Last night the Toronto Raptors lost a nail-bitter against the Charlotte Bobcats in a game that would come down to the final play, and a questionable call from the officiating crew.
For the Bobcats, the result was a hard-fought win - their 6th of the season. In their entire 66 game schedule last season, the team only one 7 total games, so to say that this is an improved team is quite the understatement.
The Cats got a great performance out of a much-improved Kemba Walker. Walker finished with 19 points and 7 assists, showing off much better decision making ability than we saw out of him last season.
Rookie Michael Kidd-Glchrest was also great, scoring 14 points, grabbing 5 rebounds and adding 2 assists and 2 steals while playing great defence on whomever he was matched up against - basically anybody and everybody.
Not to be outdone, the Charlotte bench gave the team a huge lift in this game. Biyombo, Sessions and Gordon all scored in double figures, providing the Bobcats with enough of a boost to allow them to come away with the victory.
On the Raptors side of things, however this game that was within their grasp, but they let slip away. The game though, was not without it's fair share of controversy.
For starters, DeMar DeRozan did not attempt a single free throw until the 1:52 mark of the fourth quarter. This was not due to a lack of trying either, DeRozan attacked the bucket time and time again, only to receive absolutely no whistles until the game was in it's final minutes.
The lack of respect from the officials caused DeMar to become frustrated and it clearly affected his game for a significant portion of the contest. But, with the game on the line, DeRozan faught through the frustration and made a couple of key buckets in crunch time, including an and-one at the 1:52 mark which provided him with his first free-throw of the evening.
DeMar DeRozan was not the only player to be affected by non-calls. In the dying second of the game, Dwane Casey drew up a play to get Bargnani and open two point jumper with an opportunity to win the game.
The play worked effectively and Bargnani got the open look, however the jumper fell well short after it appeard as though Andrea was hit on the elbow during his shooting motion. No whistle was blown and the Bobcats came away with the victory.
The lost wastes a couple of notable performances by the Raptors' starting frontcourt. Bargnani had a bit of an up and down game, but finished with a game-high 25 points on 9 of 17 shooting from the floor. His lack of rebounding is noted - he finished with just one - but what he did bring to the table offensively was desperately needed on a night where DeRozan struggeled and without the offesnive punch, the Raptors would not have been in the game down the stretch.
Jonas Valanciunas also had a fantastic game - perhaps the best of his young career. Valanciunas game out of the game hot, converting on a number of buckets in close, apparently carrying over some of the confidence he displayed the previous night against the Sixers. As the game progressed, as did the rookie's range as he knocked down jumper after jumper in the second half.
Valanciunas would be forced to leave the game early after fouling out late in the fourth quarter, but his play was notable. The rookie scored 16 points and had 10 rebounds in a whopping 35 minutes of action. The 35 minutes may actually be the most important stat of the game for him because it shows just how much Casey trusted him in, leaving him in the game in key situations.
The Raptors played the Bobcats close pretty much the whole way through this contest. Bargnani and Valanciunas got off to great starts in the first quarter, but the team was carried by Kyle Lowry who had 16 of his 21 points in the half, including a buzzer-beating jumper.
In the second half, the Raptors fell behind by as may as 10, but thanks in part to some solid defence and a Bobcat scoring drought that including 10 consecutive misses, the Dinos were able to get back into the game.
Terrence Ross was a big part of their run in the second half. Ross saw a stellar 15 minutes of floor time in this one and took advantage, scoring 11 points on 5 of 9 shooting from the floor.
Despite the loss, the Raptors can be happy about the play of their rookies as well as the way DeRozan bounced back from what was a clearly frustrating game for him.
At this point, a 3-9 start isn't exactly what the team would have hoped heading into the season. But, if players like Ross, Valanciuna and DeRozan can build on their strong outings in Detroit on Friday, that is a game that the Raptors know they can win.