In the dying seconds of Monday night's 108-101 win for the Toronto Raptors (27-24) over the New Orleans Pelicans, the visitors enjoyed a late mini-push that gave them possession while down five with 16 seconds on the clock.
On the surface, the two-possession advantage seemed to be a comfortable enough cushion. But fans in attendance had already seen their Raptors blow a pair of leads, making the closing seconds a little more nerve-wracking than they ought to have been.
In the end, Anthony Davis, whom Toronto struggled to contain all night, missed a lay-up and DeMar DeRozan (22 points on 7-21 shooting and 7-10 from the line) sank a couple of game-clinching free throws to help the Raps secure their eighth home win in their last nine games at the ACC. The win was anchored by Kyle Lowry, who came three rebounds shy of a triple double (19 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds), and substitute starter Patrick Patterson, who shot well from the floor (7-11), three-point line (3-5) and charity stripe (5-6) en route to 22 points.
Front Court Adjustments
Amir Johnson's absence on account of his bum ankle was unfortunate, even if it did seem to be some time coming. But the ease with which the Raptors managed to absorb his minutes has to be encouraging from a depth standpoint. Patterson stepped into the starting five seamlessly and even added another dimension with his perimeter shooting, while Tyler Hansbrough offered up 14 productive minutes (12 points on 4-6 shooting) as the primary big man off the bench. Monday's showing probably affords Toronto the luxury of sitting Johnson against Atlanta on Wednesday and, in doing so, giving his ankle a full 11 days off to recover.
The difference between the Raps and Pellies on Monday? The point guard position, where Lowry put up big stats (see above), earned a game-best +19 plus/minus mark and served as the heart of the home side's attack while Brian Roberts and Austin Rivers (six combined assists) simply didn't have the same command of the offence.
The Tyreke Evans Effect
In looking at the weaknesses in the Raptors' Monday night performance, you can point two four distinct areas - the second quarter (they were outscored 29-18), the late third / early fourth quarter (an 18-point lead crumbled to just one), the points in the paint battle (New Orleans owned a 48-32 advantage) and the second unit production (49-22 for the Pelicans). The central element that connected all of it was Tyreke Evans, who had 23 points on 10-14 shooting, with many coming a) during the Pelican surges and at the rim. Evans was the game's highest scorer in spite of playing fewer minutes than four of the Raps' five starters.
One benefit to the Pelicans' late, out-of-nowhere spurt: it helped the Raptors improve their weak record vs. opponents who score 100+ points. Although 5-18 is still pretty bad!
Spotted courtside on Monday was Toronto-born Denver Bronco Orlando Franklin, who also took in Saturday's Leafs game to see close friend Tyler Bozak.
Davis is looking more and more like the real deal, but questions about the talent that New Orleans has surrounded him with remains. Injuries have taken some of the shine off of Eric Gordon, Evans remains inconsistent and unreliable in a central role and neither Ryan Anderson nor Jrue Holliday are focal pieces. That Holliday trade, which cost New Orleans Nerlens Noel and - in all likelihood - their 2014 first rounder, currently looks to be a pricey one.
A big Wednesday night contest in front of an ever-growing Raptors home crowd will see Toronto host the reeling Atlanta Hawks (7:00pm, TSN2), losers of four in a row.
Prediction: Raps 103, Hawks 96 (29-12 this season)