If we think of the Raptors’ roster as weird — with its three centres, and tri-guard lineups — remember that the home team has nothing on the Pelicans. The latter squad tends to invert the court entirely with All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, which allows them to cause havoc in a myriad of ways. The Raptors appear relatively normal by comparison. In fact, their roster imbalance makes them well-suited to dealing with New Orleans’ two-headed monster precisely because of all their big man options. And after watching Toronto win 122-118 this idea was proven correct — in a manner of speaking.
The solution was, in part, as predicted: strength in numbers. The Raptors got out to a decent start with both Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka looking lively. JV opened the game with a dunk and followed it up with some legitimate defensive plays. (He also grabbed six boards.) Meanwhile Ibaka looked to shoot, which worked for a time (he had seven points), while he also looked to stop Boogie and Brow at the rim — which never goes out of style. The Raps and Pels ended the quarter at 34-32, with Jrue Holiday and his team-leading 10 points as the difference maker.
Despite leading by as many as 10 in the first, the game seesawed back and forth away from the Raps for much of the second quarter. With their all-bench lineup, Toronto was able to keep up the defensive pressure for a time, but they never managed to build any semblance of a lead. This, surprisingly enough, was mostly due to Holiday again, who added another 14 points to finish the half with 24. (The Raptors’ perimeter defense was not as a strong as their teamwork in the paint.) The Pelicans big men were mostly quiet until a brewing JV-Boogie battle led to — you guessed it — a technical for DeMarcus. The Raptors were back up by six, behind 19 first half points from DeMar DeRozan (who, by the way, hit 2-of-5 threes in the first half), and the tide felt like it was turning.
Not so fast, unfortunately. The third quarter was a weird one. Some trends continued — e.g. Holiday grew his point total to 32 — while others waxed and waned as the minutes ticked by. The Raptors’ all-bench lineup still couldn’t score enough points; Jameer Nelson (still, this guy) came out of nowhere to change things up with five points and a few assists; Delon Wright hit another 3 to tie it up. And Boogie and the Brow were hardly heard from at all.
The Raptors’ offense continued to be rather egalitarian though, with everyone chipping in — Serge came alive for a stretch (he had 16 points through 3; he was so lively he managed to get T-ed up), Kyle Lowry hit a much-needed above the break 3, and while Toronto’s defense was shaky again (particularly on closeouts and in transition) everyone was hustling to keep the game tight. We went to the final frame all tied up at 92.
Finally Holiday was slowed down (he managed one more bucket in the game), Lowry made some huge plays, OG Anunoby was active on defense (and had a huge dunk of his own), and while Boogie and the Brow had their moments, it wasn’t enough. Despite still trading buckets back and forth for most of the quarter, it was the clutch shot-making of the Raptors that carried them through. DeRozan finished with 33 points and the winning buckets. Lowry managed an 18 point, five rebound, seven assist night. Ibaka tallied 19 and 8 with 2 blocks. And Valanciunas, much maligned against the Wizards and absent down the stretch against Chicago, played a solid game: seven points, 13 rebounds, and physical, frustrating defense on Cousins. We made it.
So, a weird one, but fun. The Raptors won 122-118 and everyone on the home squad got to play a part. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, some of it was ugly, some of it was wonderful, and here we are. The Raps are now 7-4 and have a couple days off before seeing the Celtics on Sunday afternoon. Buckle up.