The last time the Toronto Raptors were on a winning streak, it came off two straight wins against the Charlotte Hornets during the preseason. Coincidence?
The Raptors and the Hornets doubled down with their second close game in two nights, and the results were the same, with the Raptors winning 116-113. Norman Powell woke up from his slumber and graced us with his Playoff Powell/Norm God performance, as he dropped 24 points off the bench (+22!!!), and tied his career-high with six made three-pointers. Chris Boucher almost had a double-double, adding 20 points and nine rebounds off the bench.
Gordon Hayward paced the Hornets with 25 points, but only six in the second half; Terry Rozier added 24 in the losing effort.
The Raptors survived yet another slow start with Aron Baynes starting, missing seven of their first eight shots (four of them from the perimeter) while turning the ball over four times.
Part of the problem was an off night from Pascal Siakam, where he was ineffective offensively and got into early foul trouble. Credit goes to Hornets head coach James Barrego for utilizing a pesky zone defense for most of the game, one that discouraged Siakam from getting into the paint.
The Hornets started slowly as well but got their bearings back much earlier. They took advantage of the Raptors’ sluggish offense, jumping ahead 12-2, forcing Nick Nurse to call a timeout and insert Chris Boucher into the game.
Boucher, right on cue, hits his first shot with a Kevin Durant-esque runner, which started a 12-3 run capped by a Malachi Flynn corner three to bring the Raptors within three, 14-17. The Hornets came back with a zone, but it didn’t slow the Raptors down — a Boucher three gave them a 20-19 lead and they finished the quarter up 31-27.
It was the Raptors’ relentless drive and kick game got them into a great offensive flow.
This ball movement > pic.twitter.com/jF812quVJF— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 17, 2021
That success carried into the second quarter with Fred VanVleet hitting back to back threes, with Powell adding one of his own during a 15-6 run that was capped by an OG Anunoby fast break dunk, pushing the lead to 46-33.
SHOWTIME OG pic.twitter.com/B67qNQUEsB— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 17, 2021
Hayward chipped in nine of the Hornets’ next eleven points to keep them in the game. Siakam’s off-night continued, as he picked up his 3rd foul with five minutes left in the quarter, prompting a Yuta Watanabe sighting. The Hornets went on a 14-4 run behind Terry Rozier’s heroics, who pitched in eleven points on this run, including a three-pointer at the buzzer, as they closed the half trailing the Raptors 66-64.
The Raptors came out of the half a step slow despite having Boucher in for Baynes, and a quick Hornets 6-0 run forced Nurse to call a timeout just over a minute into the half, as they surrendered their lead, trailing 66-70. The Hornets focused on attacking Boucher on switches, and they were successful in getting him into foul trouble, as he picked up his fourth less than eight minutes into the quarter.
Despite some struggles against the Hornets’ zone, it looked like the Raptors found something late in the third, as they went on a 12-2 run to wrestle the lead back at 85-80. But the Hornets attacked the centre-less Raps, with back-to-back paint buckets from Miles Bridges and Bismack Biyombo, closing the gap to 88-87 heading in the fourth.
The Hornets then opened the final frame with four straight points by continuing to attack the paint, but the Raptors responded. With five minutes to go and Boucher having picked up his fifth foul, things seemed grim, but a wonderful Siakam drive past Biyombo pushed their lead to 104-99.
A Devonte’ Graham three-pointer cut the lead to two, but four straight points on consecutive possessions from Boucher stretched it back to six — until back-to-back corner threes by Rozier tied the game at 110.
Then it was time for the GROAT to answer, and he did, calmly knocking down step-back jumper from the midrange to give the Raptors a 112-110 lead they would not relinquish.
VINTAGE KYLE LOWRY pic.twitter.com/weFKaPpgfL— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 17, 2021
On the next possession, Stanley Johnson forced Graham into a shot clock violation, and although Graham hit another three to keep the Hornets within reach, the Raptors made all of their free throws the rest of the way, and a good contest from Johnson forced Rozier’s desperation attempt at the buzzer wide.
Things are looking up for the Raptors, as they are now winners of three of their last five games. The wins may not be impressive, but it’s good enough to buy Nick Nurse time to figure out how to maximize this roster.
The Raptors are back in action on Monday as they host Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.