To be clear, tonight is just the beginning of the Won’t Bow Down era — even though I’m still not exactly sure what that means. Win or lose, New Orleans 2019-20 campaign, and likely the next few seasons that follow, will not be defined by whether the Pelicans kick off the schedule 1-0 or 0-1.
But man, tonight sure looked to be theirs.
Until it wasn’t.
The Pelicans let their season opener slip away in Toronto, as the defending champion Raptors first received their rings and hung their banner and then proceeded to beat New Orleans 130-122 in overtime.
The new-look Pelicans looked awesome in the first half. The ball was moving, as 18 of the 22 first half buckets came off assists, New Orleans was playing with tempo and the Pelicans led the Raptors by as many as 11 points in the first quarter.
There was a sequence in the first where Lonzo Ball flashed those improved shooting mechanics by knocking down a catch-and-shoot three and that was followed by makes from deep by JJ Redick and Brandon Ingram each. The Pelicans have quality depth sitting on the bench and Alvin Gentry went to it shortly thereafter and often.
In fact, around the four minute mark in the first quarter, he took out the entire starting five of Ball, Jrue Holiday, Redick, Ingram and Derrick Favors, and put in Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, E’Twaun Moore, Kenrich Williams and Jahlil Okafor. The bench rewarded Gentry, especially early on, as the Pelican bench had, at one point, a 25-0 scoring edge.
But NBA games are not won or lost in the first quarter. Nor are they won at the half. And between the Raptors championship pedigree and Pelicans youth, Toronto was able to protect their home court thanks to Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam going supernova.
Siakam fouled out with 50 seconds remaining in regulation. When he exited the court, he left with 34 points, 18 rebounds and 5 assists. Siakam wouldn’t be missed too badly by the Raptors as VanVleet picked up right where he left off in June and scored 34 points, including hitting five threes.
Tonight was a mixed bag for New Orleans. Brandon Ingram showed a nice scoring touch before the last stretch, Lonzo Ball’s shooting looks much improved, Josh Hart had 15 and 10 off the bench and Nicolo Melli was a firecracker, hitting four threes.
But there was also some bad that can’t be ignored. Jrue Holiday had five turnovers and missed two technical foul free throws; Derrick Favors still seems to be battling something or other; and Nickeil Alexander-Walker might have been a little too amped up in his NBA debut, shooting the ball 10 times — making only one — in 12 minutes.
It’s game one of 82, yes, but the Pelicans had the defending NBA champions on the ropes in their building and couldn’t finish them off. New Orleans had a chance to make a statement to the entire basketball world on national tv without Zion Williamson.
Unfortunately, the statement that echoed was “not just yet.”