Even in the springtime it gets cold up north. At least, that is how it went for the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night in Toronto. The team got off to a slow start against the Toronto Raptors, scoring just 16 points in the first quarter with only one make from 3-point range.
It didn't necessarily look like it was going to work out that way from the tip. A few moments in, Kemba Walker andCody Zeller connected on a very Chris Paul-to-DeAndre Jordan-esque screen-and-roll to the lob for an easy dunk. Shortly after that, it did start to turn in Toronto's favor. After an early six to nothing run, the Raptors went up 12 to nine and didn't look back.
One bright spot for the offense was the play of Nicolas Batum's replacement, Jeremy Lin. After being ruled out for tonight's game, Batum was subbed out of the starting rotation for Lin who immediately went to work. Lin put up five points and two assists in seven minutes of play, pretty much the only player that really had a good feel for the game throughout the first half.
Some standard defensive issues arose as Charlotte did a fairly good job on the perimeter, missing few assignments, but they couldn't get it done inside. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are difficult to stop anywhere on the court; you'd probably rather they beat you for two points than three. And they did get into the lane for buckets, as did Joan Valanciunas who had six points early working inside on the combination of Zeller and Al Jefferson.
Patrick Patterson was also about to get in for a huge dunk and there were some flashes of speedy brilliance fromNorman Powell, the intriguing diamond in the Raptors' rough. Unfortunately, the poor start in the first had the Hornets playing from behind about the eight-minute mark of the first quarter until halftime.
Lin continued his big-scoring first half in the second quarter where he continued to dish out assists and drain 3-point attempts. He got some help from Frank Kaminsky who was the second-highest scorer on the team with nine points. The team as a whole had a much better second quarter shooting 50 percent from deep in the quarter.
The cold shooting start combined with the Raptors racking up four blocks officially (I counted at least five), to create a gap that the Hornets just couldn't close. And as the game wore on, the Hornets showed a few more cracks on defense with their rotations. This was probably just due to missing Batum in some situations and lineups where players haven't played a lot of time together as moving Lin into starting lineup creates all kinds of shifts for other lineups as well.
Beyond simply saying that defense (and offense) missed Batum, the traditional starters weren't firing at all. Kemba started the game without any makes on seven shots and just one point in his first 24 minutes on the court. Courtney Lee and Marvin Williams both started two for six while Zeller only had one make himself. By the time it reached late third quarter, the Raptors had put the hurt on the Hornets. DeRozan was putting on a clinic and Kemba's stat line looked more like Charles Barkley after the Monstars stole his talent in Space Jam than the Kemba that Charlotte knows and loves.
Everyone went cold in the third quarter, proving the slow start to the game was more an indicator of things to come than an outlier. After a frozen first, scoring just 16 points, the Hornets were equally bad in the third, scoring 17 points. Fortunately, Toronto only scored 19 so the game was still within a very, very distant reach as the entered the fourth quarter, Hornets trailing 75-59. The last two points of the quarter for the Hornets were scored by Kemba with about 25 seconds left in the quarter - his first field goal of the entire game.
The Hornets continued to have a problem that they appeared to have every time there is a game recap: they fared well on the defensive perimeter, but they got eaten up inside.
Charlotte pushed a little in the fourth quarter, starting out on a seven to nothing run, pulling within single digits before a Kyle Lowry 11-footer forced a timeout from Steve Clifford, the Toronto lead but up to 13 with seven minutes to play. In the kind of frustration one can only feel when playing a guard of Lowry's caliber, the Hornets refused to go away and Lowry kept throwing dagger after dagger, pushing the lead back to double digits every time the Hornets seemed to be making a push.
With just under two minutes left, the Hornets made one final push capped by a Marvin Williams 3-point make. The lead was down to six, 91-86, when DeRozan scored points number 24 and 25 of the night with 39.7 seconds to play.
The Raptors and Hornets then engaged in a very bizarre final 30 seconds as DeRozan missed a free throw, Kemba finally started attacking the rim, drawing an and-one. Lowry then bizarrely missed two free throws and Kemba again attacked and drew a foul on a layup. This time, Kemba missed the and-one opportunity. Ultimately, Cory Josephsealed the win for the Raptors with two free throw makes, giving us the final score of 96-90.
Jeremy Lin scored 21 to lead the Hornets while the duo of DeRozan and Lowry led the Raptors to victory. Walker woke up, but too little, too late as he finished with 11 points. The good news was that it wasn't just Kemba, the entire team got rolling and the fourth quarter was the only quarter where the Hornets managed to break 30 points.
The Hornets definitely missed Batum in Toronto. But, more than Batum, Charlotte missed shots and defensive rotations. That's what really cost them on Tuesday night despite a serious late-game effort to steal a win on the road. Wednesday night they'll be back in action, visiting the New York Knicks.