Normally it would be described as a heartbreaker, with another late-game Jeremy Lamb shot erasing a solid performance, but it’s not certain they were concerned.
Danny Green was on a strict minutes restriction, playing less than 19 minutes on the night. OG Anunonby returned from his four-game absence with concussion-like symptoms and played 15 minutes tallying four points. Kawhi Leonard’s load wasn’t managed, playing 31 minutes as he had a team-high 29 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The game was more about how Toronto was playing than about the outcome, which meant more to Charlotte, who would have been eliminated from playoff contention with a loss. The Raptors are now 11-7 in games decided by three points or less. Toronto’s win streak was snapped at five games. Toronto is now 56-24 and Charlotte improves to 37-42.
Here are my takeaways from an encouraging but incomplete performance from the Raptors.
The starters looked the best they had all year, especially on offence. They started the game on a 19-5 run by the starting unit. They had some passing sequences that looked like the seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns or the modern-day Golden State Warriors. The Raptors racked up 15 first-half assists on 23 baskets. Lowry alone had seven assists in the first half.
Pouring on the points
Toronto is now just nine points off the franchise record set last year for points, 9,156. With two games left, they’ll surpass the franchise mark for points, as they will in average points, rebounds, assists and three pointers made.
There was much more to Lowry’s stat line than the 16 points, 11 assists and five rebounds. Lowry was hunting his shots again even though he only attempted 13. His best make was a 27-foot transition three in the third quarter that demonstrated he was looking for his shot not just looking to be a facilitator for the shots of others.
In his last eight games before the Friday Lowry had averaged just 11 points and in only two games during that stretch did Lowry shoot 50 per cent from the floor. Shooting 6-13 means he just missed the 50 per cent mark once again but it’s a step in the right direction as the post-season nears. Lowry was a team-best plus 15. The only player with a better plus minus then him, Lamb (plus 16).
After scoring a career high off the bench of 23 points on Wednesday Serge Ibaka followed it up Friday with 20 as a reserve against Charlotte. Ibaka now has eight straight games with double digit scoring off the bench. He’s gone for at least 20 points and 10 boards in three of the last four games off the bench.
In just 21 minutes Ibaka also contributed 12 rebounds and two blocks. Despite the stellar play, Gasol was still on the floor to close the game just like he was to start it. Nonetheless, Ibaka has been a star in his newfound limited role.
Silence of Jeremy Lamb
He did it again. On March 24, Lamb beat the Raptors with a 48-foot Hail Mary buzzer beater when the Hornets were down three. This time he hit a more conventional three as a game winner with just one second left on the clock when it ripped through the net.
It wasn’t just the late-game heroics. Lamb was good all night with an all-around game that netted him 22 points, five rebounds, four assists, shooting 9-16 from the floor, and 2-5 from three point range. Lamb misses either one of those shots and the Hornets are currently preparing for the draft lottery. Even still they’ll have to run the table to keep their playoff hopes alive.
With the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat both losing, the Raptors would play the 39-40 Brooklyn Nets in the first round if the playoffs started right now. Brooklyn has the tie-breaker over Detroit (also 39-40) and finish the season playing at Milwaukee and Indiana before hosting Dwyane Wade in what could be the last game of his career.
The Raptors have just two games remaining, the first vs. the Heat and then they finish the season at the Minnesota Timberwolves before returning home to start the playoffs on the weekend.
Toronto is still a game shy of the franchise record for road wins of 26 set last season. Only the Milwaukee Bucks have more than Toronto’s 25.