The New Orleans Pelicans entered Saturday evening’s matchup versus the Toronto Raptors looking for their first back-to-back wins on the season, and if they had any hope of accomplishing that feat, it was going to take resilience, patience, and razor-like focus.
And that’s precisely how they played after losing the lead in crunch time.
Trailing 113-111 after a Kyle Lowry lay-in, the referees reversed what could have been a game-defining decision, calling an offensive foul on Zion Williamson. With 2:04 left in regulation and riding a 14-2 run, the Raptors had all the momentum in the world. But guess who didn’t fold? The Pelicans wound up winning 120-116 and the details in getting to that point were as much fun as the final score.
Toronto’s next possession resulted in a steal by Eric Bledsoe, but unfortunately New Orleans wasn’t able to take advantage in transition. On the next play, Brandon Ingram came up with a block of Norman Powell and then found the free throw line on the other end after attacking the paint. Following one more deflection by Bledsoe, resulting in another Toronto turnover, the Pelicans 6’1 guard hit the biggest shot of the night — right in front of a raucous Raptor bench.
BLED!!!!!— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 3, 2021
Pelicans take the lead with 41 secs left #WBD pic.twitter.com/l1YDx7bGDH
After OG Anunoby hit one of two free throws, Ingram attacked the rim on the Pelicans ensuing possession, getting to the line for his 13th and 14th attempts on the night. After making the first freebie, BI literally let everyone know that the game was over.
"It's over. It's over. It's over...It's over." -- Brandon Ingram before sinking his second free throw to seal the 120-116 victory for the New Orleans Pelicans over the Toronto Raptors. pic.twitter.com/YQHLFojDBA— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) January 3, 2021
And following the second make, it was indeed over, with New Orleans sweeping the season series against Toronto.
Both teams alternated punches all game long, looking as if they each were on the verge of taking complete control. But as expected, neither team bowed down. This one was meant to go down to the wire.
As in most of their wins this season, it wasn’t always the prettiest basketball to watch, there were some ups and downs, but the Pelicans made all the plays late when the stakes were highest. Big individual efforts amid several good defensive stops.
“The thing I like the best – there’s still a lot to work on obviously, but the thing I like the best is our resilience,” Stan Van Gundy said to postgame media. “I mean we’ve hung in there. Obviously, the Phoenix game got away from us, but the first Toronto game, we were down and had to come back with a great second half. In the Miami game, we got way down and came back to make it a game, and then they were able to close it out on us. San Antonio did pretty much the same thing. We got ahead, but they came back and took the lead, and then we finished it out. We’re already here early in the year having a pattern of resiliency, and I think that’s obviously a good thing for a team to have.”
And now New Orleans boasts a 2-0 record in clutch-time minutes.
The Pelicans were 13-28 in games that were within 5 points in the final 5 minutes last year, the 2nd worst record in the league.— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) January 3, 2021
They're 2-0 six games into this season.
Brandon Ingram led the way for New Orleans, fishing with 31 points, six rebounds, four assists and four threes. The team’s other cornerstone, Zion Williamson, scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds. The two Big Easy stars combined for 52 points, but Eric Bledsoe might have been the most pivotal player on the night — more on him in a minute.
The Raptors were led by Fred VanVleet’s 27 points and rising big Chris Boucher off the bench poured in 24. Pascal Siakam, who returned from a one-game benching, managed only 10 points before fouling out in 25 minutes of action.
*Because Bled said so:
In now three of the Pelicans four victories this season, there’s been one constant not talked about enough: Eric Bledsoe’s good performances.
The Pelicans just have a different swagger about them as a whole when Bledsoe plays well. Sunday was no different.
Eric Bledsoe is quietly approaching a double-double. He has 12 points, eight assists and four rebounds in 21 minutes. pic.twitter.com/Qr8LtOhGtg— The Bird Calls (@TheBirdCallsNO) January 3, 2021
It’s still early, but the Pelicans haven’t lost a game when Eric Bledsoe plays well....— Chris Conner (@Impatientbull) January 3, 2021
It’s almost like he could be important to the team or something...
Not only did the 11-year guard have arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 19 points, five rebounds, 10 assists and four threes, Bledsoe was a pillar down the stretch. He’s not perfect and he’ll likely continue to mix in good and bad performances, but Bledsoe is proving to be a very essential cog of the team’s success.
Brandon Ingram....(what else can you say?)
Coming into this season, some around the NBA still questioned whether Ingram was “for real” or not. They refused to believe in the shooting improvements and didn’t have faith in the 2019-20 NBA All-Star replicating his success from his inaugural season in New Orleans.
To be fair, those that doubted him were right in their suspicions — Ingram has been even better to start this season and Saturday’s game was the latest addition to his growing resume.
Brandon Ingram goes off in a win against the Raptors: 31 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) January 3, 2021
Love to see it, BI!
Brandon Ingram tonight:— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 3, 2021
31 PTS - 6 REB - 4 AST - 1 BLK - 47 FG% - 4/8 3PM
From the demeanor to the work ethic, Ingram’s contributions are now leading the Pelicans to W’s in the win column. It’s early, but they’re 4-2, having only played one non-playoff contender in most eyes. The best part is that he’ll only continue to get better, realizing how to best utilize his talented abilities on both ends and that should scare the rest of the NBA. There’s a growing star in New Orleans and he’s destined to keep knocking down doors.
The supporting cast picking each other up:
We talked about Bledsoe’s big game supporting Williamson and Ingram, but he wasn’t alone. Steven Adams put together another fantastic performance beyond his box score which shows he notched another double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds).
So much for him not fitting in, huh?
Steven Adams thoroughly out played Aron Baynes for the second time this season.— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) January 3, 2021
We too thought the ONE 3PM Baynes has in 51 minutes over two games against the Pelicans would have made all the difference between the Pelicans going 2-0 and, wait... https://t.co/X3UpEGLe6E
Lonzo Ball provided 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and two blocks, and Josh Hart continues to put together a sneaky sixth man of the year campaign after nine points and eight rebounds against Toronto.
Perhaps the most pleasant development on the night was Jaxson Hayes, who had his best game of the season. He finished with six points and eight rebounds, and Van Gundy praised him for his effort, energy and production afterwards.
Imagine when JJ Redick finally breaks out of his slump...
The Pelicans welcome the upstart 4-2 Indiana Pacers on Monday night in game two of four on this home stand.
For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @Impatientbull.