The Raptors knew they were fortunate on New Years Eve in New Orleans when they caught a few breaks and stole one from the Hornets.
But there were no breaks last night in the second and final game of the season series.
The Hornets, led by Chris Paul's unfailing ability to find the open man, and David West's equally consistent ability to knock down open shots from anywhere on the floor did the Raptors in.
The final score of 118-111 actually flattered the Raptors, who spent most of the evening down by double digits. Only an energized makeshift bench unit of Jose Calderon, Linton Johnson in his first action as a Raptor, Kris Humphries, Carlos Defino and Jamario Moon managed to get the lead back down to six with a minute and a half to play. While it forced Hornets coach Byron Scott to bring his starters back for the final three minutes, the lead quickly got back to a comfortable 10.
Coming into the game, the plan was to trap Paul and get the ball out of his hands, but even under pressure, he was able to find an open teammate. The result was a 60% shooting night from the field for the Hornets, led by West's 32 points on 13-of-21 shooting.
"You try trapping him but he backs out of it and splits it," Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell said of Paul. "He made some passes tonight and I don't even see how he found the guy and he didn't miss any shots. They've got great shooters and some nights you have to hope the guys don't shoot the ball as well."
Last night was not one of those nights. Paul, who had just nine points but 11 assists coming out of the first half, wound up with 20 points and 16 helpers despite playing only three minutes of the fourth quarter.
"He just makes the right plays," Mitchell said. "I can't tell you one time tonight that he didn't make the right play."
Whether it was Mitchell, Chris Bosh or T.J. Ford talking after the game, all seemed resigned to the fact that with the Hornets shooters on target and Paul finding the open man, this was one of those games that was all but impossible to win.
"It was hard to guard him tonight," Ford said of Paul. "They put us in a lot of pick and rolls and we threw a lot of different coverages at them and they were able to adjust. We tried everything possible tonight but he was able to pick us apart."
Mitchell took a flyer at the beginning of the game inserting Jason Kapono in the starting lineup in place of Moon. The hope was that it might get Kapono energized, who came into the game 0-for-5 in his past three games. Kapono went 0-for-3 for the game.
Mitchell said the thinking behind the move was also part matchup driven, but said it was not something he will be trying tonight in Charlotte.
About the only positive of the evening for the Raptors was that they didn't lose any ground in the jockeying for playoff seeding. The Philadelphia 76ers lost by three in Cleveland, leaving them a half game behind the Raptors who held onto their sixth seed.
Bosh led all Raptors scorers with 21 while the Hornets got 25 from Peja Stojakovic behind West's 30.