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Raptors make Hornets pay with three-ball for first two-game win streak of year

Boucher stars again and Norman Powell steps up with best game of season

It was an all or nothing night for the Raptors and for a change this effort didn’t get wasted.

It didn’t come easy but the Raptors hung on for a 116-113 win, just their fourth of the season against eight losses.

The Raptors struggled to get all the way to the hoop all night against a Charlotte zone defence that gave them fits two nights earlier.

But what the Raptors were able to do was get into the paint and then find open shooters behind the arc and knock those shots down at a very good clip.

Good thing too because they weren’t getting anywhere near the Charlotte basket.

The Raptors were 21-for-49 from distance in the game and that was the difference as the Hornets knocked down 15 of their own from behind the arc in the game.

A rather large chuck of that long-distance offence came in the form of Norm Powell who came off the bench and tied a career high with six triples on nine attempts for a team-best 24 points in the game.

With the win the Raptors improved to 4-8. It marked the first time this year the team has won consecutive games, both coming against these same Hornets.

Unlike Thursday’s win over Charlotte, this time the Raptors had to contend with Charlotte’s leading scorer in Gordon Hayward, who returned after a one-game absence due to a strained hamstring.

Hayward stepped right back into that lead scoring role giving the Raptors hits with his all-around offensive game ashe scored a game-high 25 on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting and a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line.

It wasn’t enough only because the Raptors had a banner night shooting the three-ball.

In addition to the six from Powell, the Raptors got four from OG Anunoby and three each from Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry.

Closing out halves and quarters have been an issue for the Raptors early in this season and it was never more troublesome than last night as the Raptors turned a comfortable eight-point lead and a chance to increase it into a mere two-point lead after a half.

It was a terrible close out to the second half as they attempt to go two-for-one on a late possession, turned it over and the Hornets went down and got an open three from Terry Rozier.

With eight seconds left now, the Raptors came down again and Powell took an early three from well behind the three-point line that failed to connect. Worse it left Rozier enough time to go down and get his second three from about the same distance that Powell had missed, only he did it right at the buzzer.

Raptors starting centre Aron Baynes lasted just five minutes despite a solid first minute that saw him help force a Gordon Hayward turnover and muscle Bismack Biyombo out of bounds under the basket for another one.

Nick Nurse wants to get Baynes going and he’s doing it strategically but so far he hasn’t seen much response from his new big man.

With the Raptors down early at 12-2 and Nurse not interested in letting the game get away from him in the first quarter, Baynes came out to bring on the better offensive option in Chris Boucher.

He never got back in the game.

Boucher once again stepped into the void coming through with a 20-point, nine-rebound, two-block night.

GETTING FAMILIAR

Lots of talk here north of the border how the NHL season will have a drastically different look with teams like the Leafs seeing the Ottawa Senators nine times in a season.

Well it’s not quite that often in the NBA, but the pandemic has forced the schedule maker to include a number of in-season series as a team will visit a market and play twice before leaving.

The Hornets and Raptors hooked up Thursday night and then both remained in Tampa, Toronto’s home for now, through Friday and played again last night. It’s the first of four such two-game in-season series the Raptors will play over the next two weeks. All told they will play six in the first half of the schedule.

Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse who is well versed in playing teams in these back-to-back formats from his G-League days is very comfortable and believes his team will prove to be as well.

“I think there is a lot of, we’ve still got a lot of high-IQ guys that can make those adjustments and change things from the foundational principles to maybe something specific, depending on who they’re guarding, reading a situation,” Nurse said. “Again, all those little minute adjustments you’ve gotta make in the playoffs.”

HOW THE BIGS STACK UP

Nurse has not given up on Baynes or Alex Len for that matter.

The two bigs have struggled early on with Len out last night for personal reasons.

Neither have made much of a case to start but having found a nice rotation with Chris Boucher coming off he bench, Nurse is reluctant to mess with that.

So for now he’ll stay with Baynes starting, but on a very short leash.

“I think we have settled in that it’s a small lineup or team that we’re playing the majority of the time with,” Nurse said of a group that includes Boucher. “So then you’ve got two guys there. There wasn’t a lot of separation between (Len) and Aron at this time, so it was a little bit of a juggling match, but now I know, we’re gonna play Aron, we’re gonna try to get some extended minutes out of him.

“I know we’re not getting very much out of him at this point,” Nurse said of Baynes. “We read the game, you know. He’s almost like a reserve now. His stint is going to last as long as things are going well, or he’s impacting well. And if it just gets us into some games where it hasn’t been great, matched up, or connectivity, or whatever it is, then we’ll go small and we’ll start shifting from there and bringing Stanley and Yuta and some of those guys into the mix.”

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