It always seems close and it never seems to go Toronto’s way when the Raptors face the Charlotte Hornets, it’s just one of those inexplicable things.
But Kyle Lowry was having none of it Friday night.
Lowry dominated the fourth quarter, carrying the Raptors back from a nine-point deficit to a 104-94 victory over Charlotte at the Air Canada Centre that flew in the face of history.
The Toronto point guard had 10 of his 18 points and added three assists in the fourth quarter, bailing out a Raptors team that struggled mightily most of the second half.
With DeMar DeRozan being held in check — he had only four points in the second half after scoring 19 in the first — Lowry hit a couple of crucial three-pointers to lift Toronto.
The Hornets historically have given the Raptors fits — “It drives you crazy to know there’s a team like that that you prepare for but, whether it’s matchups or whatever, you struggle with and we’ve got to make sure we do something about that,” Dwane Casey said before the game — and Friday was no exception most of the night.
They held Toronto to a miserable 7-for-32 shooting quarter in the third and the usual suspect — Kemba Walker — had his way with the Raptors on offence on his way to an 18-point night.
But with the combination of Lowry’s offence and some typically fierce rebounding and defence from Bismack Biyombo, Toronto outscored Charlotte 28-12 in the decisive fourth quarter.
The Hornets were obviously familiar with the way Biyombo can make a difference in game without scoring, since he spent the first four years of his career in Charlotte.
“He’s a good basket protector, he plays with great energy, he’s an offensive rebounder,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “That’s what you want to have. You want to have guys on your bench that, when a starter is out, can come in for two or three weeks and play well. He did that for us last year. I’m not surprised at that at all.”
Biyombo had a significant role for the 17 games centre Jonas Valanciunas missed with a broken hand. And while he didn’t turn into an offensive threat, he didn’t have to for a team that’s in the top 5 in the NBA in efficiency. But he did show the value Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri expected when he was signed as a summer free agent.
“I think the game is slowing down for him a bit now, he’s catching the ball better, finishing better in traffic and I think that comes from opportunity, getting his confidence,” Casey said before the game.
“I think it’s something he established more than anything else. Everybody was ‘he can’t catch the ball, he can’t do that, he can’t do this’ and they were concentrating on what he couldn’t do more so than what he can do.”
Biyombo was his usual dominant self on the glass against this old team with 11 rebounds in 22 minutes; Valanciunas had 10 points and 13 boards in 26 minutes.
“I think our guys got used to playing with him (Biyombo), not putting him in tough situations, not throwing him the ball 15 feet from the basket,” Casey said. “They got used to that and now we’ve got to get used to throwing it to JV, who can catch and do something with it away from the bucket. So it’s an adjustment our players have to make.”