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Five Thoughts on Last Night: Raptors 103, Hornets 98

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The Charlotte Hornets made the Toronto Raptors work for their fourth straight win, but win the Raptors did. We’ve got five thoughts on the outcome.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Not every win can be pretty, or a blow-out, or fun to watch, or enjoyable in any way whatsoever. Such was the case yesterday, as the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors combined for an early evening bricklaying competition that somebody had to win, I guess.

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Last night was the fourth and final meeting of the year between these two teams, and I guess you had to expect the Hornets to come out with some fight in this one; the Raptors kicked their butts by 13, 18 and 20 already this year (Toronto averaged 126 points in those three wins) and the Hornets are fighting to make the playoffs.

I’m sure many a Raps fan felt a slight unease—that little hard knot forming in the pit of the stomach—when Charlotte cut the Raptors once-13 point lead to two with five minutes to go. After all, Kemba Walker has buried a few daggers in Raptor hearts over the years.

And the ensuing clutch minutes... Well, more on that in a minute.

But the Raptors pulled it out, and a win’s a win. That’s a season series sweep for Toronto over Charlotte—something that, as noted on the broadcast, the Raptors hadn’t done in more than a decade.

P.S. Charlotte’s not making the playoffs.

Couldn’t Somebody Have Taken the Lid Off the Can?

Toronto started the night 6-of-6 from the floor, then missed 48 of their next 77 shots. The two teams combined to shoot 67-168 overall, just a hair under 40%.

That number doesn’t do justice to the number of wide open shots that rimmed out, especially for the Raptors. In the first quarter alone they missed seven threes, five of them wide open; hitting just two of them would have blown this game open early. They missed nine more in the second and their final tally (12-41) actually looks better than it felt like during the game.

Also: I want you to know that Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas connected on five triples, equal to the combined amount hit by Kyle Lowry, C.J. Miles and Fred VanVleet—the team’s best shooters—on 13 fewer attempts.

Yikes.

Seriously though, much credit to JV for his development of the three-pointer as a weapon. Early on he faked Dwight Howard out of his shoes at the three point line and drove and dunked with two hands. A couple plays later, Howard laid off and Valanciunas buried the three. That’s how it’s done!

The Bench Got it’s Fortnightly Bad Game Out of the Way

Every couple weeks, the bench drops a stinker and you just have to hope it comes against a poor team like Charlotte.

Charlotte’s bench (and if you can name more than two Charlotte subs without looking it up, you are an NBA nerd and I love you) actually outscored Toronto’s 41-35. Four members of Toronto’s Bench Mob ended up on the wrong side of plus-minus.

C.J. Miles followed up his stellar Friday night show with a 4-12 clunker, and normally steady Fred VanVleet looked shaky for the first time in months, turning the ball over four times and shooting just 3-of-8. Delon Wright scored four points, all at the foul line, and was a team-worst -8. Jakob Poeltl didn’t take a single shot!

It wasn’t fun, or good, but I’m pretty confident this group will be back in business on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Dwane Casey is Seeing Other People

OK, so what Coach Casey actually said was “We’re gonna look at different people in different parts of the game in different situations.”

What he actually (maybe) meant was: Norman Powell stinks, and I don’t want to screw up my bench, so I’m starting Malcolm Miller.

The rookie was fine, if mostly invisible, in his 13 minutes. He didn’t score and only grabbed one board, but most importantly he didn’t turn the ball over. He had a hockey assist off a drive that led to a Valanciunas triple and finished +5.

As for Norm, you had to appreciate the way his teammates tried to get him involved during his four minutes of floor time. Lowry in particular made an effort, setting Powell up for an end-of-quarter three that found iron. But the funk shows no signs of ending.

Still, I wouldn’t bet against Norm making an impact at some point in the playoffs.

Close Games Continue to be An Adventure

So, who had “two possessions end with Jonas Valanciunas getting the ball in the right corner” on their “Raptors Inexplicable Clutch Play” Bingo card?

Yikes again.

Other lowlights in this run included step-back, closely guarded threes from Lowry and DeRozan (that somehow both went in), two other missed DeMar DeRozan threes (one a corner fadeaway) and another missed Lowry three (that I didn’t mind).

If you’re keeping track that’s six 3-point attempts between the 4:30 and 1:00 marks of the fourth quarter of a two-point game.

It is hard to complain about three-point shots, since that’s the way the game has gone and we all wanted the Raptors shooting more this year. But most of these were pretty poor shots. Contrast them to those first-half misses that came of crisp passes and swinging the ball around the perimeter, these came off stagnant offense in late-clock situations.

On the plus side, the Raptors did manage to haul in two offensive rebounds off those long misses; it sure was nice to be on the other end of that for change!

To be fair, for the second game in a row the Raptors defended well in the clutch. They held Charlotte to just one point in the three minutes following Jeremy Lamb’s three-point play that brought the Hornets to within two; only a couple cheap fouls got Charlotte back on the board.

And more clutch reps, even if they’re not pretty, are a good thing. Still, I can’t help but worry that, come playoff time, these “clutch adventures” are going to turn into “clutch heart attacks.”

********

For all of my complaining, this game was just fine. It’s Charlotte, it’s a Sunday evening game, the Raptors never trailed and they’re now 45-17. They moved the ball well for most of the night, defended well, and if a couple more threes drop, this game never gets close at all.

And hey, what better way to bounce back from a subpar performance than a home game against the lowly Atlanta Hawks, right? See you Tuesday night!