It follows that a game against the Charlotte Hornets, as ugly and forgettable a team as there exists in the NBA, will be mostly ugly and forgettable. This is one of the immutable laws of the basketball universe. Watching ugly and forgettable basketball is perhaps a regrettable way to spend one’s time. (I can’t even imagine what it feels like to play it — oh wait, yes I can, I play in two rec leagues). But all can be forgiven if the home team, the Raptors, win in the end. Sadly, that was not the case here: the Hornets beat Toronto, 110-106.
Still, those immutable laws. This one got off to a slow start, with a 2-0 score after three minutes, a 9-9 score after six minutes, and a 13-12 score after nine minutes. It was 22-19 after the first 12 minutes and the Raptors had just managed to reach 40 percent shooting from the field (the Hornets were an inspiring 39.1 percent). It had all the characteristics of an ugly and forgettable game. Time slowed down. The Raptors played from behind for most of the first half, DeMar DeRozan leading the way with seven points. Most of the action blurred together.
It wasn’t until the third quarter, inspired in part by some astounding defensive play from Jonas Valanciunas, that the Raptors got rolling. Yes, you read that correctly: inspired defensive play from Jonas — not everything about this game was ugly and forgettable. Valanciunas finished the game with 14 points and 15 rebounds, along with three blocks in that third frame. The Raptors took their largest lead then — 11 points — and looked in control. The Hornets were held to a thoroughly ugly and forgettable 16 points. All was well. Until...
“We went from one of our best defensive quarters, 16 points in the third, to 44 in the fourth and that was the difference in the game,” said coach Dwane Casey. “I thought we did a good job of containing their three point shooters. They saw one go in and then it was contagious.” Invoking a contagion when discussing the Hornets feels apt.
The Raptors opened the fourth with some sloppy play, allowing the Hornets to creep back in. “For us, we let them get a rhythm,” said DeRozan. And then, in direct contradiction to the aforementioned immutable laws of basketball, a few Hornets — namely Marco Belinelli, Kemba Walker, and Marvin Williams, with 21, 19 and 18 points, respectively — dared to make things interesting. Powered by going 8-of-10 from three in the fourth, Charlotte surged back into the game to retake and hold the lead — capped by a step-back dagger from Kemba. It was an impossible thing to watch, but happen it did. “Once a guy like that [Walker] sees the ball go in, it’s hard to turn it off,” said Casey in response.
If there are positives to take away: that tremendous defense from Jonas in the third, the continued excellence of DeMar DeRozan (28 points to go with eight assists and six rebounds), and a solid run from Cory Joseph (18 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists). Ibaka shot a much needed 4-of-9 from deep and had 15 points, but only had two rebounds, along with five fouls that kept the Raptors from their normal rotations. On paper, the Raptors played a solid game — 46 percent shooting, solid on the glass, an average number of 3s taken and made.
But the Hornets went and did some law breaking and the Raptors took the L. It happens sometimes; it sucks. But it’s also basketball — the rules don’t always apply. Or at least, there’s one other immutable law to consider here: you can’t win them all.
On to the next one.