10 things I saw from Raptors-Hornets (15–2–2017)

  1. Turning point: It sounds silly to say this about a narrow five-point win at home over a Hornets team that has now lost 11 of 12, but this may go down as the most important game of the season for the Raptors. This was a disaster through three quarters — they were coming off scoring 24 in two quarters, down 17, and boos filled the ACC. The Raptors were stuck in the mud, with a full week to brood over another new low.
  2. Game 5: Again, it’s silly to compare game 57 of the regular season to Game 5 of a series tied 2–2, but this really felt like the comeback against Indiana that saved the Raptors’ playoff run. DeMar DeRozan was struggling, shots weren’t falling and Dwane Casey was left to scramble. Both times he came up with something that worked.
  3. Suicide squad: Casey went with a Lowry-Joseph-Wright-Carroll-Poeltl lineup to close the gap. That was the same lineup that temporarily revived them in the Bulls game. They got stops, pushed the pace, shared the rock, and erased the deficit in 6 minutes.
  4. Starting from scratch: Basketball is a flow game. What you do on defense affects your offense and vice versa. The Raptors weren’t getting stops early on and took bad shots that gave the Hornets easy looks. Tables turned in the fourth as the Raptors held Charlotte without a single field goal until 3 minutes left in the game, and only 10 points total in the fourth. Contain the ball, take away the three, contest the shot, collect the rebound, advance the ball, attack a transitioning defense. It’s simple basketball.
  5. Breakout performance: Delon Wright played the role of Norman Powell if we’re continuing those Game 5 vs. Indy comparisons. Wright was a two-way force. His 6–5 frame and savvy game sense allowed him to guard three positions, while also serving as the primary point guard on offense. He did clever stuff like snaking the pick and roll and collapsing the D, or rejecting the screen and blowing by his man, while also occasionally serving as a secondary attacker. Wright was also active in the passing lanes and produced two steals leading to transition layups.
  6. Alpine Jesus: Huge performance from Jakob Poeltl. He executed the defensive gameplan to perfection: show high on Kemba Walker to take away the three, rotate back to tag the rolling big, then box out for the rebound. He managed this perfectly while also setting 2–3 ball screens per play on offense without a break. That’s exhausting. He also made a great pass (see below) and got a layup.
  7. 3-and-D forward: This is what the Raptors envisioned when they signed DeMarre Carroll. He scraped like hell through 39 minutes (79 min over this back-to-back) playing the four, guarding 1–4, getting in there for rebounds. He was awesome.
  8. The heart and soul: Kyle Lowry came up with a clutch basket whenever the offense got stuck. Lowry worked a high pick and roll for a Kyrie-esque layup, then responded to a Hornets three to tie with a 3-point play of his own. The Raptors go as he goes.
  9. No hero needed: The Raptors had a novel idea — they just kept running their normal offense in a tight game instead of going to heroball shit. The game-clinching shot saw Lowry pass to Poeltl on the roll, who took two hard steps into the paint on the move to collapse the defense, before he kicked it out to Carroll for an open 3. More of that.
  10. Ballsy move: It seems like the obvious move, but Dwane Casey really went on a limb by keeping that unit out there for the fourth. Benching Jonas is nothing new, but keeping a frustrated DeMar DeRozan out? That might have really backfired leading to more questions about his locker room and team chemistry.