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Led by Valanciunas (!), the Raptors beat the Pelicans 94-87

The Raptors get back on track against the Pelicans, winning 94-87

NBA: Toronto Raptors at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Life without Kyle Lowry continues, as the Raptors moved to 5-2 since the All Star break (and also since his injury).

Coming off a 3-day break, the Raptors came out of the gate looking slightly out of rhythm. Toronto missed their first six shots to incur a double digit deficit early. As expected, renowned Raptor killer Alexis Ajinca had 7 points in the first quarter to help kickstart the Pelican offence. It wasn’t until Jonas Valanciunas got going that the Raptors started finding their footing. With Serge Ibaka picking up two early fouls on an aggressive DeMarcus Cousins, solid bench play from Patrick Patterson and the kids helped reduce the deficit to 26-22 after one quarter.

The second quarter saw some more solid two-way play by Valanciunas. A pair of and-1s and a nice jump shot over Cousins were good to see on the offensive end, but his defensive awareness was on point as well in staying with Cousins on the perimeter and in the paint. Although Cousins at 17 points on 13 shots at half time, the damage was limited as much as one could hope. The Pelicans could only muster 20 points in the quarter, and went into the break with a 1 point lead at 46-45.

If you notice we haven’t brought up Anthony Davis’ name yet, well, it appears he was bothered by a wrist contusion on the night. He had only 7 points in the first half, and was ruled out for the rest of the game at halftime. Undermanned, the Pelicans struggled on offence for the remainder of the game. The Raptors stole the lead back on a 9-2 run to open the third quarter, and after holding the Pelicans to only 18 points in the frame, took a 68-64 lead into the fourth.

With Valanciunas winded, Delon Wright struggling and DeMar DeRozan needing some rest, the Raptors opened the fourth quarter with a strange unit that included Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell. The Pelicans stayed in the game thanks to the efforts of Jordan Crawford (dawg, what?), Tim Frazier and E’Twaun Moore. New Orleans even briefly took the lead until Dwane Casey decided enough is enough and brought back the starters to close the game out. From then on, it was pretty much all Raptors, with Valanciunas stamping his authority on the game to end with 25 points and 13 rebounds.

In the end, a 94-87 win against an Anthony Davis-less Pelicans team is nothing to write home about, but the Raptors will take all wins as they come right now.

Miscellaneous Notes:

  • Serge Ibaka is an incredible defender when he has rest. With three days off, he looked spry, alert and up for it against all comers. His help defence was nothing short of amazing tonight. Good thing he’ll have plenty of days off between playoff games.
  • It was awesome to see Jonas show how he can provide value to the Raptors. In a matchup against one of the premier low post centres in the league, Valanciunas easily won out. He showed Dwane Casey that he can be trusted in crunch time in certain matchups and shouldn’t be written off as an option just yet. He also shot 9-13 in 27 minutes.
  • I thought DeRozan quietly had a decent game. He went through a spell where he missed eight consecutive shots, but realizing high volume shooting from him wasn’t going to cut it tonight, he moved into distributor mode. His 6 assists led the team, and while that’s not a huge number, the recognition that tonight wasn’t his night to dominate should be commended.
  • Norman Powell hit 2 threes. That’s nice to see.
  • Cory Joseph was great tonight in the 2nd quarter onwards. His shot wasn’t on and he made some mistakes in the pick and roll, but he’s starting to develop some much-needed chemistry with Ibaka and Valanciunas. Casey’s also done a much better job of letting him initiate the offence with motion going downhill, since simple high screens are much easier to defend with Cory being a non-shooter.
  • I don’t want to do this, but Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins were shameful tonight in how they talked about DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins did nothing to provoke, retaliate or goad any of the Raptor players but the conversation about him from the broadcast team from minute 1 to minute 48 was about his body language, his negative impact on his team, him scowling, etc. Let’s make it clear here: Cousins did nothing on that technical foul that Valanciunas picked up for impeding him. He also did nothing on that foul from Ibaka where his fingers struck Serge’s face on his follow through. Every team has players who whine at refs. DeRozan and Lowry do it literally every game. There’s no need to keep this narrative going. Cut that shit out.

Up next: the Hawks on Friday. Your thoughts?