The Toronto Raptors didn't have the help of newcomer Serge Ibaka on Wednesday night. Turned out, they didn't need him.
Instead, an unlikely lineup of three point guards — Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph and Delon Wright — plus DeMarre Carroll and rookie Jakob Poeltl powered the Raptors to a fierce fourth-quarter comeback, and the Raptors beat the Charlotte Hornets 90-85 on a roller-coaster night at Air Canada Centre.
"We were searching and we were searching and went to the Fountain of Youth and those guys came through and played their behinds off," coach Dwane Casey said.
Lowry had 21 points to top the Raptors (33-24), who snapped a three-game losing skid and own for just the fifth time in 16 games.
"Tonight we needed that, just emotionally," Lowry said. " We emotionally needed that type of game."
Norm Powell added 17 points, Carroll added 13, Wright had 11, Jonas Valanciunas finished with 11 rebounds and 10 points, and DeMar DeRozan chipped in with 10 points.
Frank Kaminsky led Charlotte (24-32) with 27 points, while Kemba Walker added 24.
The slumping Raptors received reinforcement Tuesday in the trade with Orlando that brought Ibaka to town in exchange Terrence Ross and a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. But Ibaka wasn't ready to play Wednesday.
Playing its last game before a nine-day break, Toronto came out with plenty of energy to take an early 14-point lead, but then things quickly went south. The Raptors imploded in the second and third quarters and the Hornets turned their double-digit deficit into a 75-58 lead to start the fourth quarter. The disgruntled crowd ushered the Raptors off the floor with a smattering of boos.
Perhaps it was the push they needed. The Raptors came to life in the fourth, and when Lowry drilled a three-pointer with 7:11 left to play, it capped a 20-2 run that gave Toronto a one-point lead and had the fans out of their seats.
A basket by Poeltl made it a five-point Raptors lead before Walker scored Charlotte's first field goal of the quarter with 3:13 to play to make a three-point game.
With 1:26 to play, Wright — wearing glaring tangerine sneakers — stole the ball and finished with a basket to put the Raptors back up by five, part of an impressive performance by the young Raptor who's missed most of the season with a shoulder injury.
"Came through big," DeRozan said of Wright, whose name was trending on Twitter in Toronto. "I always loved Delon's game, he's got a poise to his game, and for him to go out and handle the ball for the majority of the fourth quarter, that's big. I'm happy for him. It just shows the hard work he put in. . . especially for me, I've known him since he was a kid, since he was a baby, so it's cool to actually see it."
Nicolas Batum drilled a three with 29 seconds left, but Carroll squelched any Charlotte comeback with a three of his own with seven seconds left.
"I think Delon and Jak and DeMarre and Cory came in and just said 'Forget it, we're down and all we can do is go play basketball,"' Lowry said. "Those guys just did a great job of playing basketball, scrambling and just being aggressive."
The players joked in the post-game locker-room about the oddball fourth-quarter lineup that saw Lowry playing small forward at times.
"I'm the oldest one (of the three point guards), so I just took the highest role, the 3 position," Lowry said. "The older you get, you go from point to a 2, I guess I'm a 3 now. Delon was doing a great job of handling the ball. . . So I said Delon, just stay aggressive. He did a good job tonight."
Lowry and DeRozan now head to New Orleans to represent the East in the NBA all-star game. They were presented with their all-star jerseys prior to tip-off. The rest of the team will enjoy a much-needed break before returning to practice next Wednesday.
Ibaka, wearing the team's blue and white throwback Husky warmup sweats, appeared briefly on the court prior to the team introductions. He received cheers and the a few high fives before disappearing again.
It was a team decision not to play the newest Raptor, because of his late-night flight to Toronto, and a hectic day of required medical tests and getting his bearings.
Because of the NBA all-star break, Raptors fans won't get to see him play until Feb. 24 when Toronto hosts the Boston Celtics.
The Raptors raced out of the gate, shooting 53 per cent in the first quarter and leading 31-20 heading into the second.
But they couldn't buy a basket in the second, making just one of seven three-point attempts in the quarter. And when Walker hit his second of back-to-back three-pointers with just under two minutes left in the half, it capped a 19-6 Hornets run and pulled Charlotte to within a point. The Raptors took a narrow 44-41 lead into the halftime break.
The Raptors' pitiful performance continued in the third as the Raptors were outscored 34-14.