Without Nicolas Batum and with someone that used to be Al Jefferson, the Charlotte Hornets lost 96-90 on the road to the Toronto Raptors, with Kemba Walker having a mostly atrocious game and one Jeremy Lin, who showed once again why he deserves a spot in the lineup on a more regular basis.
With the loss, the Hornets fall even further behind in the race for the top 4 in the East, although it does get a little bit easier from here, facing only one more team with a superior record in their final five games (Boston Celtics). However, it’s not just up to them, and their two losses in Cleveland and Toronto made things complicated. Expected losses and nothing to get too hung up about, but at least in one of those games they could have done more.
Jeremy Lin played 40 minutes (more than everyone, finishing with a -2 plus/minus) and finished with a team-high 21 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists, while picking up one steal too. He shot well from beyond the arc (4-for-6, and it’s incredible what starting does to his confidence) and was the only Hornets player who got to the line consistently, finishing with 7-for-8. He held the Hornets in the game earlier on, being the only one who seemed to show up. He didn’t have as good of a second half, but in a loss that could have been much worse for Charlotte due to a terrible third quarter and playing poorly whenever Lin was out, his ability made things look a bit more respectable.
Despite hitting just six three pointers, the Raptors had an easy time scoring from closer to the basket. The Hornets perimeter defense wasn’t bad despite the lack of playing time Walker, Courtney Lee and Lin have together (along with Walker being a bad defender), but there was no inside help whenever the Raptors got past the first line of defense. They took 10 more shots and scored 7 more points than the Hornets from the line, won the rebounding battle and played excellent interior defense, with Jonas Valanciunas and former Hornets player Bismack Biyombo both finishing with three blocks.
All the Hornets big men had a bad day, including Al Jefferson who was questionable before the game. He finished with just 5 points in 20 minutes, shooting 2-for-9 from the field. His 11 rebounds helped, but the Hornets needed a lot more from him, as he continues to struggle offensively. The Hornets shot just 36.4% from the field, as Frank Kaminsky didn’t know when to stop (3-for-10, including 2-for-7 from three and a lot of open shot missed) and worse of all was Walker, especially early on.
He missed his first seven shots and finished with just one point in the first half, and not doing anything useful until the fourth quarter, making the Raptors sweat just a little bit, but not really. He ended up scoring 11 points, like Lee. Marvin Williams had 15. As we said before the game, without Batum, a bad game from Walker (-16 during his minutes) becomes a lot more substantial and influential. Lin has to be in the lineup in this situation, and there’s no one off the bench to add some extra gear and firepower. Lin playing 40 minutes when he’s used to a lot less isn’t the ideal way of inserting him in. But more Lin on the floor, at least in this case, was good for the Hornets. With Batum probably out for another game (Knicks on the road) in this back-to-back sequence, Steve Clifford reluctantly turns to Lin to try and keep the Hornets in the race for the top 4.