Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points and the Toronto Raptors snapped a two-game skid with a 127-104 victory over the undermanned New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.
Pascal Siakam had 19 and Jeremy Lin added 14 for the Raptors, who began to pull away late in the third quarter and cruised to the finish against a Pelicans squad missing Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore.
Frank Jackson scored 20 points for the Pelicans, who’ve lost two straight. Julius Randle had 18 points and nine rebounds, and Cheick Diallo had 16 points and 12 boards for New Orleans.
Leonard met little resistance when he made strong moves toward the rim. While he missed four of five 3-point attempts, he was 13 of 15 from closer range. He threw down a handful of dunks on drives or cuts to the basket and mixed in a finger roll and reverse layup.
Toronto shot 54.1 per cent (53 for 98), scoring 66 points in the paint and 53 on fast breaks.
Holiday, the Pelicans’ second-leading scorer, was ruled out a day earlier because of an abdomen strain that is expected to sideline him at least a week. Then on Friday in the hours before tip-off, the Pelicans first announced that Moore also would miss at least a week because he’d reinjured his left quadriceps, and then announced that Davis would sit out against the Raptors with back spasms. The Pelicans’ front court got even thinner when Jahlil Okafor went out with a left ankle sprain after halftime.
Still, New Orleans managed to keep the game competitive until late in the third quarter, when Danny Green hit consecutive 3-pointers during a 9-0 run that widened Toronto’s lead to 88-75.
When Lin and Kyle Lowry hit consecutive 3s in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Raptors’ lead had grown to 21 and fans started making their way toward the exits.
Kawhi Leonard doesn’t seem likely to sign with the Lakers next season.
The Raptors forward was traded by the Spurs in the offseason, but was reportedly interested in returning to his home state of California.
When ESPN’s Michael C. Wright was asked about whether or not Leonard would sign with the Lakers he responded “I do not,” via The Hoop Collective podcast.
“That’s just what I’ve been told. It’s what I’ve been told going back to last summer. I don’t see that as something that’s happening.”
According to Wright, who covers the Spurs, the Clippers are more likely to land the superstar.
So how to make best use of their time in a game that’s on the schedule but otherwise doesn’t exist?
“Obviously it’s easier to measure or dictate your progression or where you stand against the top teams in the league or in big games,” said Raptors guard Danny Green. “Even the games that are not big games are very important for where we are rotations-wise, how fast are we communicating and moving and rotating. Offensively, how crisp is our offence?”
That’s what it’s come down to — a couple of hundred million dollars of basketball players convene at the Smoothie King Center for a controlled scrimmage.
That’s how it looked anyway as the Raptors mostly coasted by the Pelicans 127-104, led by Kawhi Leonard, who needed just 27 minutes and 20 shots to score 31 points, and Kyle Lowry, who recorded his 12th triple-double as a Raptor, finishing with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists.
The Raptors took control of the game with a brief spurt of defensive commitment in the third quarter, holding the undermanned Pelicans to just 19 points on 8-of-34 shooting as they flew around for four steals and three blocked shots, often turning them into transition baskets. Danny Green (13 points on eight shots in 24 minutes) hit a pair of threes in transition to put the Raptors up by 13 as part of a quick 11-0 run and the Pelicans weren’t able to come back.
If there was a silver lining it was that no one got hurt and those 12 minutes when the defence looked connected and the offence flowed from it. Toronto improved to 47-16 before heading to Miami for an afternoon start Sunday against the Heat.
Only twice this season had a team gotten even 30 fast-break points against New Orleans – Golden State had 32 on Oct. 31 and 43 on Jan. 16. In the previous three games, the Pelicans allowed a combined 41 points on fast breaks.
“They just outran us,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “You get 53 points in transition, you’re not going to lose a basketball game. I don’t care who you play. We have to do a lot better job of getting back. I thought when we got back and got them set, we did a pretty good job on defense. … That was our big problem tonight.”
Running on the break is something Toronto has done well this season. The team was fifth in the league scoring 15.9 percent of its points off fast-break chances averaging 18.1 points per game.
They eclipsed that mark midway through the second quarter.
“Part of it was on us,” Pelicans guard Elfrid Payton said. “We have to do a better job of getting back. We had a lot of guys crashing that probably shouldn’t have been crashing. They did a good job of getting deflections and kind of made us get off balanced a little bit. Credit to them. They made some 3-pointers that kind of helped the game get away from us.”
Business as usual for Kawhi Leonard
Without Holiday and Davis, the Pelicans had absolutely no answer for Leonard.
The three-time All-Star came out of the gates on fire with 24 points in the first half alone. He made 11 of his 13 shot attempts, his only misses coming from the 3-point line.
Leonard got to his spots time and time again in those quarters, pulling up from midrange and getting easy points at the rim in transition.
Downtown I: The Raptors missed 10 of their first 11 three-point attempts, a slow start for a club that averaged 11.6 made threes per game entering Friday. They finished the first half 3-for-16 from deep.
Downtown II: Lowry drilled his first three-pointer midway through the second quarter to put the Raptors up 48-45. Tuesday night against Houston, the all-star point guard went 0-for-5 from deep, marking the first time since Dec. 9 that he had played a whole game without making a three-point shot. Lowry logged his 14th career triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
Downtown III: Backup point guard Jeremy Lin entered Friday riding a well-publicized three-point slump. Since joining the Raptors in mid-February, the 30-year-old Harvard grad had gone 0-for-17 from deep. But 11 minutes into the third quarter Lin broke that streak, drilling a trey that put Toronto up by 14.
The Pelicans lost at home Friday night to the Eastern Conference contender Toronto Raptors 127-104, falling on their face after an exciting, competitive first half (65-61). But hey, there were maybe only 8 minutes of garbage time: victory, considering the rosters!
Anthony Davis was a late scratch for the Pels due to lower back spasms, leaving Nola without Jrue Holiday, E’Twuan Moore and the big man.
The Pelicans established themselves in the painted area, featuring a lot of Julius Randle drives. Cheick Diallo made his first 5 shots – and check the dunk below – making an impact on a night he was mic’d up by Fox Sports New Orleans.
Elfrid Payton left due to an injury scare to a finger or hand, but returned after X-rays came back negative, which is a nice positive.
Meanwhile, under complete and efficient control, Kawhi Leonard sought out shots and he’d make 11 of 13 first half shots for 24 points – he’d end up with 31 points on 14-of-20 shooting. He actually missed most of his 3s (1-5), just pouring in shots from all over midrange. He made it look easy.