In an ideal world, more ball movement means easier shots equals more makes means a higher shooting percentage. For the Raptors though, the shots have not been falling as of late and, watching the team for most of the first half last night against the Pelicans, it was not hard to see why. Toronto looked lost.
In what's become a trend for the Raptors, their first quarter got off to a slow start. Toronto shot 30 percent from the field (with zero 3-pointers) to go with five turnovers. Toronto remained in the game by dint of the fact only Eric Gordon of the Pels seemed to be making any plays (he had 16 points in the opening frame and finished with 30). The lone bright spot for the Raptors was Jonas Valanciunas who, by half's end, had 15 points (on 6-of-8 shooting), seven rebounds and one nasty block. The easy shots continued to be hard to come by for the Raptors, with much of their offense reverting to low percentage one-on-one play. As we marched into the third, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and the returning DeMarre Carroll were a combined 4-of-22. It felt like one of those games.
But Jonas kept plugging away. He went inside on Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik, he potted jumpers, he rolled to the net, and he did his part on the defensive end. Even his pump fake was working. Without Anthony Davis to contend with, the game looked easy for the young big man. In turn, things gradually opened up for the Raptors. The second half gave way to increased production from Lowry (he was 4-of-8 from three, 0-for-5 from everywhere else), plus contributions from Carroll and Scola (11 and 9 points respectively, plus Scola's nightly corner three). If there was a specific turning point, it felt like DeRozan's alley-op hammer dunk which, while not exactly putting the Pels away (they scored five points immediately afterwards to keep it close), spiritually felt like the end of something. As expected, with minimal reinforcements, the Pelicans just plain burned out. The lead would grow past 20 points by the fourth, putting the game out of reach for New Orleans.
Despite DeRozan's poor shot selection at times, and his maddeningly slow pace (he always seems to see the pass a second too late), he finished with a well-rounded 15 points, 11 assists and 6 rebounds. But as had been happening all game, Jonas was the Raptors' life force in the game. He finished with a powerful 20 and 10 (on 8-of-11 shooting) and should rightly be credited with keeping the Raptors in the game while their offense sputtered. Patrick Patterson, who finally came alive with a few much-needed threes in the second half, summed it up best. "I'm so proud of Jonas, I'm hoping he makes All-Star," said Patterson after the game. "He works so hard in the summer time and everything is starting to pay off for him."
So there we are. The Raptors win 100-81 and move to 7-3 on the season. The poor Pelicans continue to reel and fall to 1-8. At times, this was an ugly basketball game. In other moments, it was fun to watch. Ultimately, we got to sit in a large public space and enjoy a friendly spectacle. Even though we don't live in an ideal world.