The New Orleans Pelicans had a chance to leave Toronto with a victory over the Raptors after Herb Jones drained a 3-pointer with 2:26 remaining in regulation.
After all, they were ahead 99-96 and riding some serious momentum after trailing for much of the contest. Then Fred VanVleet — who absolutely needs to be named to this season’s Eastern Conference All-Star team — drilled two consecutive 3-pointers. The Pelicans never recovered, falling 105-101 at the buzzer.
New Orleans shot the ball well enough to win, but mistakes prevented that outcome. In the first half, turnovers kept Toronto in the driver seat. In the second, offensive rebounds were the major bug-a-boo for the Pelicans. Seemingly every time the Raptors received another shot attempt on a possession, they made New Orleans pay dearly.
The box score doesn’t lie. The Raptors finished with 15 offensive rebounds to the Pelicans’ six, winning the second-chance points category by a staggering 24-6 margin.
When you add 21-14 fast break points and 18-14 points off turnover edges for Toronto, too, the summary is clear: the Raptors did a better job of executing their game plan than the Pelicans.
As I wrote in the preview, this matchup worried me because the Raptors are a much better team than most give them credit for. They're experienced. They’ve got real talent. They’ve now won six games in a row and are led by an offensive dynamo — leading Jonas Valanciunas to comment in postgame that VanVleet has replaced the departed Kyle Lowry at the top of Toronto’s food chain.
Asked JV about Fred VanVleet playing at an all-star level:— Vivek Jacob (@vivekmjacob) January 10, 2022
"Man, he took Kyle Lowry's spot now." pic.twitter.com/OA4BdOHf0V
VanVleet finished with 32 points, four assists and eight 3s. There are few playing as well as he is right now in the league. However, he wasn’t alone in dominating the Pelicans as Pascal Siakam put together a monster line of 29 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
That Toronto duo was spectacular, but New Orleans best twosome nearly propelled their squad to a hard-fought victory.
Brandon Ingram attacked the lane well all night long and was rewarded with 10 free throw attempts, finishing with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists. Valanciunas recorded his 27th double-double of the season, posting 20 points and 17 rebounds.
Herb Jones didn’t finish with the most glamorous box score (13 points, two rebounds, two threes, one block/steal), but he was clearly a difference maker as evidenced by a +10 +/-. He made several key buckets and his defense was usually on point.
Jose Alvarado also deserves a shout-out for his 13 minutes of action. In the first half, he splashed home a couple of threes. In the second, he dropped a couple of timely dimes and harassed Fred VanVleet into several poor possessions.
Alvarado always does a great job of staying glued to his assignments all over the court, but tonight he showed there could be a real place for him in this league by making life tough for an All-Star worthy candidate and contributing on the offensive end.
Looking back in hindsight, the Pelicans clearly missed Josh Hart. He’s a player who loves to pursue the basketball. There’s little doubt in my mind that if Hart had played, the Raptors wouldn’t have enjoyed such large advantages with offensive rebounds and second chance points.
Up next, the Pelicans fly home to prepare for a Tuesday matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves.