With the Pelicans within four points, Lowry assisted on baskets to Tyler Hansbrough and Terrence Ross to help the Raptors increase their lead to nine points with 4:20 remaining, giving Toronto the necessary breathing room. He added two offensive rebounds, a bucket and an assist to finish it within the three-minute mark. Lowry had 19 points and 12 assists, just three rebounds shy of a triple-double. Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson were both excellent as Amir Johnson, the team’s usual starting power forward, missed his first game of the year with a sore ankle. “Tyler and Patrick, both, carried us,” Casey said. “I thought they were huge in their minutes.”
Toronto’s offence didn’t miss a beat early minus Johnson. DeRozan, Lowry and Patterson each scored seven points as the team shot 63% from the field. After New Orleans got to the half tied thanks to a far better second quarter, Patterson added 10 more points in the third to keep the Raptors in front. He also did a credible job defensively, even when matched up against fellow Kentucky product Davis…Patterson has been strong since arriving from Sacramento, averaging 9.7 points, five rebounds and 50% shooting from the field (including 45% on three-point attempts) before Monday’s game. “I started in Houston, so it’s nothing new,” Patterson said of being out for the opening tip.
Coming off a slew of slow starts on the road trip, it was a great to see Toronto take a 23-13 lead early in the first quarter. Kyle Lowry was hot and opened the game with 7 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds. Toronto shot 63% in the first quarter and closed the quarter with an 11-point lead. Toronto’s second quarter was sloppy. What started as an amazing shooting night turned into a brick city as the team fell to a low 22% FG in the second. This allowed the Pelicans to fight their way back into the game and close the half tied at 49. The second half started with both teams trading points back and forth, but half way through the third the Raps regained the lead. DeRozan and Patterson were the Raptors’ designated shooters as they scored 9 and 10 points respectively. But it was all for not as the Raptors sat back at multiples times during the fourth to have their lead be taken away for a second time. I would not qualify this win as a pretty one, but the Raptors did manage to put it together late to take their last lead to finish the game with a 108-101 win. Overall, I saw sloppy handles, and at times a complete lack of effort but a win nonetheless, and I’ll take it.
Were the Raptors the more talented team (given both squads’ current bill of health) going into tonight? Probably, and that conclusion speaks to their 21-15 victory in the game’s final 6:45. That being said, the Pelicans continue to beat a dead horse with the starting lineup that they trot out there game in and game out. After tonight, seven of the team’s nine most commonly used lineups have outscored its opponents this season. The remaining two – ranked #3 and #4 in minutes played – are outscored by 15.6 and 6.3 points per 100 possessions respectively. Those lineups are Roberts-Gordon-Aminu-Davis-Ajinca and Roberts-Gordon-Aminu-Davis-Stiemsma. I’m not saying that, given all of the team’s current injuries, there is an easy solution to this problem. That being said, there are ways to manipulate player rotations that minimize said problem far better than the lineups which are currently being utilized.
New Orleans kept making holes for themselves and then climbing out of them, but they faltered down the stretch as their defensive rebounding and three-point defense faltered. In the first, the Pelicans fell way behind, much like last night. Instead of offensive problems, the defense was the culprit as Toronto scored 31 points on the back of DeMar DeRozan’s bizarrely can’t-miss shooting and Kyle Lowry’s efficient distribution and shooting.
The Pelicans struggled out of the gate, played strong in the second quarter, sputtered in the third before making a late push that wasn’t enough. After winning six of their last eight, the Pelicans (22-29) have dropped the first two games on their three-game road trip that ends on Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks before they head on the All-Star break. “Having these lapses in the first quarter, we fight back but we use all of our energy to fight back,” said forward Anthony Davis, who scored 19 points and had seven rebounds. “We have to play aggressive from the beginning.”
“I thought the matchup with (Anthony) Davis was a good one for him,” Casey said of Patterson, who has scored in double figures 13 times over his last 20 games, averaging 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds, shooting 53 per cent from the field in under 24 minutes per contest during that stretch. “(Patterson) was able to stretch the defence and give us some offensive punch.” Patterson gave the Raptors a lift where they needed it most. Toronto had been outscored in the opening quarter of the last four games, all on the road, before returning home Monday and getting off to a rare but crucial quick start against Davis and the Pelicans. Patterson – along with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan – was one of three Raptors to score seven points in the first frame, knocking down both of his shots and helping his team take a 31-20 lead into the second period. That’s where Patterson’s presence was missed, as Toronto’s bench came in and squandered a 15-point advantage.
Patrick Patterson made a seamless transition to starter in place of Johnson with a season-high 22 points but the trickle down effect was significant because Casey couldn’t find an effective second group. The starters got out to big leads in both the first and third quarters but they were never sustained until Lowry went to work in the final nine minutes. “Here’s a guy who played 39 minutes,” Casey said of Lowry. “DeMar (DeRozan) played 40 minutes. Over the long haul, that’s just too many minutes so we have to have other people step up and give us something in those minutes where we’re not losing those leads and not closing out quarters.”
Lowry had another clutch performance for the Raptors (19 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds including five offensive boards in just under 39 minutes). DeRozan, who missed all three shots in the second quarter when the Pelicans feasted on the Raptors second unit to turn a 31-20 first-quarter Raptors lead into a 49-49 tie at the half, finished with 22 points, tying Patterson for the team-high. But it was Hansbrough who put his stamp on the game in the fourth quarter. In a game with 46 fouls, Hansbrough was pressed into duty after Jonas Valanciunas picked up his fifth foul with seven minutes left and the score 87-86. He pump-faked for a lay-up then hustled back and forced Austin Rovers to change his shot, leading to a three-point dagger from Terrence Ross.
“We talked about it,” Lowry said. ”That was the emphasis – we needed to get these games. We want to get both wins at home, protect home court, go into the break with a great conscience…There’s no one on this team that’s not focused. There’s no one on this team that’s not ready to play,” Patterson said. ”We have to go into (Wednesday’s game against Atlanta) with the same mentality that we had tonight. Nobody can focus on the All-Star break, no one can focus on getting away and being with family. We have to handle what we have here and get things done.”
Lowry’s next contract likely won’t match his age (27) and production (19.7 PER and .201 win shares per 48 minutes), because he has a history of clashing with coaches. There will also be fair questions about whether Lowry is just experiencing a breakout season due to a contract year. I expect the consensus opinion for Lowry’s value to fall short of Holiday’s four years, $41 million – the smallest contract on Aldridge’s list of comparables the Raptors want to avoid. But Lowry won’t be paid by consensus opinion. He’ll be paid by the team that offers him the most. I bet the Raptors, if they don’t trade Lowry, will have another tough decision ahead – besting another team’s offer in the $40 million range or losing him for nothing.
The fear of investing heavily, only to find that this season is fool’s gold, a contract drive by a player with a history of injuries, is likely too great. The best guess is that Lowry plays it out, and, depending on how he and the Raptors do down the stretch, he’ll be in the driver’s seat in the summer. With so many teams having young point guards, though, how much will he get on the open market? (Agents matter; Lowry has Andy Miller, well-respected around the league by general managers, who has the reputation of making fair deals for his clients.)
Send me your links for Morning Coffee: [email protected]