The Toronto Raptors began their title defence Tuesday night, taking down the New Orleans Pelicans 130-122 with the help of overtime in their season opener at Scotiabank Arena.
Fred VanVleet scored a career-high 34 points and Kyle Lowry, the five-time All-Star, finished with 22 points and five boards.
Pascal Siakam continued the dominant play that won him the franchise’s first-ever NBA Most Improved Player award last season and finished with a double-double (35 points and 18 rebounds.)
“He was good,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters after the game. “He was carrying us there for a bit.”
Siakam, though, would foul out with just under a minute left to play, something he said post-game he was disappointed in.
“A lot of little mistakes … at the end of the day, I have to be careful,” he said. “As a leader, I have to find a way to be in the game at the end. It’s my bad and I have to keep getting better.”
Lowry and Siakam signed contract extensions in the offseason. Lowry signed a one-year US$31 million deal, while Siakam signed a four-year US$130 million extension. Both will kick in for the 2020-2021 season.
OG Anunoby played his first action in more than six months after suffering a ruptured appendix in April. Slotted into the starting lineup, Anunoby finished with 11 points and six rebounds.
“I think you saw a little more skill level,” Nurse said when asked about him. “Tonight there were some drives, a couple of moves here and there.
“Some of them weren’t the prettiest things in the world … but I think there were some good catch and shoots.”
The Pelicans led by as much as 11 points in the second quarter, but by halftime the Raptors, who had 12 first half turnovers, closed the gap to five points, down 61-56.
After a sloppy couple of minutes late in the fourth quarter, Toronto found itself down by six with just over four minutes to go after Marc Gasol and Lowry drew technical fouls.
Fortunately for the Raptors, the Pelicans missed both.
The teams traded leads back and forth in the fourth quarter, with neither being able to close out the game in regular time.
In overtime, Marc Gasol drove to the basket, sunk the bucket and took the foul for three points. VanVleet and Lowry would both sink three-pointers to put the Pelicans away.
“Our defence picked up,” Gasol said when asked about how the team pulled together in overtime to get the win. “When we increased a couple of notches, we were able to get into rotation more … we were able to control the game a little more.”
Nurse acknowledged the game wasn’t the Raptors best.
“You just have to take them in this league when you get them. Especially when you don’t play that well.”
Brandon Ingram of the Pelicans finished with 22 points and five boards, while JJ Reddick finished with 16 points, including four threes.
Terrence Davis II was the only new Raptor that Nurse trusted to give minutes to on opening night. The rookie finished with four points and five rebounds. Though he made some mistakes, Davis was aggressive in his play, throwing a nice open-court pass to Ibaka in the first half.
Nurse said Davis made some “ill-advised” shots but that he played “relentless.” He said he was quite impressed with the rookie.
Nurse also used the first coach’s challenge in NBA history in the first quarter after Norm Powell was called for an offensive foul. Each team gets one challenge per night. Unfortunately, the call was confirmed and not overturned.
A special ceremony took place before the game as players and all those involved with the team received their rings and watched the franchise’s first championship banner go up into the rafters.
Nurse said the whole night was a lot more emotional than he thought it would be.
“It was a lot more than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “Going through the whole playoff thing and the crowd was amped up, it was pretty emotional.”
Gasol said the ceremony gave them “closure.”
There are over 650 diamonds — at a weight of 14 carats — in the 14-carat yellow gold ring, which is the largest NBA championship ring ever made, the team said.
The Raptors took down the Golden State Warriors, the reigning champions, in six games in the NBA Finals, ending a playoff run that saw Toronto beat the Orlando Magic, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Pelicans were without first overall pick Zion Williamson, who will be sidelined from six to eight week due to knee surgery.
Going into the season, with the large hole left behind by NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard who took his talents to the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason, oddsmakers were not kind to the Raptors.
The Las Vegas sports books placed Toronto anywhere from a 35-1 pick to a 50-1 shot to win another title.
Shortly before the game, Mayor John Tory was on hand in Jurassic Park for the ceremonially renaming of Bremner Boulevard to Raptors Way.
Thousands of flans flooded into Jurassic Park to watch the game on the new LED screen outside, which is 37 per cent bigger than the old one.
The championship celebrations coincide with the Raptors 25th anniversary season. The team has planned for some themed home games along with artwork to commemorate the special year.
Fans at the arena were treated to their own version of the team’s rings, while also walking away with season opener T-shirts.
The Raptors take on the Boston Celtics at 7 p.m. on Friday at TD Garden.