If you were supporting the Charlotte Hornets then I’m sure that this image would be the most apt descriptor for tonight’s game:
Sweat pouring down your face, in utter distress, your team on the verge of elimination. And for absolutely no reason. Though it was ultimately a 113-111 Hornets win, that this game was close at all was sheer cruelty on the part of the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are, of course, totally locked into the second seed at this point. They cannot pass the Milwaukee Bucks or be passed by the Philadelphia 76ers. They no longer have anything to play for, except, like, furthering cohesion.
The Hornets meanwhile are desperately clinging to their playoff lives. With the Orlando Magic winning tonight, the Hornets essentially have to win out to have any hope of making the playoffs. They had everything to play for.
Nonetheless, the Raptors jumped out to an early double-digit lead, as the Hornets starters were simply overmatched. Danny Green opened the scoring by swishing a three, Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard worked on their two-man game, with Leonard walking the tightline on the baseline before exchanging the ball with Lowry to free himself up. The score got to 19-5 within 4 minutes of the start of the game.
The lead eventually slipped away for the usual reason, poor play from the bench. Even with Kawhi Leonard still on the floor, the Raptors’ bench couldn’t contain Frank Kaminsky of all people, and the Hornets exploited some poor defense from the Raptors to get back into the game. The bench’s offense, spearheaded by Serge Ibaka, was adequate, but they consistently allowed penetration and failed to rotate to shooters. Despite the hot start, the first quarter ended with the Raptors holding just a one-point lead, at 34-33.
The second quarter saw the Raptors lead off with a Kyle Lowry + bench unit. The unit played the Hornets bench mostly to a draw, but we saw some promising signs from Lowry, as he was more aggressive attacking the basket and hunting for his own shot than we’ve typically seen from him recently.
The Raptor starters re-entered halfway through the frame, and went on a mean, pointless half-ending run. It was a run that, I’m sure, was dread-inducing for Hornets fans. Most Raptors fans, on the other hand, presumably reacted to the run with mild boredom punctuated by occasional laughter. Lowry would score 9 of his 16 points in the frame, as he and Leonard did most of the work in taking a small deficit and turning it into a double digit lead. A last second Kemba Walker three-point make ended the Raptors’ run, and brought the Hornets back to within 8, and the Raptors went to the half with 65-57 lead.
Things faltered a bit at the start of the third, as the Hornets benefited from making a lineup change, inserting Frank Kaminsky into the lineup to start the half, despite initially bringing him off the bench. Kaminsky provided some necessary offensive support for the otherwise overtaxed Kemba Walker, as he drilled a three and made some shots on the roll. Kaminsky and Walker evaporated the Raptors’ margin, as the lead traded hands back and forth throughout much of the frame.
Eventually, however, as with the first half, the bench entered and the Raptors sputtered. This time it was their offense that struggled, as they failed to record a point over the last 1:30 of the quarter, and as a result, the Raptors entered the 4th with 90-86 deficit.
A full bench lineup began the final frame, and continued to stall out, failing to score a point for the first two minutes of the 4th. The Hornets took a 9 point, 95-86 lead. At that point, with the nothing on the line for the Raptors, and the risk of injury looming, I would have been okay with Nick Nurse throwing in the towel, emptying the bench, and letting the Hornets secure the win they so desperately needed.
Nick Nurse did not do this. He instead re-inserted Kyle Lowry, who righted the ship for the bench by feeding Serge Ibaka. Lowry, who finished with 11 assists, fed Ibaka ball after ball, and Ibaka caught fire, scoring twelve points in the quarter, en-route to a 20 point and 12 rebound showing. This surge from Ibaka made the game perilously close for the Hornets once again, the Raptors trailed by only a single point as we entered crunch time.
The Raptors re-inserted all of their starters, save for Danny Green. They were going to make the Hornets suffer for absolutely no reason. Kawhi Leonard, ruthless as ever, poured in several utterly needless midrange jumpers.
Kemba Walker, his team’s postseason chances on the line, matched him shot for shot. Then Pascal Siakam drilled a three point shot to take a 109-108 lead. If the lead held then the Hornets would be all-but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. It was a shot Siakam had next to no incentive to make. A fraction of a decimal in his three-point percentage.
Walker made a driving layup to re-take the lead. Leonard, robotic in his cruelty, countered with a layup his own. The Raptors were making the Hornets struggle for their lives, for no reason other than that it was something to do. It was hilarious.
Then, Jeremy Lamb, as he did previously on March 24th, hit a three point shot to take the lead for the Hornets in the dying seconds. This one was a standstill, catch-and-shoot three and time was still left on the clock. Slightly less dramatic.
So, with 3.3 seconds on the clock, down by two, the Raptors had a chance to make a shot to either prolong the Hornets’ misery or end their campaign. They instead used those 3.3 seconds to do the best thing they could possibly do. It was a play that solidified this game as a truly hilarious practical joke, a joke meant to do absolutely nothing but pointlessly scare the shit out of the Hornets and their fans. Kawhi Leonard shot a buzzer-beating wedgie.
What a game. What a dumb, dumb game.