Raptors hold off Pelicans, 115-110
Coming off an eight-day layoff following the All-Star break, the New Orleans Pelicans were rested.
That was the good news.
The bad news, as head coach Willie Green said in the aftermath, was being a bit rusty.
By the time the Pelicans knocked the rust off in Toronto, they were trailing by double figures and saw their rally fall short in a 115-110 loss Thursday night.
It was not a bad performance.
It simply was not good enough.
Fighting for your playoff lives, you have to bring maximum effort from start to finish.
While it was not a wire-to-wire job, the Raptors led virtually the entire way. It is hard, make that very hard to play catch-up all night, particularly on the road.
The only leads for New Orleans were at 6-4, 7-6 and 16-15, the latter of which came when Brandon Ingram connected on a 3-pointer with 2:29 to play in the opening quarter. Jeff Dowtin Jr. answered with a 3-pointer for Toronto and New Orleans never led again.
While the effort was there, the execution was lacking early on as the Pelicans missed point-blank shots and scored just 19 points in the opening quarter but hung close, trailing by only four points, thanks to solid defense.
When the offense picked up in the second and third quarters, the defense descended.
By the end of the third quarter, New Orleans trailed 92-77.
It was a huge deficit to overcome but the Pelicans nearly pulled it off, staging a furious rally to pull withing 112-110 when Ingram drilled a 19-footer with 33.1 seconds left.
New Orleans needed a stop.
It did not happen.
Instead, Gary Trent put the game away with a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining.
Ingram missed a jumper with 8.2 seconds left it was game over.
Ingram was outstanding, scoring 36 points and pulling down seven rebounds while CJ McCollum did his part with 23 points and five assists. In a starting role, Josh Richardson was solid, scoring 11 points with three rebounds, three assists and three steals. Richardson ran the offense at times and he is a solid defender, giving New Orleans a second stopper to go with Herb Jones. Ingram and McCollum combined to go 8 for 12 from 3-point range.
With 22 games left, the Pelicans are back where they started the season, even at .500 with a 30-30 record and now eighth in the Western Conference.
It will take at least a winning record to have a shot at making the top six and avoiding the play-in tournament. It may take a winning record to make the play-in tournament.
The Western Conference got much better at the trade deadline.
Dyson Daniels, who is very close to returning, has not played since Jan. 24.
Of course, we have no idea when Zion Williamson will play again.
The road trip continues in New York against a solid Knicks team Saturday.
The Pelicans will need a better start and a sustained effort and performance to win as an underdog but that is stating the obvious.
What is obvious, at this point, is that New Orleans has little margin for error against winning teams and with its quest to make the postseason.
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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…