The Raptors Outlasted The Pelicans In An Overtime Thriller To Open The Season

Just four months after the Toronto Raptors secured their first NBA championship, Canada was the site of the NBA’s first regular season action of the 2019-20 season. Though the game lost a bit of luster in the absence of Zion Williamson, observers were treated to an entertaining, 53-minute battle and, in the end, the Raptors bookended a celebratory night with a 130-122 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Before tip-off arrived, the Raptors put together pre-game festivities that included the presentation of rings and the unveiling of the 2018-19 championship banner.

After the pre-game party was over, the Raptors settled in to a predictable malaise and the Pelicans took advantage. New Orleans zoomed to a 17-6 start, backed by strong perimeter shooting.

On cue, the Raptors settled in, found their footing, and used a 19-2 run to take the lead.

The game of runs feel continued from there, with the Pelicans responding and taking a 30-27 lead after the first quarter thanks in part the help of seven turnovers from the Raptors. One of the noteworthy takeaways from the opening minutes was the aggressiveness of Pelicans rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who attempted eight (!) shots in his first five minutes of action. Thankfully, he also contributed as a passer.

Between the end of the first and the beginning of the second quarters, the Pelicans put together a 25-8 run with an unheralded “rookie” that led the way. Twenty-eight year old big man Nicolo Melli knocked down a trio of threes to help the visiting team’s cause.

New Orleans took a 10-point lead but, after a 16-6 run of their own, the Raptors managed to even things up.

To stop the bleeding, Lonzo Ball created a bucket with an assist with an absolutely gorgeous pass.

At the break, the Pelicans led by five points, using a well-rounded offensive game plan that included ten three-point connections.

The start of the third quarter saw the Raptors blitz New Orleans on the offensive end. Toronto scored 15 point in the first three-plus minutes and the result was a lead change in their favor.

The home team led for the rest of the period but Pelicans youngster Brandon Ingram helped to keep the visitors engaged, posting 20 points through three quarters, including a tough finish in the paint.

Toronto took only a two-point lead into the fourth quarter and, within seconds, New Orleans took the lead with a 7-0 run with help from Melli and Jrue Holiday.

Pascal Siakam, on the way to a monstrous individual performance, then converted back-to-back threes to engineer a 9-0 spurt and give the Pelicans the lead.

Fittingly, the Pelicans wouldn’t fade, scoring 10 straight points of their own (continuing the game-long trend of runs) and taking command at 109-103 with approximately four minutes to play.

Not to be outdone, Siakam came back with another haymaker, scoring five straight to cap a 7-0 run and flip the lead back to Toronto.

After a back-and-forth stretch, Ingram found Josh Hart to give the Pelicans the lead with a catch-and-shoot three at the 1:28 mark.

On cue, Fred VanVleet answered with a three-pointer of his own to tie the game at 115-115, but J.J. Redick came back with a contested jumper to reinstall the Pelicans at the top. After a questionable call to send Siakam to the bench in a foul-out situation, the Pelicans had the opportunity to put a stranglehold on the action, but New Orleans turned it over and, after a pair of free throws from Lowry, the game was again knotted at 117-117 with 29 seconds remaining.

Out of a timeout, Holiday got a reasonable shot up from beyond the arc but it went begging, and the Raptors secured the rebound to set up for a potential game-winner. The walk-off didn’t materialize, though, with a bizarre offensive set seemingly engineered to get Norman Powell in isolation ending in a contested jumper that didn’t fall through the net.

In overtime, the Pelicans struck first on the back of Redick.

Otherwise, offense was tough to come by in the early moments of the extra frame, but Marc Gasol converted a three-point play with 2:37 to go to flip the game in favor of Toronto.

Holiday immediately tied the game with a sweeping lay-up on the other end but, after Lowry made two free throws, the Raptors would never trail again. Ingram missed a mid-range jump shot that would’ve tied the game with 1:40 to go and, seconds later, VanVleet buried a clutch three-pointer to give the Raptors enough cushion to put away a season-opening victory.

On the New Orleans side, it was an intriguing evening, with 12 players appearing for at least 12 minutes of action and some interesting rotational choices. The Pelicans were led by 22 points, five rebounds and five assists from Ingram, with 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench from Hart and 14 points in Melli’s NBA debut.

For the Raptors, it was a much shallower rotation, with only eight players taking the floor over the course of 53 minutes. Siakam was the dominant individual player with 34 points, 18 rebounds and five assists, and he was flanked by VanVleet (34 points, seven assists) and Lowry (22 points, six assists, five rebounds).

The Pelicans will fly under the radar until Williamson returns but, in this particular setting, the team performed well and provided hope for the future, even without the No. 1 pick for six-to-eight weeks. In an overall sense, though, this was a night centered on the Raptors and there was something fitting about the home team prevailing.