Blame the schedule, injuries, or whatever you want — the Raptors aren’t playing to their capability at this juncture of the season. In the last eight games, they’ve been able to scrounge out wins thanks to their two superstars in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Tonight, against Charlotte, those two were not enough to overcome the almighty Kemba Walker. Toronto got demolished by Walker and the Hornets, 113-78.
Walker had 32 points in 29 minutes in this one, shooting 11-for-16 and often making defenders Cory Joseph and Norman Powell look silly. With an array of wicked crossovers, beautiful screen splits, and acrobatic finishes — Kemba was a foreign object on a basketball floor where the red jerseys looked apathetic. Apart from a brief period in the second quarter — where Kyle Lowry responded to getting popped in the mouth with a one-man 7-2 run — there wasn’t much livelihood to the Raptors tonight.
Lowry led the team with 24 points, with DeRozan not far behind at 23. The two got their points on 35 shots, though, as lack of depth is clearly affecting the banged up Raptors. The supporting cast of DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, and Jared Sullinger were simply unable to buy a bucket from deep as the team went 7-for-30 on three-point attempts. This put additional pressure on Lowry and DeRozan to score. Couple that with a pitiful defensive effort against an energized Hornets squad? The result is in the box score.
Time and again tonight, Charlotte beat the Raptors to loose balls. The rebounding margin was 51 to 33 in favour of the Hornets, and they took advantage to shoot 50% from the field. Despite this, it was a close game until late in the first half. It was then that Kemba Walker exploded, following a dizzying stepback three with a four-point play to give Charlotte a seven-point lead at halftime.
The game quickly turned into a blowout in the second half. Whatever fire was under Lowry didn’t spread to the rest of the team, as Jonas Valanciunas was beat to his spot under the basket by Cody Zeller on multiple occasions. Steve Clifford’s Hornets also read the scouting report on the Raptors big man, and targeted him with Kemba pick and rolls on nearly every possession in which the two shared the floor. With a hapless Jonas trying to guard the smaller Walker, the Raptors were forced to send help. Kemba would rip them by finding the open man, and the Hornets shot 12-for-25 from three-point territory.
It was a clinical win by the Hornets, amidst a Raptors season where they’ve mostly avoided blowouts. Tonight, though, all the injuries and negative play added up to a perfect storm of awfulness. The Raptors now head home, where they’ll play the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night.