Shorthanded Raptors overcome loss of Poeltl to down Hornets

Charlotte Hornets forward Grant Williams defends against Toronto Raptors guard Immanuel Quickley during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Sunday, March 3, 2024. (Frank Gunn/CP Photo)

If the Toronto Raptors are going to make the NBA’s play-in tournament without all-star Scottie Barnes, they’re going to have to trust themselves and each other.

Ochai Agbaji started in Barnes’s place and scored 13 points with a career-high nine rebounds as Toronto held off the Charlotte Hornets 111-106 on Sunday. The victory comes two days after Barnes broke his hand in a 120-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

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“I think the best thing to do is not put pressure on yourself,” said Agbaji on starting in Barnes’ absence. “Easier said than done, obviously, but to just trust in (head coach Darko Rajakovic).

“Trust in him that, whatever you do out there, he fully supports you. You’re building his trust but just going out there and playing hard and if you’re doing that and you make mistakes going 100 miles an hour, he should be good with that.”

Agbaji has averaged 5.5 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.9 assists over 13.9 minutes per game since he was traded alongside centre Kelly Olnyk of Kamloops, B.C., to Toronto from the Utah Jazz on Feb. 8. He played 32:39 in his first start as a Raptor.

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“Never taking any opportunity that I get, whether it’s five minutes, 30 minutes, whatever it is, just being in that position, I think is where I want to be and making the most of it is what I’m trying to do,” said Agbaji.

Immanuel Quickley had a double-double with 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds as Toronto (23-38) ended a two-game skid to gain half a game on the 10th-place Atlanta Hawks for the East’s final play-in spot.

The idle Hawks are 3 1/2 games ahead of the Raptors.

“The mindset just has to be to come in every day and give everything you have with great effort and great attention to detail,” said Quickley. “Everybody is talking about the result of the plan, but I think if you put everything you have into every day, I think that’s the most important part about it.

“We have to go out and compete as well, but just going out and whether it’s a practice, a game-film session, just being present in that moment and trying to get better in that moment is a big part of winning.”

RJ Barrett of Mississauga, Ont., had 23 points and nine rebounds, while Gary Trent Jr. added 17 points for Toronto.

The undermanned Raptors were dealt another blow when starting centre Jakob Poeltl left the game at the end of the first half with a dislocated left pinky finger. Guard Bruce Brown also missed the game because of right knee inflammation.

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Rajakovic told Quickley and Barrett before the game that they didn’t need to take more shots with Barnes out.

“You guys are both great players,” he said. “You’re gonna get your shots in the game, just allowed to come naturally and make sure that we have good ball movement.”

Miles Bridges came alive in the third quarter to finish with 20 points as Charlotte (15-46) lost its fourth straight. Brandon Miller and Grant Williams each had a double-double, with Miller scoring 26 and pulling down 10 boards and Williams having 18 points with 13 rebounds.

Although Poeltl’s departure just before halftime allowed Bridges to drive to the basket — he scored 16 of his points in the third quarter alone — the Raptors were not slowed down. Trent had 11 points and Barrett added seven points in the quarter as Toronto built an 82-75 lead.

Williams scored eight consecutive points in the final four minutes of the game to pull the Hornets to within two points. Davis Bertans then drilled a three-pointer to make it 103-102 Charlotte.

Quickley sank two free throws with 57 seconds left to re-take the lead.

With the 19,512 fans at Scotiabank Arena chanting “DE-FENCE!” Barrett got a defensive rebound and Quickley was fouled after dribbling the ball over half-court. Quickley made both of the ensuing free throws to make it 106-103 for Toronto with 24.6 to go.

On the ensuing Charlotte possession, Bertans clanked a three-point attempt off the rim and Quickley got the rebound, immediately drawing a foul. Again, he made both free throws.

Williams was fouled as the Hornets were trying to inbound and made his one free throw. Miller drove to the net for an uncontested layup when Charlotte finally got to inbound and Trent was fouled on Toronto’s possession. He made one of his two free throws and then stole the ball for an easy layup for the game’s final score.

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UP NEXT — The Raptors host the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.

Charlotte welcomes the Orlando Magic on Tuesday.

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