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Hornets surge back, snap Raptors six-game winning streak

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan tries to get through Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker and Charlotte Hornets forward Marvin Williams during first half NBA basketball action, in Toronto on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

In the Toronto Raptors' rather thin playoff history, playing at home has been good, on the road bad.

The Raptors have already punched their ticket for their ninth NBA postseason adventure, which begins in mid-April. It will mark Toronto's fourth successive playoff visit, a franchise record.

All that is left to resolve, with seven games remaining for the Raptors following their game on Wednesday night against the Charlotte Hornets at Air Canada Centre, is the final seeding to determine their opening-round opponent.

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Heading into their game against the Hornets, the Raptors needed a win, along with a loss by Atlanta in its game against Philadelphia, to secure at least a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage for the opening round of the playoffs.

But the Raptors failed to come through, and allowed the Hornets to surge back with some hot shooting in the fourth quarter to record a 110-106 victory, snuffing a six-game Toronto winning streak.

"They were as hot as fire in the fourth quarter," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey "We go from one of our best defensive quarters, 16 in the third, to 44 in the fourth. And that was the difference in the game.

"I thought we did a good job of containing their three-point shooters and [Marco] Belinelli saw one go in and then it was contagious."

After Toronto had secured a 74-66 lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Hornets rallied and a reverse layup by Jeremy Lamb knotted the score at 82-82 with less than eight minutes left.

It remained close the rest of the way.

It was 101-101 heading into the final frantic moments where Kemba Walker drained a long three for the Hornets with 37.5 seconds left, and the Raptors were in a pickle.

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Toronto's DeMar DeRozan made two free throws, which cut the lead to one, but the dagger was then inserted by Marvin Williams, who canned a long three with 8.7 seconds left to sink the Raptors' chances.

Belinelli led the Hornets with 21 points. DeRozan, who struggled to hit on 11 of his 24 shots, responded with 28.

Teams usually perform better at home in the playoffs, but for the Raptors' home-court advantage has been a big boost. Toronto's overall record in the postseason, in which they've only won three series, is 24-38. But at home in the playoffs, Toronto's success rate has been much better, 18-12. On the road it is a cringe-worthy 6-26.

Last season, heading into the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the East, Toronto enjoyed home court advantage through the first two rounds, which was huge.

Toronto outlasted the Indiana Pacers and then the Miami Heat in two seven-game series, in which Toronto prevailed each time in the final game, played on their home court packed with frenzied fans.

The Raptors' run ended after that in the conference final against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who as the No. 1 seed in the East held home-court advantage. Toronto lost all three games on enemy turf and was gone in six.

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For a player such as Toronto forward P.J. Tucker, a trade-deadline addition to the lineup last month, just qualifying for the playoffs is a personal perk.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tucker is sixth on the list among active players of most regular-season games played (412) without an appearance in the postseason.

It will be good "to get that monkey off my back," Tucker said before the game. "Right now it's not even about the playoffs. It's about us finishing off the season the right way and winning as many games as possible before we get there."

The Raptors, in the midst of a four-game home stand, next play Friday night against the Indiana Pacers.

As has been the Raptors' annoying habit this year, they fell behind early, trailing 34-24 early in the second quarter after a driving layup by Frank Kaminsky and a made free throw on the ensuing foul.

Toronto entered the game leading the NBA with 19 comeback victories this season when trailing by 10 points or more.

The Raptors struggled early on with their shots, at one point in the second quarter having made just 34.6 per cent (nine of 26) of their attempts.

Toronto clawed its way to within two points of the lead, but needed a 19-foot jumper by DeRozan at the buzzer to trim the Charlotte advantage to 50-47 by the half.

The Raptors began to find some offensive footing in the third when DeMarre Carroll, making his first start after sitting out the past two games nursing a sore lower back, drilled a three that lifted Toronto in front 54-53.

Then it was DeRozan's turn to amp it up, speeding down the court with the ball toward Marvin Williams, the overmatched Charlotte defender. DeRozan blew past Williams and laid the ball in to make the score 56-53.

As he headed back down court, DeRozan cast a long, hard stare at the Charlotte bench for good measure.

Toronto led by as many as nine in the quarter before settling for a 74-66 margin heading into the fourth.

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