The New Orleans Pelicans had good intentions. They returned to practice after the All-Star break earlier than teams typically do. Willie Green inserted Josh Richardson into a starting lineup that had been struggling, moving Trey Murphy to the bench. But those choices didn’t translate into a victory.
In a game that saw the Toronto Raptors lead for the vast majority, the Pelicans fell by a final score of 115-110. Brandon Ingram, though, nearly wrote a different ending despite the team constantly needing to battle uphill.
Ingram finished with a season-high 36 points but really caught fire down the stretch, pouring in 11 points over the final 4:22 of regulation. He twice made it a one-possession game with a midrange jumper. However, Jakob Poeltl and a Gary Trent 3-pointer late in the shot clock prevented the Pelicans from stealing the win in Toronto.
While Ingram’s point total and hot finish were impressive, his six turnovers were costly. It felt as though Toronto turned them all into points on the other end. Thus, Pascal Siakam and Poeltl seemed more impactful from start to finish to the final outcome.
Siakam totaled 26 points, four rebounds and five assists. He set the tone for the Raptors, helping them slowly build their lead through much of the contest. But it was Poeltl’s play that sealed the Pelicans’ fate.
“He was huge,” Green said. “Down the stretch of the game when we went and helped and contested shots, he was right there under the basket. He kind of cleaned up everything as far as offensive rebounds for those guys. Got putbacks, got to the foul line. And now we’re playing against a set defense. To me, that’s the difference in the last stretch of the game.”
Poeltl, who outplayed New Orleans’ entire front line, finished with 21 points, 18 rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot. While he missed four of seven from the foul line, he made nine of 11 field goals, with most of them via putbacks.
The Pelicans lost the rebound battle (55-50) and were hammered in points in the paint (62-42) and in second chance points (22-13).
“It was really the 22 second-chance points,” Green said. “That’s the difference in the game. And they had 62 points in the paint. That’s too much to overcome. We have to be better in those areas and we will.”
The first half was a slog. The offense scored 45 points, tying their third lowest output in the first 24 minutes on the season. There was little rhythm. Wide-open jumpers consistently missed the mark. Bunnies rimmed out. On one possession, Ingram brought the ball up the floor and dribbled for darn near the entirety of the shot clock, settling for jumper that not surprisingly bounced off front rim.
The offense found life in the second half, but the damage had been done. Beating a team that’s better than their record says — Poeltl is really going to help Toronto — on their home floor, is a difficult task for a Pelicans team that has a smaller margin for error while Zion Williamson remains sidelined.
“Once we got stops, rebounded the ball and started to play downhill with force, the game changed for us,” Green said. “We have to play like that not just the last couple of quarters but try and put that together for 48 minutes. Tonight, we didn’t do that.”
CJ McCollum had a nice stretch to begin the fourth quarter and he ultimately finished with 23 points, five assists and three 3s.
Josh Richardson’s first start was a solid effort: 11 points (4-8 shooting), three rebounds, three assist and three steals. Moving forward, his spot in the starting lineup is not set in cement, but it doesn't appear probable to change soon.
“We’re hopeful,” Green said. “We’re going to continue to look at it and see where we are, but I like what he brought to the table.”
Up next, the Pelicans will face the Knicks in New York on Saturday. It’ll be another test against a worthy Eastern Conference foe for a New Orleans team that has really struggled to come up with wins on the road over the last few months.
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