TORONTO — P.J. Tucker could barely be heard in the Raptors' already quiet locker-room. He stood by his stall, his voice almost a whisper, as he described Toronto's defensive collapse against the sharpshooting Charlotte Hornets.
Kemba Walker and Marvin Williams both dropped three-pointers in the last 40 seconds of play as Charlotte staged a fourth-quarter rally in a 110-106 win over the Raptors on Wednesday night, snapping Toronto's six-game win streak.
The Hornets shot 77.8 per cent from field-goal range and 80 per cent on three-pointers to outscore the Raptors 44-32 in the fourth. That came a quarter after Toronto held Charlotte to 16 points on 22.7 per cent on field goals and 28.6 per cent from beyond the arc.
"Kemba Walker's an all-star, one of the best scorers in the NBA, ain't nothing new for him," said Tucker, his voice rising. "He could miss 30 million shots in a row and he's going to shoot the next one like he's been making all of them, he's a scorer."
Tucker's frustration was palpable after his words in a players-only meeting on March 16 sparked the Raptors' six-game streak. Toronto's loss on Wednesday was a missed opportunity to gain ground on the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Celtics, who lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 103-100.
"We have to understand when we play great defence, every team in this league understands that they have to pick it up against us, especially if you have any quarters left," said DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 28 points, six rebounds and eight assists. "The game is not over until it's over and we can't be satisfied with having a big third quarter."
Former Raptor Marco Belinelli had 21 points off the bench for the Hornets (34-41), despite getting seven stitches the night before after taking a shot to the face against Milwaukee. Walker finished with 19 points, including three three-pointers, and Williams had 18.
Jonas Valancunas had a double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds for the Raptors (45-30), including nine boards in the third quarter. Point guard Cory Joseph added 18 with five assists and seven rebounds.
Jeremy Lamb made a reverse lay-up with 7:47 left in the game to tie the score 82-82 for Charlotte after Toronto had led 74-66 at the third intermission.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey called a timeout to settle his team down after the play. It worked, as DeRozan hit a floating bank shot and a free throw to re-establish a three-point lead. Toronto's Norman Powell picked up a turnover on the next Hornets possession and got a roar from the Air Canada Centre fans with a breakaway dunk.
A Walker three-point shot with 3:44 remaining made it 96-95, but Joseph came right back with a pull-up jump shot. Williams tied it 98-98 with a three on the next possession.
"We just stuck with the game, really," said Walker. "We made big plays especially defensively down the stretch. We just really stuck with the game, shots weren't falling consistently all night but we made the necessary plays to win the game."
After an officials' timeout, DeRozan hit a jump shot but Walker nailed a three-pointer to make it 101-100 for Charlotte. Stifling defence from the Raptors forced a shot clock violation, giving Toronto the ball.
Powell drew a foul on the ensuing possession, and made 1-of-2 free throws to tie it up again but Walker made a rainbow 26-foot three-pointer to take a 104-101 lead with 37.5 seconds left to play.
Chants of M-V-P rained down as DeRozan made two free throws, but Williams hit his three-pointer to give the Hornets a 107-103 lead with 8.7 seconds on the clock. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made two free throws, followed by a Serge Ibaka three for the Raptors to make it 109-106.
"Every time we scored they came back and answered with a big shot," said DeRozan. "Before all that, we gave up entirely too many points and that's on us. You have to give them credit, they hit big shots late in the game."
Frank Kaminsky drained a free throw for the final score.
Notes: Singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes of Pickering, Ont., was courtside for the game, as was tennis superstar Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont.
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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press