TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors made the most of the all-star break without losing any of their momentum.
Pascal Siakam, Toronto’s only all-star this season, scored 26 points to help the Raptors fend off the New Orleans Pelicans 115-110 on Thursday as both teams returned from the break. It was Toronto’s sixth win in seven games as the Raptors claw their way back into the NBA Eastern Conference’s post-season picture.
“We need these wins in order to try to make this deep playoff push,” said Scottie Barnes, who finished with 18 points. “So every game is very important to us.
“We’ve just got to keep trying to win and play hard every time we step on the floor.”
Jakob Poeltl had a double-double with 21 points and a career-high 18 rebounds for the Raptors (29-31). Poeltl was traded to Toronto from San Antonio ahead of the NBA’s trade deadline on Feb. 9.
He said he needed the all-star break to rest and regroup after his move back to the Raptors, where he started his career in 2016.
“It’s a weird experience getting traded and not really having time to get your life situated, because you’re just starting with basketball right away,” said Poeltl. “But from a basketball point of view, it has been great.
“First game was a little bit like getting thrown in the deep end but then every game I feel like I’m getting more and more comfortable.”
O.G. Anuonby scored 12 in his return to the Raptors lineup after a nine-game absence. He had injured his left wrist in a bad fall against Golden State on Jan. 27. Gary Trent Jr., who returned after missing two games with a calf strain, started at guard and scored 18.
“We love O.G. His presence is undeniable on the floor,” said Barnes. “Gary’s a tough shotmaker. (…) We need him for sure.”
Brandon Ingram led New Orleans (30-30) with 36 points. Centre Jonas Valanciunas, who also began his NBA career in Toronto, had a double-double for the Pelicans with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Siakam sank his second of two free throws as the half expired to give the Raptors a 54-45 lead at intermission. It was his only point of the second quarter, for a total of seven, as Barnes, Poeltl, Trent and Anunoby took over Toronto’s offence.
Barnes and Trent had eight points apiece in the quarter, Poeltl added seven, and Anunoby five.
The Raptors led by as many as 15 in the third, with Siakam finding his scoring touch. He had 17 points in the quarter.
Toronto forward Chris Boucher, from Montreal, brought the sold-out Scotiabank Arena crowd of 19,800 to its feet with a one-handed jam on a breakaway with 5.5 seconds left in the frame.
“That’s Chris, right? I mean, he’s just he’s going to make some spectacular plays,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “He’s going to do them at both ends. He makes something happen.
C.J. McCollum drilled an 18-foot jumper to cut Toronto’s lead to eight with 8:30 left to play as the Pelicans mounted a late comeback.
Siakam answered with a layup, before Ingram hit a three-pointer, forcing a Raptors’ time out with 6:49 on the clock.
Valanciunas made a free throw when play resumed to make it 100-94. After a New Orleans turnover, Poeltl reeled off five points for an 11-point lead.
After a Pelicans’ time out, Poeltl continued to dominate the paint, scoring another jumper from up close and then blocking Herbert Jones at the other end. McCollum replied with a floating jump shot.
Anunoby stole an Ingram pass with 2:40 left to play, getting a rousing ovation for his dunk and giving the Raptors a 111-101 lead. He had two steals on the night and his 2.1 steals per game led the NBA heading into Thursday’s game.
Ingram made a pair of free throws and a three-pointer to cut that lead to just five points. He then hit a seven-foot shot to make it 111-108 with 1:13 to go.
He fouled Poeltl on the next possession, however, with the Raptors centre making a free throw.
Ingram made up for that with a jumper to narrow Toronto’s lead to 112-110 with 33.1 seconds left. But Trent drilled a three-pointer 20 seconds later for Toronto and the final score of the game.
VANVLEET OUT — Point guard Fred VanVleet (personal reasons) was ruled out by the Raptors just minutes before tip-off. His wife is pregnant with their third child.
UP NEXT — Toronto travels to Detroit to take on former head coach Dwane Casey and the Pistons on Saturday. The game has a rare noon start time.
New Orleans will visit the New York Knicks on Saturday night.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2023.