Head Coach Dwane Casey keeps saying it’s next man up when injuries have hit the Toronto Raptors this season and he got big contributions from a couple of reserves when Jonas Valanciunas was unable to play because of a stiff back. Toronto started soft and finished hard against the Pelicans to pull out the 107-100 victory in New Orleans after losing an overtime game in Atlanta the night before.
The Pelicans were playing without Anthony Davis because of illness, but their guards and wings ran the ball down the Raptors throats early in this contest, building a 32-24 first quarter lead on 81.3 percent shooting and held it half way into the second quarter until the newest Raptors player Nando De Colo injected some life into a sore and tired lineup. De Colo had an assist, steal, rebound and another assist to help Toronto end the quarter down just 57-56 in a game that looked like it was about to get away from the Raptors. De Colo earned praise from his teammates for his efforts.
“(De Colo) was unbelievable,” Kyle Lowry said. “Nando hasn’t played that much, but tonight he really changed the game.”
Somehow the Raptors hung with the Pelicans despite New Orleans shooting 59.6 percent from the field through three quarters with 6 players scoring in double figure for an 85-81 lead. Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were huge for Toronto and Amir Johnson was scoring on one leg all night as he could barely put weight on the ankle he turned the night before. However, high scoring games are not the Raptors forte. Stops were going to be needed if the visitors were going to steal this one.
The fourth quarter was like a completely different game. No one was hitting shots, but the Raptors grabbed 10 offensive boards to out rebound the Pelicans 21-8 and outscore them 26-15 despite shooting just 32 percent from the field. Getting stops both ways suddenly became the norm, but Toronto’s extra possessions off the glass was the difference. New Orleans led 94-90 with 4:26 left in the game, but shot 2-5 with 3 turnovers the rest of the way. Over the same period, the Raptors shot 5-10 with 3 steals to outscore the Pelicans 17-6, Johnson with 2 put-backs and Greivis Vasquez chasing down his own miss for the layup and one.
“We just picked up the intensity,” Casey said. “A typical game off of the back-to-back. I didn’t recognize the team in the first quarter, they were shooting 80 percent. I told them they were playing like they were in a rec league in the summertime and we picked it up. This game was about mental toughness and physical toughness more so than skill.”
The Pelicans were led by Al-Farouq Aminu with 19 points on 7-8 shooting and 10 rebounds off the bench. Tyreke Evans scored 18 points on 7-10 from the field. New Orleans shot 53.7 percent for the game, but were out rebounded 48-34 and the Raptors took 19 more shots.
DeRozan lead all scorers with 31 points , Lowry had 23 points and the hobbled Johnson finished with 17 points and 9 rebounds. Hansbrough got the start in place of the injured Valanciunas and collected a season high 13 rebounds. Vasquez scored 9 points on his old team in the fourth quarter to help put this game away. He had 14 points total on the night.
Still in third place, Toronto returns home to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. The Raptors are 15-13 versus the Western Conference this season.
New Orleans heads to Atlanta for a game on Friday.
Toronto Raptors Look After Nando De Colo And His Girlfriend
“She is Spanish,” De Colo said. “It’s okay, she was with me in San Antonio, so after a year and a half, she knows this kind of life. Now to come to Toronto, it is just a new life and new city and everything is different, but it’s a new experience, so it’s exciting.”