Slow start, strong finish, as Raptors rout Pelicans

No Davis, no Jrue, no problem, right?

That wasn’t the case early last night as the Raptors took on the Pelicans in the Bayou. Kawhi Leonard, his managed load and the Toronto Raptors entered Friday evening’s game as heavy favourites against a shorthanded Pelicans squad, but they were forced to work for everything early.

Toronto performed fine on the offensive end during the first quarter, penetrating the seams of the Pels defense and skipping the ball to open shooters. But it was on the defensive end of the court where they didn’t quite look themselves. The Dinos were a step slow on rotations, failed to respect the shooting ability of New Orleans and just gave their opposition too much space in the early going

Despite the Pelicans being void of their best on ball defender in Jrue Holiday, and premier scorer and rim protector in Anthony Davis, the Raptors didn’t assert themselves in the first frame. Toronto surrendered 31 points in the first quarter, giving their opposition almost everything they wanted on the offensive side of the ball.

The second quarter continued most of the same narrative. The Raptors second unit did an awful job of communicating and switching on defense, allowing the Pels to get whatever they wanted in the paint. However, their offense didn’t waiver in unison with their poor defensive effort, allowing Toronto to keep New Orleans at bay.

Approaching halftime, it seemed like this would purely be a battle of who could score the most points – defense was not happening. While the Raptors first unit had a fine performance on offense, they did not seem to respect the Pelican’s ability to score. This was a mentality that just allowed them to keep their heads above water at the 24-minute mark, but no doubt had the Raptors faithful feeling a tad squeamish as they held a 3 point lead heading into the break.

I’m not sure what Nick Nurse and Co. had to say at halftime, but a very different Toronto Raptors team emerged from the tunnel to begin the 3rd quarter.

Following a 7 minute stretch of healthy competitive basketball from both teams, the Raptors had had enough. The pace of this game was high octane from the get-go, but as the end of the 3rd quarter neared it was clear that New Orleans didn’t have the stamina to keep up the pace.

Suddenly it was the Pelicans who didn’t care to pack the paint, were slow to close out on shooters and sported a light jog as they half-heartedly attempted to play transition defense. The Raptors saw the Pels bend and did everything they could to break them. Sound defensive possessions led to fast break opportunities that more often than not saw the Raps with a man advantage.

On numerous occasions they whipped around the ball to exploit the Pelicans shotty defense and find Green, Siakam and Lin for wide open triples. The Raptors asserted their dominance on the Pelicans in the 3rd frame, carrying a 13-point lead into the fourth.

A few pesky threes and slices to the cup allowed the Pelicans to close the gap to as few as 10, but that’s as close as they would get. Leonard lead the Raps in scoring posting a game-high 31, Siakam chipped in 19 and Kyle had a 13-12-11 triple doubt to cap off what ended up being a 127-104 rout of the New Orleans Pelicans.

While this was an opponent the Raptors were expected to handle with ease, Toronto did use this game to improve on areas in of need. The Raps posted a season-high 53 fast break points and their bench put up a solid 47 which is a drastic improvement from what they showed during their recent losing streak.

Nick Nurse’s band of ballers head to south beach on Sunday, as they prepare for the second contest of a three game road trip before heading home to face the least scary version of Lebron that Canada has ever seen.

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