TORONTO – New Orleans learned Monday that its No. 1 overall draft pick won’t be on the floor for the next 6-8 weeks, but there was no time for the Pelicans to feel sorry for themselves – and none of the NBA’s other 29 teams will provide much sympathy anyway. In its season opener, New Orleans didn’t look like a team that would struggle without Zion Williamson, but a mostly encouraging performance wasn’t quite enough to generate a road victory against the defending NBA champions.
After a very evenly played regulation and 48 minutes of basketball, Toronto finally gained the upper hand in the final couple minutes of overtime, posting a very hard-fought win on its ring night.
New Orleans led for much of Tuesday’s matchup, but began turning the ball over more as the night progressed, helping Toronto to come back in the second half and eventually get over the top. The Pelicans scored 61 first-half points and had 117 through regulation, but only mustered five OT points.
“I’m disappointed, because I think we let a golden opportunity slip away,” Pelicans fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry said. “But we’ve got a lot of things to try to figure out rotationally, execution-wise and establishing exactly what kind of team we’re going to be. That’s not going to happen in one game, five games, or whatever. Somewhere along the line we’ll get to where we need to get. The guys have a good attitude. I thought we played hard and competed, but you also have to play smart and execute.”
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
Kyle Lowry drained a right-side three-pointer with less than a minute left in OT, giving Toronto a three-possession edge at 130-122. New Orleans shot an airball on the subsequent possession, putting the Raptors in great position to prevail. Prior to Lowry’s trey, Fred VanVleet canned a critical trey. In what could be a significantly expanded role for the Raptors, the guard deposited 34 points, including 5/7 three-point accuracy.
PELICANS PLAYER OF THE GAME
Brandon Ingram topped New Orleans with 22 points on 8/19 shooting, providing the Pelicans with some important stretches of offense in both halves. Meanwhile, international veteran forward Nicolo Melli was a godsend in his NBA debut, registering 14 points in just 20 minutes. Melli was perfect from the floor for a long span of the game, connecting on each of his first four three-pointers and ending up 4/5 from distance.
BY THE NUMBERS
57-23: New Orleans edge in bench scoring. Toronto only used three reserves, compared to seven by New Orleans.
19/45: Pelicans three-point shooting. Melli and JJ Redick each made four, while Josh Hart added three treys (along with a team-best 10 rebounds).
38-20: Toronto edge in attempts from the foul line. Pascal Siakam’s monster 34-point, 18-rebound night was boosted by 11 trips to the charity stripe.
16: Offensive rebounds for both teams. The Raptors used their edge in length to grab some of those caroms, while the Pelicans secured several off hustle and chasing misses down in or around the paint.
For all 12 Tuesday games throughout New Orleans’ regular season, we’ll be selecting a Pelicans player we think will have the best plus-minus on the stat sheet that night. Pelicans radio’s Daniel Sallerson selected Brandon Ingram vs. Toronto, while Pelicans.com’s Jim Eichenhofer picked Nicolo Melli. In a fan poll among four other candidates, Jrue Holiday was chosen, garnering 46 percent of the votes (Lonzo Ball was second at 27 percent). The winner of the first “contest” was the Melli selection by Eichenhofer; the forward was a plus-11, tied with Kenrich Williams for team-best among the Pelicans. Ingram played well overall but was minus-19, while Holiday notched a minus-14. The top four New Orleans plus-minuses Tuesday all came from New Orleans reserves.