Pelicans 101, Raptors 108 – Box
This was tough to get through, even on Jamesons. It appeared that the Raptors might put this to bed early and coast for the second half, but the Pelicans made a second quarter run against a Patterson-less Raptors bench to keep the game alive, if only in a vegetative state. A third quarter surge on the backs of the starters extended the lead to double-digits and it looked like the Raptors were finally in clear waters, until they downshifted in the fourth inviting another Pelicans attack. In the end, the Holiday and Anderson-less Pelicans couldn’t get key defensive rebounds (credit to Hansbrough and Lowry), and the Raptors rightfully claimed the spoils.
First game back from the West is always a coin toss and when the Raptors built up an early advantage, all signs pointed to a welcome rout. Patrick Patterson replaced the ailing/hurt/not-hurt/playing-through-it/warrior Amir Johnson in the starting lineup as Dwane Casey opted for versatility over grit in passing over Tyler Hansbrough, and it turned out to be an excellent decision. Patterson brought a dimension to the Raptors starting offense that is generally absent, and the immediate result was a spacious court, balanced outside shooting, two-man games from multiple combinations, and most importantly, a Pelicans defense stretching to keep up. The 63% shooting handed the Raptors an 11 point lead at the end of the first and the ship looked to be on course.
Defensive negligence against any opponent is liable to keep the opposition in the game and so it was that the likes of Luke Babbitt, Tyreke Evans, and Anthony Morrow had successful spells against the Raptors perimeter defense, of who DeMar DeRozan was a standout for all the wrong reasons. Dwane Casey went to Greivis Vasquez in the late first/early second and he ran the offense with the elegance of a 300-pound man figure-skating. He was unable to administer a single possession effectively, and when Casey compounded the error by having Chuck Hayes in the game instead of Tyler Hansbrough, the Pelicans quite expectantly got back into the game and were kind enough to mail Casey a thank-you card.
It’s not that Hayes is a bad player, Anthony Davis just isn’t a matchup that is suited to him. He’s more effective going up against bulkier dudes who he can bother by putting a hand in their face, maintaining his center of gravity, and giving them wedgies when the camera’s pointed the other way. What made the decision a little perplexing was that Hansbrough was playing quite well, and a frontcourt combination of Patterson/Hansbrough/Valanciunas were doing just fine. Especially Valanciunas, who stayed with the more mobile Davis effectively.
Not helping matters was DeMar DeRozan (who BTW is an All-Star, as per Matt Devlin) and his shot selection. DeRozan (an All-Star) played the kind of defense that makes it to educational videos as examples of what not to do. Some of his worst moments came against Evans who didn’t even need to use screens to get by DeRozan. It was so bad that the Raptors help defense was left scratching their heads trying to figure out if the Pelicans were using some sort of teleporting technology where they got by the All-Star DeRozan in a flash. Also, DeRozan’s an All-Star.
As I said a couple days ago in the road trip review post, I’m open to DeRozan (#AllStar) experimenting with long-twos but you can’t be adopting the “miss till you make, make till you miss” approach, because when you combine his penchant for jumpers with suspect defense he becomes something resembling a Rudy Gay clone, only worse. So DeMar (#NBABallot), we dodged a bullet here thanks to your mates, but let’s not do that again. I’m also not sure how sustainable it is for the AllStar to play 40 minutes and Lowry to play 39.
With the game tied at the break, Dwane Casey’s halftime speech cultivated the necessary response from a Raptors unit that had gone into the break with their heads hanging. Patterson, again, supplied the offense showing his range as he comfortably drained two threes. Kyle Lowry, who I haven’t even mentioned up until now, was the thread that tied it all together for the Raptors. His line of 19 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds (5 offensive) is impressive in itself and what makes it special is that it came in a steadfast, constant and unwavering tone. Like a mother watching over a baby, only tendering to him when he needed the breast, never otherwise for all boys must grow up on their own, become men and provide. Yes, a man must provide. And so Lowry provided, he nurtured the Raptors when they needed him the most. The Raptors, as if born of Lowry’s womb, suckled on his breast in times of need and the milk flowed. Oh yes, it flowed all right.
I cannot quite figure out why Dwane Casey tried to go back to Chuck Hayes in the fourth quarter with the Raptors up 12, but he did. It’s one of those mysteries that has no answer. Who killed Kennedy? What happened to Jimmy Hoffa? Who was Jack the Ripper? The Shroud of Turin? What happened at Stonehenge? Why did Chuck Hayes play the fourth quarter? Nobody knows, but we wonder. Indeed, we wonder.
As if Hayes wasn’t enough, Casey introduced Steve Novak again, presumably in an attempt to confuse everyone into submission. The lead evaporated expectedly as Luke Babbitt made it a habit of acting like a rabbit and blowing by DeRozan as the crowd yelled dammit. The necessary substitutions were made, the required offensive rebounds collected by Lowry, the critical pick ‘n rolls finished by Hansbrough, and the Raptors saw this one through.
The Raptors leave this game knowing that they won despite playing only two quarters. In a way it’s a good sign that this team has enough in them to beat an in-form team without playing well, and the sluggishness could be attributed to their recent travels. However, this sort of play will not go unpunished against the Hawks on Wednesday, which is set up to be a tilt between two teams jockeying for third.
Drink up. We’re back to winning ways and we have something like a 99% chance of making the playoffs. I am quite excited about that. Also, Tank Nation members, are you watching what’s happening in Cleveland? And that’s with two #1 picks in recent years.
Good bye my love. And if I die tomorrow, ’twas nice knowing you.