What a day in Toronto sports. For hours before tipoff, many (including myself) spent the day focused on baseball rather than basketball, as we anxiously awaited the possible news of Shohei Ohtani signing with the Toronto Blue Jays. After multiple incorrect reports and hours spent accidentally tracking Robert Herjavec’s private plane, there was no Ohtani news to be had and Toronto fans shifted their attention back to the Raptors.
Visiting Charlotte for the first time this season, the Hornets were seen as a very beatable team. The Raptors swept the season series against them last season, and adding insult to injury (or I guess injury to insult in this case), Charlotte would be missing their all-star point guard LaMelo Ball.
Through their 19 games heading into tonight, Charlotte sat as the last-placed team in defensive rating and 25th in the standings. Already not much to write home about on the other side of the ball, the Hornets are a middling-offence down their lead scorer and playmaker, meaning the defence-focused Raptors should’ve had an easy time shutting down the Hornets and taking command from the jump. However, this is the 2023-24 Toronto Raptors we’re talking about, so of course they started the game down early.
Both teams combined for three turnovers before the first points of the game were scored, Scottie Barnes being responsible for both on the Raptors’ end. In an effort to make up for his mistakes, Scottie opened the scoring with a dunk and gave Toronto their first of only two leads in the half. After a Terry Rozier jumper tied the game at two a piece, Jakob Poeltl’s layup gave Toronto their second and final lead of the half at 4-2. Charlotte then went on a 23-8 run over the next six minutes and quickly took the wind out of Toronto’s sails.
Poor jump shooting was the cause of the Raptors early offensive struggles, as only two of their first quarter field goals came off of jumpers and they shot 0/8 from three. Toronto managed to hang with Charlotte for the final four minutes of the frame, both teams scoring 10 points, to keep the deficit only at 13 and end the first quarter down 35-22. Not so fun fact, this was the third straight game the Raptors game up 34 points or more in the first quarter.
Toronto actually won the second quarter in some of the ugliest basketball I’ve seen all season. Precious Achiuwa’s two early-quarter threes marked the only deep balls the Raptors would knock down in the half as they tried to cut down the Hornets’ lead. Outside of Achiuwa, only Scottie and Malachi Flynn scored any points as Charlotte started the quarter on an 18-11 run.
Thankfully, we finally saw Pascal Siakam take over against a team he has historically dominated. Siakam averaged 30 points against the Hornets in their four matchups last season, and regained that form by scoring 14 of his 16 first half points in the final six minutes of the second quarter. Toronto won the quarter 22-21 and cut their deficit to 66-54 at half despite the poor shooting performance.
The Charlotte Hornets, who went 10-37 (27%) from 3 last game against the Chicago Bulls, are now 8-13 (61%) from 3 at the half.— عمر عثمان Mike Tyson’s Translator (@OmerOsman200) December 9, 2023
The Toronto Raptors are 2-14 (14%) from 3. Both 3's are from Precious Achiuwa, who is 26.9% from 3 this season... pic.twitter.com/oxa7QnaZXF
The Raptors continued to keep it close in the third quarter, as Scottie Barnes started to heat up alongside Siakam. The pair combined for 15 of Toronto’s 23 points and three of their six assists in the frame as they kept the Raptors in the game. Charlotte spread their scoring around as they had all night, with Hayward, Miller, Bridges and Rozier leading the way. The Hornets ended the quarter up by one and would head into the fourth leading 90-77.
The fourth quarter was easily Toronto’s best, as Scottie Barnes continued to take over late in games. Barnes knocked down a three and set up Chris Boucher for back to back buckets to give the Raptors a 7-0 to start the quarter and forcing Charlotte to take a timeout. Toronto continued to pour on the offence as they went on a 17-6 run coming out of the timeout to take only their third lead of the night at 101-96. During the run, Scottie set up Precious for his third three of the game, giving Barnes his 10th assist of the night and his third career triple double.
The Hornets would then take another timeout with only six minutes left in the game and trailing by five, making good use of it this time. Charlotte came out of their timeout and went on an 8-2 run to retake the lead, with the difference in three-point shooting continuing to plague the Raptors. Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa were the only Raptors all night to make a three-point shot, limiting Toronto’s options as they began to trail down the stretch. Anunoby drove to the rim, making the layup and getting fouled to put Toronto back on top 106-104.
Gordon Hayward scored five points in a row off of a layup and four free throw attempts before a Pascal bucket reduced the Hornets’ lead to one point. Both teams exchanged a pair of buckets, with rookie Brandon Miller’s three increasing Charlotte’s lead to 114-110 before Dennis Schroder knocked down a two point jumper.
Only trailing by two points, OG Anunoby drew an offensive foul against Nick Richards, or so we thought until a Hornets coach’s challenge. The call was overturned and instead called a defensive foul on OG, sending Richards to the line where he missed the first and made the second of his two free throws. Scottie caught an alley oop from Siakam to cut the lead back to one with a little over a minute remaining. Brandon Miller missed a layup which gave the Raptors the opportunity to go back up late, before OG Anunoby missed an early shot-clock three which allowed Terry Rozier to hit a late jumper and increase Charlotte’s lead to 117-114.
With Barnes having scored 24 points in the second half alone and being one of two Raptors to make a three all night, the ball was put in his hands with the shot clock off and Toronto trailing by three. Guarded by Terry Rozier, Barnes went up for the shot, missed off the front of the rim, but was fouled as Rozier did not leave him enough space to land. Charlotte again used a coach’s challenge on the play, but this time it was upheld and Scottie was sent to the line for three free throws and the ability to tie the game. Unfortunately, he missed the first before making the last two, leaving Toronto down by one point.
Barnes would foul Rozier on the inbound, giving him two shots and knocking down both to put Charlotte back up by three. The ball once again in Scottie Barnes’ hands, he missed the last second three to tie the game, and the Raptors dropped the game 119-116.
Scottie Barnes tonight:— StatMuse (@statmuse) December 9, 2023
The youngest player in franchise history with a 30-point triple-double. https://t.co/IgJfa335MS
Despite winning the fourth quarter 39-29, the late resurgence led by a Scottie Barnes 30-point triple double was too little too late after an awful start to the game. Toronto trailed by double digit points from 4:45 in the first quarter to 10:59 of the fourth. The difference in three point shooting was a large contributor to the deficit, as Toronto shot only 6/32 (18.8%) from three compared to Charlotte’s 13/25 (52%). The Raptors also struggled from the line, leaving five points on the board by only shooting 76% on free throws.
Raptors have run the same starting lineup in 10 consecutive games.— Keerthika Uthayakumar (@keerthikau) December 9, 2023
103.9 points per 100 in 147 min with starting-5 on
119.7 points per 100 in 333 min with starting-5 off
Outside of Barnes and Siakam, scoring was hard to come by tonight for Toronto. Anunoby and Achiuwa rounded out the end of the list of Raptors to score 10+ points, giving Toronto four players to score 10+ points while Charlotte had four players score 20+ points.
Many have called for a change in the Raptors starting lineup due to Dennis Schroder’s struggles as of late, which wouldn’t have mattered tonight. Gary Trent Jr. would likely be the player to slide into the starting lineup in that case, who also happened to be the only Raptor to take multiple shots and not score a single point tonight, shooting 0/3 from three and 0/7 overall without getting to the line.
Otto Porter Jr. was the other Raptor to finish the night scoreless, although he took one shot in six minutes before leaving the game with a left foot contusion, the same foot he had surgery on last season.
The loss marks Toronto’s fifth of their last six games and their third in a row. The Raptors win over Phoenix last week marks their only win since climbing back to .500 against Chicago on November 24th. Still sitting last in the Atlantic division, Toronto remains half a game back of Atlanta for 10th in the East and final play-in spot. The Raptors will need to regroup as they head into MSG for a matchup against the Knicks on Monday, before hosting the aforementioned Atlanta Hawks for two games later next week.