Resilience, toughness help Pelicans complete sweep of Raptors
What was not to like about the Pelicans forging past Toronto 120-116 Saturday at Smoothie King Center?
Yes, they let a solid lead evaporate as confidence from anxious fans began to evaporate.
Then, almost as soon as the doom and gloom set in, it dissipated, disappeared in the glow of a gut-it-out victory.
When Brandon Ingram stepped the line with his calm, killer look and repeated “it’s over” a few times, you had to love the confidence from a relatively quiet young man.
Eric Bledsoe buried a huge corner 3-ball with under a minute to play.
Zion Williamson slashed to the hole on several occasions and finished at the rim.
Steven Adams was his usual physical, tough presence and posted his second straight double-double.
Lonzo Ball made a few key 3-pointers and did not commit a turnover in 35 minutes.
Jaxson Hayes followed up a somewhat promising performance against Oklahoma City with by far his best game yet.
Josh Hart provided his usual energy, scored to help the cause and rebounded well as always.
New Orleans won despite shooting just 42 percent from the field.
Once again, the Pelicans owned the boards with a huge 51-39 advantage. That included 15 offensive rebounds. Early on in the season, the Pelicans are one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA.
While the Raptors scored 116 points, the Pelicans held Toronto to just 41.8 percent shooting from the field.
A new day is dawning for New Orleans under Stan Van Gundy.
When you defend and rebound, you can win more consistently, more frequently, more, period.
Under Alvin Gentry, the Pelicans had to outscore opponents to win.
With many weapons, that was possible and did happen but simply not enough.
When needed, New Orleans still has the firepower to outscore opponents.
The Pelicans simply do not have to on a regular basis now and that is both a relief and refreshing to see.
Bledsoe followed up a good game at Oklahoma City with perhaps his best game, scoring 19 points and dishing out 10 assists.
Williamson was efficient, scoring 21 points on just 12 shots.
Another thing to like about Van Gundy is how he is not afraid to do what is necessary to win.
Down the stretch, Williamson was not on the floor, due to his lack of defensive prowess as there were not enough stoppages in play to get Zion back on the floor for offense as much as you would like. Van Gundy even called himself out over it as he had burned a timeout with a lost challenge earlier, a timeout he wished he had preserved.
Van Gundy was both smart and honest.
Ingram made four straight free throws when it mattered most, including the two to clinch the game.
The Western Conference Player of the Week finished with 31 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Adams had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Ball finished with 13 points, four assists and four rebounds.
Hart had nine points and eight rebounds.
Hayes finished with six points and eight rebounds in just 17 minutes.
What was most pleasing was to see how the Pelicans reacted to adversity.
New Orleans looked to have the game in hand but let a 12-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter.
Last season, do you think the Pelicans would have been able to collect themselves, rebound, dig deep and find a way to win, anyway?
New Orleans dug deep and allowed the Raptors to score just one point in the final 2:47 of the contest.
If you do not think things are different, Toronto had beaten the Pelicans five straight times in New Orleans.
That is what the 2020-21 Pelicans are capable of doing.
As I have stated previously, they can win in many ways, the sign of a good team.
When an opponent sinks 26-of-27 free throws, you likely are going to lose.
Not Saturday night.
While you would still like to see the Pelicans get out and run more, particularly with such a huge rebound advantage, it is hard to pick at this team, at this point. New Orleans was outscored 19-11 on fast break points.
The Pelicans (4-2) will host Indiana Monday night.
As you hear on an election night, the returns are still early but the Pelicans are looking pretty promising thus far.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…