Memories of Al Jefferson’s game-tying three-pointer resurfaced when Ryan Anderson bounced home a game-tying three pointer with 8 seconds left in regulation. However, Toronto showed great poise by not allowing that to affect their effort in OT. Learning how to win close games will be crucial for this team as they mature.

Raptors 104, Hornets 97

-I vehemently disagree with the decision to leave Jose Calderon as the starter now that Kyle Lowry has returned. As I discussed here, Lowry has a much higher ceiling than Calderon but hasn’t been afforded the opportunity to reach that ceiling. The point that I clearly didn’t stress enough in that article is that it’s incredibly irresponsible to try and base any sort of argument off the 8 games that Jose has started – yet certain pundits continue to do it. Calderon had the benefit of playing against inferior competition and had the benefit of playing without Andrea Bargnani. Jose has improved his defensive tactics and principles this season, but Toronto’s improved defence over the last two weeks is mainly a result of not having a comatose Bargnani floating around. Anyone who thinks Jose is a superior defender to Kyle, needs to take an extended vacation in the Raptors’ video archives. It’s also too small of a sample to judge Lowry. Of course the offence will be smoother with Jose when he’s played with many of these players for 4-5 years. Lowry has played with them for 4-5 weeks! It will take time to learn the habits of your new teammates and discover where they like the ball.

-As Joe talked about in his game thread, it was interesting to see how Lowry and Calderon responded to having this internal competition taken to a new level tonight…

-Greivis Vasquez blew past Calderon three times in the first quarter and all three times it led to scores for New Orleans. He blew by Calderon again for an easy layup in the second quarter. Late in the second quarter Vasquez breezed by Jose for an assist to Lopez + the foul. Vasquez continued to get whatever he wanted on the pick and roll in the third quarter. When Jose checked in for Lowry late in the fourth quarter Vasquez torched him again for a simple dish to Davis – another 3-point play. Vasquez then dropped a floater on the next possession with Calderon nowhere in sight. This is Jose’s Achilles heel – he will never have the foot speed to defend NBA point guards.

-Lowry came into the game with great energy. He moved the ball quickly on offence and was very active on the glass and looking for steals. It appears he responded positively to the added competition from Calderon. There were times earlier this season when Lowry wasn’t as aggressive on offence as he could be. Tonight, it was great to see him drop his shoulder on many occasions and seek out contact. It was a complete effort by Kyle and I didn’t see him make one play that could be described as selfish (perhaps with the exception of his shot late in the fourth). He finished with 17 Pts, 8 Ast, 3 Reb & 2 Blk in 28 minutes off the bench.

-I was beyond shocked to see Lowry exit the game with 4 minutes left in the fourth and an 8-point lead…

-The difference between these two players was summed up when Lowry returned and had the ability to stay in front of Vasquez on the Hornets’ second last possession of regulation – something Calderon failed to do all night. Lowry’s air tight one-on-one defence forced a missed layup. In overtime, Lowry forced Anthony Davis (who is a foot taller) to take a contested fade-away.

-One of the big improvements Toronto has made over the last couple weeks is increasing their off-the-ball movement on offence. The team would be wise to continue running this style of offence, as it leads to easy buckets and gets the team into a good rhythm.

-The off-the-ball screens seem to benefit DeMar DeRozan more than any other player. He sometimes struggles to get free or create shots for himself but he is a tremendous finisher and giving him easy catches makes it a lot easier for him to finish. A few easy buckets in the first half put DeMar in his comfort zone and paid dividends in the fourth quarter and overtime as he made some clutch, difficult shots to put Toronto over the top. His attempted game-winner at the end of regulation left something to be desired as DD settled for a mid-range fade-away. Is there anyone out there that still thinks DeMar’s contract was a bad idea? I’m almost ready to say it was a bargain.

-Pulling Mickael Pietrus instantly after Austin Rivers blew past him for a layup, was a great demonstration of accountability from coach Dwane Casey. Pietrus learned nothing however, as he allowed Rivers to cruise right past him at the start of the third quarter.

-Alan Anderson has no fear of taking big shots. He was 1-6 from downtown before nailing a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter. He also had some tremendous defensive stands. His steal leading to a layup at the end of the second quarter was a momentum changing play. Anderson’s hustle to track down an offensive rebound late in the fourth quarter was huge too. He did a tremendous job guarding Ryan Anderson and the Hornets did themselves a disservice by not switching that matchup. Alan’s final line of 16 Pts, 3 Ast, 3 Stl & 2 Reb belied how well he played. He is a “Dwane Casey” type of player and his role will only expand if he continues to play this way.

-Worth noting that Terrence Ross had what would have been one of the best posters of the season on Jason Smith in the second quarter, but Amir Johnson was called for an offensive foul. Ross had another attempted poster in the second quarter that was almost equally vicious. I didn’t realize (when he was drafted) how smooth and explosive his dunks were – the comparison that keeps resurfacing is Vince Carter.

-Ed Davis still doesn’t have the best form on his jump shot but he believes in it. He bricked a jump shot early in the first quarter but that didn’t deter him from looking for his shot later – he cashed a jumper minutes after his first miss. Davis finished the first quarter with 9 points and some very aggressive takes.

-Amir Johnson had a massive offensive rebound late in the fourth quarter to steal momentum back for Toronto. He quietly had a very impactful game as he centered the small-ball unit that Toronto used for much of the 2nd half and overtime – finishing the game with 12 Pts, 8 Reb, 3 Blk & 2 Ast in 38 minutes.

-Raptors went 1-12 from three-point range in the first half and 15-18 from the free throw line. This aggressiveness carried through to the second half as Toronto finished with 25 FT’s and 5 three-pointers. The point guard competition was likely a factor in the fantastic ball security Toronto showed in the first half – 2 turnovers. They finished the game with just 7 turnovers, compared to 16 for the Hornets.

Raptors player of the game: DeMar DeRozan – 30 Pts, 9-22 FG, 11-13 FT, 6 Reb, 3 Stl, 0 TO in 49 mins

Hornets Pelicans player of the game: Greivis Vasquez – 20 Pts, 7-15 FG, 6-6 FT, 14 Ast, 9 Reb, 6 TO in 42 mins

-Toronto heads to the Amway Center in Orlando tomorrow night for a date with the Magic. The Raps defeated Orlando 93-90 at home on December 21st to cap their 5-game winning streak. Both teams played tonight so tired legs should not be a factor (with the exception of DD, who was the only player to top 40 minutes). Arron Afflalo got the better of DeRozan in their last matchup so that battle will be key. After their trip to Orlando, Toronto will play their next 6 games at home, where they are 7-5 this season…