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Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets Final Score: 123-117 Raptors battle back in the fourth

Despite struggles throughout the game, shots fell when it mattered most

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

In the final game before the trade deadline, the Toronto Raptors closed out their road trip against the Charlotte Hornets with a narrow win. It’s hard to take too much from a matchup like this, with Charlotte having their own struggles throughout the year, especially given the 8-game losing streak they entered the game with. There were flashes of good ball movement from the Raptors and superb shooting from Gary Trent Jr. as he continues a hot streak that has been going since early January. Another encouraging takeaway from this matchup was the stellar passing by RJ Barrett, who continues to exceed expectations with his play since arriving a little over a month ago. Despite shaky defence and a number of mistakes, the Raptors were able to make plays down the stretch, ultimately ending their road trip with a win.

In the first quarter, Charlotte was clicking offensively, starting off with perfect shooting from the field. The Raptors were finding good opportunities too, but a few shots that looked like they were going to fall rimmed out, contributing to struggles early on. After the Hornets managed a quick 12-3 lead, Darko decided to call a timeout to try and slow their momentum.

The Raptors found their stride, getting a few shots to drop and engaging their defence to go on their own 10-3 run, topped off by Trent Jr’s impressive buzzer-beating long range shot at the halfway mark of the quarter. A few tough calls that didn’t go the Raptors’ way paired with above-average shooting for Charlotte created another opportunity for the Hornets to go on a run, putting the Raptors behind by double digits once again.

As the frame came to a close, there seemed to be a bit of a spark for Toronto, highlighted by an attempted chase down block for Scottie that was unfortunately a moment too late, but started momentum for Toronto.

To start the second, Gradey cashed in on an early 3-pointer. Both teams struggled for the next few possessions, allowing the score to stagnate. Finally, Thad broke the stalemate with a driving shot that popped up high over the defender. Unfortunately that moment was entirely eclipsed by the next play, a driving dunk by Brandon Miller who exposed the lack of defensive effort and forced a timeout by the Raptors that came with some lineup changes.

Charlotte adjusted to a zone defence, which Schroder immediately capitalized on to score another 3-pointer for the Raps. Another run, along with stretches of excellent defence helped the Raptors get within one possession. The entire quarter had stretches of great play, frustratingly followed by a few mistakes that let the Hornets maintain their lead headed into the locker room.

In the third, there was some offensive energy for the Raptors initially, but still struggled to connect. The real issue in the quarter was defence, with Charlotte cashing in on almost any shot that they wanted to. A number of runs by the Hornets allowed them to control a 15-point advantage. With each run, Toronto would try to battle back, but lapses defensively prevented them from tying the game up.

A large part of those lapses almost felt to be effort, giving up offensive rebounds and steals in an almost undeserving fashion. Again, there were signs of life with the fading moments of the frame, stringing together good plays but remained within 6 at the end of the quarter.

Underway in the final quarter, Charlotte was resting the premiere scorers from the game, providing an opportunity for the Raptors to capitalize. They found their spots, relatively open, but a number of missed shots and squandered possessions prevented the gap from closing before substitutions were made by the Hornets.

Approaching the halfway point, the Raptors started to engage meaningfully. Locked-in defence and an 11-0 run highlighted by long range shots by RJ and Gradey finally gave Toronto the lead. Hope was in the air. And then two easy paint possessions, a turnover, and wide-open 3-pointer gave the lead right back to Charlotte. After an off-ball foul, Toronto spent the rest of the game in the bonus, creating pressure on the Hornets that they couldn’t recover from. A few more solid possessions on both ends closed out the game, allowing the Raptors to end the road trip on a high note.

It’s tough to be in this phase of rebuilding, and obviously there are still some roster moves that need to be made. With limited in-season practice time, and already so many changes to the coaching staff and players, all of this should really just be an opportunity to look at how guys are matching up, how they play together, and what is still missing. In any game, and especially one like this, focusing on the highlights are key.

RJ Barrett continues to have so much upside. He has impressed in every way, with his downhill actions, 3-point shooting, and offensive decision making which have all been excellent. It’s impossible to not see him as a part of the core of the team moving forward, alongside Scottie and Quickley. Shooting over 50% from long range is also encouraging, as spacing has always been so much of a concern.

The next point of order will be the trade deadline, after which the Raptors have an opportunity to go home and get some reps in as they host their next five games.

On Friday, the Raptors will have an opportunity to take one back from Houston at 7:30pm on Sportsnet.