It’s still only early November but the Raptors finished off a season sweep against the New Orleans Pelicans with a 122-104 victory that was far more convincing than the opening night escape job they pulled.
The majority of the game was the Pascal Siakam show, but this was doubly so in the early going. Toronto clearly made it a focus to attack with Siakam as the Pelicans lack the wing defenders (at least without Zion in theory) were unable to keep him from his desired spots. The strategy worked beautifully as Siakam scored 13 points in the first 5 minutes with a mix of drives, 3s, and post-up.
While Lowry, Fred, and Gasol struggled out of the gate, it was OG Anunoby who once again showed significant growth to his game on both ends of the court. OG and Siakam not only combined for the Raptors first 19 points before Gasol added a free throw, they also impacted the game significantly on defence (as is to be expected).
OG was the primary defender on Ingram, but also spent a good amount of time to begin on Jrue Holiday. On the same possession OG forced the ball out of Ingram’s hands, ran Jrue off the 3-point line, and forced a missed mid-range jumper from Jrue.
The Raptors offence went cold as Toronto moved away from Siakam and OG in an effort to get the remaining starters going, as Fred in particular looked to be moving at half speed early on. And as the Raptors struggled the Pelicans seemingly found their legs while being assisted by some sloppy transition defence on Toronto’s part and further Raptors’ struggles in rebounding.
The first quarter ended with both teams at 30, and the Raptors having allowed multiple second chance opportunities/buckets along the way.
Of bigger concern though would be an injury to Kyle Lowry, who left the game briefly around 9 minutes into the game holding his surgically repaired left hand. Lowry would return to action in the second quarter but it was announced at halftime that he was out for the rest of the night with a left thumb injury (same thumb he had surgically repaired in the summer).
Siakam and OG picked up where they left off later in the second quarter, but the early part was dominated by Norman Powell. Despite missing his first two shots (a transition lay-up and a missed corner 3 on the very next possession) Norm would go on to make his next 5 from all over the court. He was active in passing lanes and was assertive in his drives and provided the secondary scoring that Toronto has been desperately needing from him.
Raptors games have a different feel to them when Norm gets going and the rest of the team seemed energized. Three pointers started falling across the roster and the Raptors began to build a sizeable lead.
Paint defence was also much improved with the combination of Serge Ibaka and Chris Boucher, as both were able to challenge shots inside and outside while still having the length to get on the glass.
Boucher in particular impressed during this stretch. Turns out having Slenderman Ingram as a defensive assignment is an ideal body shape for Boucher to defend. He also added a beautiful put-back slam on a Lowry pull-up triple in transition.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 9, 2019
Much the same as the first quarter the Pelicans would finish strong, this time on the back of Jrue Holiday who actively decided to take over the game. He got to the paint at will, orchestrated open shots for teammates, and in the final minute guarded Siakam from halfcourt to pick his pocket for a steal.
The Raptors would go into halftime holding an 18 point lead but would have far bigger concerns. With about 30 seconds remaining in the half Serge Ibaka rolled an ankle when landing after a shot challenge. He stayed down for a long stretch while the play continued (ending in a Pelicans bucket with the 5-on-4 advantage) but would manage to walk to the locker room under his own strength after being helped up.
Just before the third quarter began we learned that Ibaka would not return with a sprained right ankle and that Lowry too would remain out of the game with a left thumb injury.
(Note: After the game it was announced that Ibaka’s sprain is severe and that Lowry has a small fracture in his left thumb, which is unrelated to the injury which required surgery on the same finger this summer. Further tests will be needed for both with no timetable provided.)
Without Lowry to start the second half the offensive creation for Toronto was clearly lacking. The Raptors, like all teams, simply do not have a way to replicate what Lowry provides. With the absence of both Lowry and Ibaka the Raptors had to find new ways to create, including giving OG opportunities to work with the ball in his hands. The results were obviously mixed.
New Orleans would fail to take advantage of the short-handed Raptors in the third quarter but started to find some options to lean on, including Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The Canadian came in and made an instant impact on both offence and defence, and gave what had been a largely listless Pelicans team a shot in the arm. He would finish with 13 points, 2 rebounds, and 4 assists.
The fourth quarter began with further line-up experimentation from Toronto, starting with Terence Davis as the nominal point guard on the court alongside of Matt Thomas, Siakam, Boucher, and Ibaka.
Davis was asked to play point for a small number of possessions but functionally was a secondary ball-handler while Siakam ran point.
Between the third and fourth quarters the Pelicans would go on a 23-6 run to help cut the Raptors lead to just 11, but New Orleans would fail to get any closer. Toronto found just enough offence and got key stops to rebuild a healthy lead before coasting to the end.
Siakam finished the night tying his career high of 44 points, while OG finished at 21 points (one shy of his career best of 22).
With the Raptors short handed it was Powell putting in his best game of the season to date to help steady a team in desperate need of secondary scoring, finishing with 28 points and shooting 60 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3.
The Raptors escaped New Orleans with a 6-2 record after a largely convincing win over the Pelicans, but the night itself was marred by injuries to Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. With a swing through LA to battle both the Lakers and Clippers the Raptors health now becomes the central focus.