It feels weird to watch this version of the Raptors, let alone write about it. What are we supposed to say about a team missing three members of its starting lineup, only their second, third, and fourth best players, the core talent that tends to shape and enforce the team’s overall identity? There’s perhaps an angle here where we discuss what the rest of the squad is doing, the up-and-comers, the players trying to grind their way up Toronto’s rotation and into the league. That could be an angle. But not when the Raptors get demolished by the Charlotte Hornets, 114-104, a final score that does not reflect how it felt to actully watch this game. No, after all that, you can just say: of course that’s how it went.
On that same note of inevitability, the Raptors were (of course) led in their efforts by Kyle Lowry, the one player they can count on in dire times. The team captain had 19 points, eight assists, and six rebounds in just shy of 31 minutes. As pointed out on the broadcast, Lowry was also making sure to be vocal with his directions — extolling this player to shoot more, this one to be positioned just so on defense. As the Hornets ran his team off the floor, Lowry was at least giving it his level best. Not even a smack to the face from former teammate Bismack Biyombo — which needed to be addressed by a bandaid — was enough to take Lowry of it. Only the score could do that.
Besides Lowry, the Raptors looked just plain bad in the first quarter (and beyond). They missed shots (going 9-of-23), which doesn’t help, but they also gave the ball away way far too many times (five). And when they weren’t doing that they were losing various Hornets in every situation possible — half-court, in transition, off a make or a miss, it really didn’t matter — allowing Charlotte, who move the ball well, to get a multitude of open threes. This sounds absurd but would you believe that the 11 three-pointers (out of 16 attempts) the Hornets made against Raptors in this first quarter were the most ever against them in a frame? It’s true. It also tied an NBA record. It was that kind of disaster night for Toronto.
The second quarter saw the Raptors actually play some defense. Yes, they fell down by as many as 25 points, but that lead shrunk to 15 by the end of the frame — and it should have been reduced even more. The Raptors managed to stop the Hornets something like nine or ten times in a row, and even put up an 11-0 run too. But three straight turnovers by Toronto halted their forward progress and the lead would get no smaller than 13 points in the first half. As has been the case since their COVID-related absences, for the first half it was Lowry with 16 points and Norman Powell with ten who paced the Raptors. And once again it was fair to ask: did those two have enough gas in the tank to get their team back in it — let alone to win it?
The answer came quickly in the third: a 9-0 run for the Hornets put the Raptors down 21 in a hurry and that really was it. There were still little moments along the way — a nice find in the corner from Stanley Johnson to Norm for the three, Chris Boucher making a few dandy rim runs (for 16 points), DeAndre’ Bembry gamely stepping up and in for 11 points of his own, the recently signed Henry Ellenson getting some run — but the Raptors still ended the third quarter down 98-73. Their defense may have even improved in fits and starts to this point, but Charlotte was still shooting 52 pecent from the field (and 48 percent from three) after three quarters. And with the Raptors playing so many more tentative (Paul Watson, Ellenson, Matt Thomas) or reckless (Terence Davis) players, there just wasn’t enough talent or discipline to go around. Head coach Nick Nurse made a show of getting mad, even earning himself a technical, but I’m not sure that emotion was worth it.
The most interesting moment of the night came with what was referred to on the broadcast as the Coffee Story. After teasing it early in the game, analyst Leo Rautins brought the tale back up in the fourth quarter, with the game firmly out of control for Toronto. Despite his obvious relunctance, lead commentator Matt Devlin was coaxed into setting the scene and explaining what had happened. Apparently, Leo thought the coffeemaker in the studio was broken so Matt checked it out only to eventually discover that Leo had been inserting used coffeepods into the machine for his coffee. This explained why the maker appeared to be broken, as Leo’s cup had apparently been filling with watery, barely drinkable liquid.
In response to this reveal, Leo was angry: what do you do with your extra pods, he asked. Do you put them next to the machine in a cup nearby or throw them in the trash? He couldn’t believe it. Oh, how Leo raged! He claimed he’d take the coffeemaker home and his pods — at one point he even asked that a camera be installed so he could find out who was responsible for such an outrage. The Raptors were getting pasted on TV, but this was the story of the night. It taught us two important lessons: we need Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby back on the court soon. And we need that dang vaccine.