When I found out that New Orleans Pelican's star player, Anthony Davis, wasn't going to be playing in tonight's matchup against the Toronto Raptors, I was genuinely disappointed. Surely it was a stroke of luck for the Raptors who are currently missing two frontcourt players of their own in Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson, but Davis' monster sophomore season has sparked my interest in getting to watch one of the league's future stars. Luckily, he's only 20 years of age and seems to be on the path to a long career so I'll just have to wait until next season to witness him in action. Disappointment aside, the Raptors ended up coming back from a deficit of 14 points to clinch a crucial win on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. The box score MVP of the game was easily DeMar DeRozan, who scored 31 points (9-19FG) to go along with 4 assists and 3 rebounds, but this game was won because of a total team effort. This ends a two game losing streak for Toronto and keeps them in 3rd place in the Eastern conference for at least another day.
If you hadn't known the Raps had played a game the night before, you could probably tell fairly quickly just by watching a couple of minutes from the first quarter. Most notably, the Raptors did a terrible job of defending the paint which lead to the Pelicans scoring 20 of their 32 first quarter points in the paint. As a result, New Orleans shot a respectable/outrageous (depending on what team you're cheering for) 81.3% field goal percentage in the quarter. This goes to show the importance of having at least a decent rim protector such as Valanciunas in the game. At the end of the first the Raps were trailing 32-24, and it looked like this game was getting away from them.
The Raptors seemed to make adjustments in the second. For one, they turned the tables on the Pelicans by finding their own scoring chances near the rim. Equally important was a livelier defensive effort than had been displayed in the first quarter. New Orleans was held to a more reasonable 50% from the field and only converted on six attempts in the paint. Slowly the Raps began to claw back, thanks to a much needed spark off the bench from the newest Raptor, Nando De Colo, who didn't rack up many stats but was active on defense and impressed with his ball movement.
The backcourt duo of DeRozan and Lowry closed out the half on an 8-2 run, capped off by a signature fadeaway jumper by DeMar at the buzzer. Heading into the locker room at half, the Pelicans lead had been cut to 1 (57-56).
The third quarter saw the Raptors slouch back into some of their earlier habits of allowing easy penetration into the lane. The biggest lead of the quarter was only seven, in favour of the Pelicans, but it truly looked like the Raptors were missing the energy and personnel to come back in this one. Once again, DeRozan was the Raptors go-to offensive option and his 10 points in the third kept the Raptors within reach to give them a fighting chance in the final frame.
Down four, the Raptors needed to step up their overall intensity to steal this win and, to their credit, they did just that. In no other respect was this more evident than on the boards, more specifically, the offensive glass. The Raps won the rebounding battle, in the last 12 minutes, by a staggering 21-8 with 11 of those rebounds coming on their opponent's side of the court. Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Chuck Hayes each had 3 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter which led to 10 additional shots for Toronto.
Holding New Orleans to 33.3% shooting, coupled with the extra shot attempts helped the Raptors win the quarter by a score of 26-15 and seal the deal for a win on the night. Final score, Raptors: 107, Pelicans: 100.
In his return to New Orleans, Greivis Vasquez scored 14 point on the night, 9 of which came in the crucial fourth quarter that helped the Raptors close out the game. He also recorded 2 assists and 2 rebounds.
Final shoutout to Amir Johnson. When DeRozan and Lowry put up the kind of numbers they do on a regular basis, it's easy to skip over Johnson's contributions. With that said, the play of Amir tonight was equally, if not more, important to the Raptors victory. He dropped 17 points on 8-13 shooting, was 1 rebound shy of a double-double, and was visibly struggling to ignore the pain of his recent ankle injury. With two of the Raptors big men left out of the rotation tonight, Amir held down the fort. We salute you.
Friday will be a tough test against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are one win away from another 50 win season and are currently sitting pretty in the second seed of the impossibly tough Western Conference. Here's hoping the Raptors' medical staff can pull through like the Raps did tonight and get everyone healed up in time.