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10 things from Raptors-Hornets

William Lou
NBA reporter

Here’s 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 115-114 loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

One – March Madness: Jeremy Lamb banked in a prayer from beyond half court to give the Hornets an improbable victory at the buzzer. Pascal Siakam poked the ball loose with 3.1 seconds left which should have effectively sealed the win, but the basketball gods had other ideas. Credit the Hornets for keeping their season alive by scoring back-to-back wins over the Celtics and the Raptors.

Two – Innovation: The Raptors overcame a 14-point deficit in the fourth by going to a smallball lineup. Playing five wings allowed the Raptors to switch pick-and-rolls, and that seemed to be the only way to keep Charlotte’s flighty point guards from collapsing the paint and wreaking havoc. Siakam’s hustle as the token smallball center made it work, while Norman Powell, Danny Green, and Kawhi Leonard all chipped in with timely help defense at the rim.

Three – Unsustainable: Smallball lineups will definitely come in handy in the playoffs, but the Raptors should have never needed to hit the panic button in the first place. Toronto simply didn’t match Charlotte’s urgency — as evidenced by the 14-3 disparity in offensive rebounds — and Nick Nurse made matters worse by playing an over-aggressive style of defense that prioritized denying Kemba Walker at all costs. Walker only shot 3-of-17 as a result, but the Hornets shot 41 threes and made 18, which is what ultimately killed the Raptors. The same pattern played out against Russell Westbrook on Friday.

Four – Spark: Powell played like a man possessed after getting benched in the first half. He drilled two threes, finished with force in the paint, blocked Walker at the rim, made great reads to collect a pair of steals in the fourth, and was the driving force along with Siakam in making the comeback. Powell can be maddeningly inconsistent, but this is the type of impact he can supply in the right circumstances, and that’s why he should stay in the rotation.

Five – Shuffling: There are only two weeks left in the season, and Nurse is still undecided on his rotation. Everyone is finally healthy, which means Nurse has to trim the end of his bench. Jeremy Lin only played six minutes so he’s already on the way out, but Pat McCaw still got 11 minutes, and Nurse still ran with the dreaded all-bench lineup which surrendered yet another double-digit lead in a matter of minutes. Nurse needs to just pick nine players and roll with them.

Six – Aggressive: After taking just one shot on Friday, the Raptors made a concerted effort to give Marc Gasol more touches and he delivered 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Gasol bullied smaller wings down on the block, and swished a pair of threes, while still providing playmaking as a traffic cop in the middle of the floor. Despite playing a great game, Nurse opted to keep Gasol on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, but that’s understandable given the success of Siakam at center.

Seven – Disengaged: Gasol seems to have entrenched himself as the starting center, but the Raptors still need to get Serge Ibaka to be productive off the bench. Ibaka was abysmal in his first shift as he failed to provide any lane intimidation, while also allowing the Hornets to run rampant on the offensive glass. It wouldn’t hurt for the second unit to feed Ibaka a few shots early on in hopes of engaging him on the defensive end, as he didn’t get his first shot until nine minutes in. It’s hard to ask a big to do all the dirty work without giving him any reward.

Eight – Passive: Kyle Lowry was understandably rusty after returning from a three-game absence. Perhaps he was still hampered by ankle injuries, but Lowry just never imposed his will on the game. Lowry barely played in the second half, and mostly looked to be a distributor while Leonard, Siakam, Gasol, and even Fred VanVleet did most of the scoring. It usually takes some time for Lowry to get in a rhythm after sitting out, so don’t panic just yet.

Nine – Disappointing: OG Anunoby’s inconsistency is a big reason why the bench has struggled. He’s a good 3-and-D wing, but he always wants to play outside of himself. His ambition is admirable, but things almost always go awry when Anunoby tries to take over. His development as an off-the-dribble threat can wait until the offseason — for now, the Raptors just need him to be a steady 3-and-D player.

Ten – Sloppy: The Raptors don’t have much to play for over these last eight games, but there’s a fine line to walk between conserving energy and being outright lazy. Being outworked on the offensive glass, failing to contain dribble penetration, and conceding so many open threes is not a good look for a team with Finals aspirations. The Raptors can’t lose focus of their fundamentals.

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) protects the ball from Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lamb during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

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