The Toronto Raptors are now 3-8 on the season by virtue of a 111-108 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Chris Boucher finished with a career-high 25 points to lead the way for the Raptors, while Fred VanVleet (17 points, eight assists) and Kyle Lowry (16 points, 12 assists) combined to finish with 33 points and 20 assists in the backcourt.
Down a starter in Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier led the way for the Hornets with 22 points while P.J. Washington finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
For more on how it went down, here are some thoughts on the game…
1. The Fourth-quarter woes continue
The Raptors were in command for the majority of the night, taking a 99-86 lead into the final frame, but they had some trouble putting the Hornets away.
Toronto shot just 5-for-23 from the field and 1-for-11 from deep in the final frame, allowing Charlotte to cut the deficit to three points down the stretch with Washington and Devonte' Graham each missing potential tying opportunities in the game's final moments.
While the Raptors would ultimately hold on, it is a cause for concern that the well ran dry and they had to fight to hold off a Hornets team that was without its best player and came in on the second end of a back-to-back.
A win is a win but Toronto can identify plenty to work on moving forward.
2. Baynes gets the start
Toronto tried three different starting lineups in its first 10 games but tonight, reverted back to the starting unit from its first seven contests.
After three consecutive DNPs, Aron Baynes was back in the starting unit alongside Lowry, VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. Aside from a charge drawn early on, it wasn't much of a notable night for Baynes, who finished with two points and a rebound in just eight minutes of action.
While Toronto still looks to get more from its free-agent acquisition, it continues to enjoy the play of another centre…
3. Boucher comes up BIG
It might be time to start up the Boucher for Sixth Man of the Year talk.
In many ways, he saved the Raptors in this one. Not only did he tie his career-high with 25 points (on 8-for-12 shooting) off the bench, but he also was the biggest positive from an otherwise troubling fourth quarter. Boucher scored seven of the Raptors' 12 points in the final frame, pulled down eight rebounds and assisted a Siakam layup.
By that count, Boucher accounted for nine of Toronto's 12 fourth-quarter points, 75% of the team's fourth-quarter offence. And for the game, he pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked two shots, to boot.
AU REVOIR pic.twitter.com/4TEpkGhqiR- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 15, 2021
4. Mr. 4,000
On the first offensive possession of the game, Lowry found a cutting OG Anunoby for a nice dunk.
More dunks for your headtop. pic.twitter.com/lKUUMT5I3o- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 15, 2021
Not only was it notable in that it got the game going but it was even more notable in that it was Lowry's 4,000th assist while wearing a Raptors uniform. Lowry, who surpassed José Calderon as Toronto's all-time assist man last season, continues to widen the gap between No. 1 and No. 2.
He had a nice all-around game, too, finishing with 16 points (on 6-for-10 shooting) and a game-high 12 assists to bring his total as a Raptor to 4,011.
5. Ball movement
A major positive from this one was Toronto's ball movement.
The Raptors finished the game having assisted on 33 of their 40 made field goals. Led by Lowry's 12 helpers, all but two of the 10 players to take the floor for Toronto dished out at least one assist. VanVleet added eight assists and Siakam added four dimes on a night that was otherwise pretty quiet.
Charlotte benefitted from exceptional ball movement as well, assisting on 32 of its 42 made field goals. Of course, it was the passing of a rookie that led the charge…
6. The LaMelo show
Speaking of Ball movement, LaMelo Ball is as good as advertised, and then some.
The 19-year-old rookie has been tasked with leading the Hornets' second unit through the first 13 games of his career and he continues to excel in that role. In this one, Ball finished with 14 points (on 6-for-14 shooting) and a team-high 11 assists in 26 minutes off the bench.
I think we're already beginning to normalize passes that he makes that for a 19-year-old … aren't normal.
Rookie and the Vet Connection 👌@MELOD1P ➕ @Devonte4Graham#AllFly | @HornetsOnFSSE pic.twitter.com/s8pqcgGLuP- Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) January 15, 2021
Charlotte got it right in selecting Ball third overall in the 2020 draft.
7. They call him "Sky" Miles for a reason
MILES. BRIDGES. OH MY. 😳 pic.twitter.com/qS35payWRV- NBA (@NBA) January 15, 2021
…that is all.
8. Toronto's gets good minutes from the second unit
It wasn't just Boucher that made big plays off the bench.
Norman Powell, who has had some rough patches to start the season, added 11 points as the Raptors reserves outscored the Hornets second unit 48-36.
Stanley Johnson (six), Yuta Watanabe (three) and Malachi Flynn (three) combined to score the other 12 points but it was deeper than the scoring. Johnson brought the effort on the defensive end and hit two timely 3s when Charlotte attempted to scheme him off of the floor with a zone look.
Watanabe laid it all on the line in 15 minutes of action, making hustle plays and also hitting one of the two 3s he was dared into. He's finding his groove and will continue to get more comfortable in his role as a high-energy effort guy.
Hustle- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 15, 2021
Hype https://t.co/yMtCYEISVL pic.twitter.com/YkX791AAIF
9. What's next?
The rematch - same time, same place.
The Raptors and Hornets are back in action as they meet for a second time on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on TSN.
See you then.
More analysis to come.
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