Marc Gasol (hamstring) missed the game, leaving the Raptors barren at center. All night Hollis-Jefferson found himself outnumbered on the glass and outmuscled in the paint, so you could cut him some slack on the last possession.
Four — Return: Norman Powell started after missing the last nine games with a fractured finger, and was utterly spent after logging 35 minutes. When asked about his usage after the game, Powell offered a blunt “no comment,” which is understandable. In fairness to Nick Nurse, the Raptors were already without Fred VanVleet, and the bench gave them absolutely nothing. Powell’s scoring was a port in the storm during the first half, and he did reasonably well, finishing with 22 points. Powell wouldn’t say if his finger was still bothering him, but there was one drive where Powell froze his man by cutting to his left and still opted for a tighter finish with his right hand, which suggested that he’s favoring it.
Five — Inconsistent: By no means was it a banner night for the starters, but this was a rough night by the bench which combined for nine total points. Sure, they were shorthanded on the night due to injuries, but three of these same players played great against the Bucks on Tuesday. It was a different story tonight with Terence Davis missing all four of his threes, Matt Thomas not even getting a look most times, and Chris Boucher collecting one single defensive rebound in 16 minutes of action.
Six — Horrendous: Worst of all was the performance of Pat McCaw, who was a team-worst minus-16 in a game where the Raptors lost by three points. McCaw had to play because he’s technically their third-string point guard and because the rotation was so thin, but his minutes were disastrous. Save for two setups to OG Anunoby that resulted in missed threes, McCaw provided zero playmaking in his 20 minutes on the floor. He was not only missing open threes (which happened to just about everyone tonight) but even layups proved impossible. One play summed up McCaw’s entire night: He slashed inside for a layup, missed it, collected his own miss, missed a second layup, snagged his miss yet again, only to get stripped of the ball. McCaw just had the flu so he wasn’t 100 percent, but this was one to forget.
Seven — Takeover: Pascal Siakam was having a rough night of his own, but it was good to see him assume responsibility and put the team on his back. He was determined to get to the basket in the second half, and his sheer will kept the Raptors in the hunt. He also had one of his better defensive efforts on the season, as Siakam was everywhere on defense while also being a factor on the glass. He even played some rare minutes at center when Hollis-Jefferson was in foul trouble and while Boucher was getting bullied. All in all, it’s hard to fault Siakam for this result. He left it all on the line.
Eight — Fading: The only regret is that Siakam didn’t factor in more prominently at the end, but that’s a reflection of circumstances. Lowry shook off an extremely disjointed game to emerge as the hero in the fourth, and it was natural that the final possession flowed through him. After picking up his fifth foul (and successfully pressuring Nurse into the unsuccessful challenge), Lowry scored nine straight points for the Raptors to force a tie game. On the last shot, Lowry created two open looks — one for Powell on a catch-and-shoot three — and another for himself off an offensive rebound, and both looks rimmed out. Still, the overall trend of Siakam taking a backseat in the fourth quarter is mildly concerning since he’s best equipped at getting his own shot on this team.
Nine — Bond: Bismack Biyombo made a point to swing through the Raptors locker room to greet Lowry and Ibaka after the game. Biyombo remains a legend in Toronto for his contributions during the 2016 run to the Eastern Conference finals, and would be a welcome addition if he were to secure a buyout. However, that seems unlikely given that the deadline for such a move is this weekend.
Ten — Relief: The good news is that the Raptors are slowing inching towards full health. Powell is back, while VanVleet and Ibaka are said to be dealing with minor injuries. Gasol remains a question mark, but he will join the team on their upcoming five-game road trip which is an encouraging sign despite Nurse cautioning that Gasol is still unlikely to suit up.
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