Raptors put up monster numbers in OT win over Pelicans on banner night

Raptors put up monster numbers in OT win over Pelicans on banner night
For a team that invented “Load Management” the Toronto Raptors turned to “Load Overload” in their first game as NBA defending champions.

Coach Nick Nurse is going to need to eventually find nine or 10 players he can trust and will use on a regular basis, but the search is not near completion yet.

On an emotional night that began with a stirring ring ceremony and banner unveiling, the Raptors used only eight players for any significant amount of time in a dramatic 130-122 overtime victory over the New Orleans Pelicans at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday.

Fred VanVleet, who played nearly 45 minutes, hit a game-sealing three-pointer with about 90 seconds left in overtime to punctuate a career-high 34-point evening for the guard.

Seven of those players who logged big minutes were holdovers from the 2018-19 championship squad, and undrafted rookie Terence Davis II was the only other player Nurse used when the game was still undecided. It’s not a sustainable load for the workhorses, but Nurse hasn’t been able to find a consistent ninth or 10th player to use.

“We had to do what we had to do,” the coach said. “We had to reach into our bag of tricks there a little bit to mix it up, try to generate some turnovers, things like that.

“I don’t know, just take ’em in this league when you can get ’em, especially if you don’t play that well and they’re pretty good. They’re a really good rhythm offensive team and they’re not easy to guard.”

Two starters — VanVleet and Kyle Lowry — logged more than 40 minutes, a heavy load for the first real game of the season and not something they can keep up.

“You could see (VanVleet) was noticeably limping off the ball,” Nurse said after the guard tweaked an ankle at the end of the third quarter. “We had to take him off the ball.

“It was close. I almost yanked him out of there a couple of times and then I decided to call a couple of plays for him. Spot up shots. Man, he’s got some guts. Got some guts. Made some big ones.”

Whether it was fatigue or an inevitable letdown after the emotion of the pre-game ceremony, the Raptors struggled early and again down the stretch.

They committed seven turnovers in the first quarter and saw a five-point fourth quarter lead turn into a six-point deficit in a matter of about four minutes.

The playing time didn’t bother Pascal Siakam or VanVleet, though. Siakam, who fouled out with 50 seconds left, had 34 points, 18 rebounds and five assists, only the second player in NBA history to put up that much in each category on an opening night (Charles Barkley was the other).

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Toronto native picked No. 17 last June by Brooklyn and dealt to New Orleans, made his NBA debut in front of what he estimated was a group of more than 60 friends and family.

The six-foot-five guard has been lauded for being NBA-ready as a rookie with a great work ethic. He credited his mom, Nicole Alexander, and grandmother Ronice Alexander for instilling it in him.

“Just the work ethic that I have comes from them, and knowing that every day I’ve got to do it,” said Alexander-Walker, a cousin of second-year Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “It’s not going to be given to me; it never was. For me, it’s almost fun now. I want to come in and work. I want to do the things that no one wants to do, just because it’s made me who I am.”

Alexander-Walker didn’t waste any time trying to make an impact in his first game, getting up eight shots in his first eight minutes. He finished 1-for-10 from the floor with three points.

Under a new rule instituted on a one-year trial basis, coaches are allowed one “challenge” per game to contest a personal foul charged to their team, a called out-of-bounds violation, a goaltending violation or a basket-interference violation.

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Nurse challenged an offensive foul call against Norm Powell with 2:44 left in the first quarter. The Raptors, by rule, had to use one of their timeouts to make the challenge. The call was upheld by the NBA’s replay centre in New Jersey and Toronto lost the timeout. Had the call been overturned, the Raptors would not have been charged for the timeout.
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