Raptors struggle to overcome shooting woes in narrow loss to Hornets

Terry Rozier scored 18 points and the game-clinching free throw with two seconds remaining to lift the Charlotte Hornets to a 99-96 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday, spoiling a solid return by Norm Powell.

Powell return from a nine-game injury layoff to score 22 points. Pascal Siakam had 24 points and nine rebounds, while Kyle Lowry scored 12 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter.

OG Anunoby chipped in with 16 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (42-17), who’ve lost two straight at Scotiabank Arena.

Devonte’ Graham also had 18 points for the Hornets (21-38).

The Raptors have managed to win through some major injuries to key players this season, but were missing Fred VanVleet (sore shoulder), Serge Ibaka (sore knee) and Marc Gasol (hamstring strain) on Friday, and it showed.

The Raptors trailed by 17 points in the second quarter to a Charlotte team they’d already beaten twice this season.

Shooting struggles lead to loss

They showed some life in the third, and when Powell fed Siakam with a behind-the-back pass on the break, Siakam’s dunk pulled Toronto to within five points, and brought the Scotiabank Arena fans out of their seats. The Hornets led 73-66 to start the fourth.

A Powell three-pointer capped an 8-2 Raptors mini-run and sliced the deficit to just two points with 7:41 to play. His jumper two minutes later pulled Toronto to within a point.

A Lowry three-pointer with 2:50 to play put the Raptors up by a point for their first lead of the game since the first quarter. Rozier responded with a three on Charlotte’s next possession, but Lowry connected again from long distance, then drove to the hoop for a layup with 1:14 to play and it was a two-point Raptors lead.

Miles Bridges scored on a three, then Siakam grabbed a big rebound to give the Raptors the ball. They couldn’t score however, and Charlotte regained possession with 2.1 seconds left. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fouled Rozier — and fouled out of the game — and Rozier’s free throw all but clinched Charlotte the win. Graham’s pair of free throws made it a three-point lead with 1.2 seconds remaining, and Powell’s three-point attempt bounced off the rim at the buzzer.

While the Raptors lead the league in defending the perimeter, the Hornets connected on 43 per cent from three-point range. Toronto shot just 23.8 from beyond the arc, and 35 per cent from the field.

The Raptors were coming off a 108-97 loss to the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, that snapped their nine-game home winning streak, and was just their second loss in 19 outings.

Toronto plays its next five on the road, beginning in Denver on Sunday. The Raptors will visit Phoenix, Golden State, Sacramento, and Utah and Detroit before they’re back home versus the Detroit Pistons on March 14.

Powell returns from injury

Powell returned after missing nine games with a fractured finger on his non-shooting hand, and scored on a three-pointer for the Raptors’ first points of the game. He’d missed three weeks with a shoulder injury earlier this season, and both injuries disrupted arguably the most consistent basketball he’s ever played.

“You have to look at it and say, ‘Well he was going like this [motions upward],’ and then he got hurt and we’re like oh man, too bad, because he was playing at as good a peak as he’s ever had,” said head coach Nick Nurse before the game. “Then he came back and he shot right back up to where he was, and even maybe another half step. Then he got hurt again.

“Usually you would think, ‘Well what could have happened if he never got hurt?’ Would he have made that climb even better? Or look at the other side. He has saved the wear and tear; his legs have stayed a little fresher. If you want to put a positive spin on it you can, and that’s what we try to do here with injuries. It has helped us in the long run to play other guys.”

Powell led the way with nine points in the first quarter, but the Raptors couldn’t muster much offence and trailed 25-23 to start the second.

The Raptors had just 18 points in the second quarter, and when former Raptor Bismack Biyombo cut to the hoop for a layup midway through the frame, the Hornets went up by 17 points. Charlotte took a 52-41 advantage into the halftime break.

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