CHARLOTTE - The hapless Charlotte Bobcats were the perfect tonic for a road-weary group of Raptors on Saturday night.
Through two quarters at least.
Then, things got predictably ugly.
The Raptors took a 10-point lead into the break thanks to 58.8% shooting, before fading in the third against the brutal Bobcats on the road again in a 107-103 loss.
Playing for the fourth time in five nights, the Raptors ran out of gas, allowing Charlotte to hit 12 of its 15 shot attempts for 38 points in all in the third to seize a hammer grip on the game.
The Raptors, now 15-20, had to overcome all sorts of shenanigans on the trip — more on that below — but could not complete a 3-1 trip for the first time since 2004, despite a late comeback attempt.
Charlotte is full marks for its NBA-worst 7-36 record and offered little resistance early and nearly collapsed down the stretch.
But Corey Maggette did what he does — get to the line a ton in a 21-point effort, while Gerald Henderson scored 24 and D.J. Augustin had 23 with 11 assists.
Jerryd Bayless continued to sizzle — he was averaging 20 points and eight assists on strong shooting over his past four starts — and poured in 29 more points, along with six assists, but didn’t get much help.
DeMar DeRozan scored 20, but Andrea Bargnani could only notch 11 and James Johnson had his worst game of the year.
“I was excited at the beginning of the game I was excited at the end of the game, but in the middle I saw the frustration I expected tonight,” said head coach Dwane Casey, who added that the offence was too sloppy (26 turnovers).
“The game was (lost) in the third quarter,” summarized Bargnani.
“We didn’t come out ready. They came out like they wanted to win and we were a little bit soft, not ready. We wasted a good opportunity.”
Now the Raptors get to go home, get a day off on, before a rare practice on Monday and a game in New York City on Tuesday.
ONE WEIRD TRIP
What a road swing!
It started with a fire alarm at the team hotel while the team tried to snooze before a game in New Jersey.
Then there was a truly wild game in Memphis, followed by a mechanical failure as the team plane was heading down the runway, forcing the Raptors to stay in Memphis overnight and arrive in Charlotte just three hours prior to tipoff.
Just for kicks, a fire alarm went off about 30 minutes after their arrival at the arena, forcing a partial evacuation amidst wailing sirens.
It was a false alarm, but a Bobcats cheerleader may or may not have torn an ACL at some point and the team uniforms barely got to the arena on time and they were wet at that.
“Oh yeah, it’s been a very interesting road trip,” said 12-year pro Jamaal Magloire, who said he can remember arriving the day of a game only once, while with Miami.
“It was pretty new to me, but you’re always going to be faced with adversity.”
Casey said fog prevented takeoffs in Seattle several times.
“I’m going to tell the players, this is the part of the NBA people don’t see. This is what makes this a mental game, you have to be mentally tough to get through this,” he said before the game.
“Tonight we have every excuse imaginable. Staying over in Memphis, fire alarm going off, out of routine. But that’s not acceptable and that’s what we need to fight through.”
A good message, but not one that was heeded, much to the dismay of Magloire who said afterwards, “As much as it’s a learning curve for us, I don’t think there’s any excuses. This is a game we very easily could have won no matter what the circumstances were. I’m more or less speechless about what happened to us and very disappointed,” he said.
Bayless has been tearing it up since replacing Jose Calderon in the starting lineup. That caused the coach to crack a joke at the Spaniard’s expense.
“I tell you what, with the way Jerryd’s playing, I would hurry up and get back too,” he said.
The team expects Calderon back for Tuesday’s game in New York.