The Raptors opened the last game of their home-stand in front of a smaller, sluggish crowd, and their go-to scorer was equally as sluggish. Andrea Bargnani looked to still be suffering from the flu in the first quarter, but luckily for the Raptors, other players came to play ball tonight.
DeMar DeRozan attacked the basket, James Johnson continued to be a steady contributor, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis provided their usual spark and Jose Calderon was absolutely lights out, racking up eight points and six assists in the first frame. The Raptors took a 27-20 lead into the second quarter, but the 14 704 in attendance either weren’t impressed yet or were being kept quiet by the whistle-happy refs.
Calderon continued to lead the charge to close out the half, as the Raptors outscored the Hornets 20-5 in the last six minutes of the second quarter, creating some energy in the building and taking a 57-42 lead into the half.
The balanced Raptors attack continued in the third quarter, as did the solid Toronto defence, leading to a 17-point lead at one point. But the 35-win Hornets were not about to fade away without a fight, and they closed the third quarter on a run of their own, cutting the deficit to 10 after three.
Ex-Raptors Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli started getting hot, and before we knew it, we had a three-point game early in the fourth quarter.
Just as they had done on Sunday against the Mavericks, it looked like the Raptors were ready to piss away another three solid quarters against a Western Conference playoff team.
Instead, Bargnani finally came to life, Amir, who finished with seven blocks, helped tighten up the defence and Calderon continued to torch the Hornets back-court, as the Raps did just enough to grab their 17th win of the season. The Hornets also didn’t do themselves any favours by missing a handful of layups and close-range “gimmes” in the fourth quarter.
Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa struggled to get anything going off of the bench, and Bargnani was missing in action for most of the night, but other than that, Raptors fans were given commendable performances from the rest of the roster.
Amir was great defensively and Ed Davis grabbed eight rebounds in 25 minutes, DeRozan struggled in the second half but continued to attack the rim and still finished with 17 points, and James Johnson turned in another impressive effort, finishing with 13 points, five boards, three assists and two blocks in just 21 minutes. Another positive stemming from James’ arrival is that it should motivate Sonny Weems to step his game up. Weems stepped up on Wednesday, pouring in 14 points in 20 minutes.
There were plenty of positives for the Raptors on this night, but none comparable to Jose Calderon. Jose thoroughly outplayed one of the best point guards on the planet, actually played defence and even pulled down seven rebounds to flirt with a triple-double for the second straight game. For the most part, Calderon has elevated his game to hang with some of the best point guards in the league this season.
And now the Raptors head to London, England, to give fans in Europe their first taste of top-flight NBA basketball, if you consider a meeting between teams that combine for a 34-87 record to be “top-flight.”
Raptors Player of the Game: Jose Calderon -38 Min, 22 Pts, 7-10 FG, 3-4 3Pt, 5-5 FT, 7 Reb, 16 Ast, 1 Stl
Hornets Player of the Game: David West -39 Min, 19 Pts, 7-17 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 5-6 FT, 10 Reb, 4 Ast
Goat of the Game: Emeka Okafor – 21 Min, 1 Pts, 0-5 FG, 1-2 FT, 7 Reb, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 1 TO (You could certainly make the case for Trevor Ariza and CP3 in this category)