Story by Christopher Taylor, sophomore at St. John the Baptist Parish STEM Magnet High School Program and photos by Wyatt Vaughn, senior at Holy Cross High School. Mentored by Jim Rapier.
Friday night at Smoothie King Center, the New Orleans Pelicans, featuring a lineup made up mostly of younger players, faced the second-best team in the Eastern Conference the Toronto Raptors. With key players Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis not playing, the younger New Orleans players needed to step up and they did, for one half. In the second half the Raptors trampled over the Pelicans on their way to a 127-104 victory.
From the tip, the young core of Kendrick Williams, Jahlil Okafor, Julius Randle, Frank Jackson and Elfrid Payton showed lots of hustle and effort. The play of Cheick Diallo off the bench also helped to keep the game close throughout the entire first half. With Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard having a dominant first-half performance (24 points on 11-for-13 shooting), the strong play by Randle, Jackson and Diallo, who combined for 34 points in the half, helped the Pelicans keep the score close at 64-61.
The second half was a totally different story. It was like the Raptors flipped a switch and the Pelicans couldn’t match Toronto’s play. The Raptors quickly pushed their lead to 70-61 before a thunderous slam by Randle to cut the deficit down and bring his point total to 15 on the night. After back-to-back turnovers by Toronto it seemed as if the Pelicans would pick up the pace and rally, but that wasn’t the case. Leonard and the Raptors turned it on again. Toronto’s defense forced numerous turnovers and scored often to increase its lead from three at the half to 13 at the end of the third quarter.
The Raptors didn’t let up in the fourth quarter and the Pelicans continued to dig a deeper hole with turnovers. With 6:20 left in the fourth quarter and New Orleans down by 21 points, Pelicans fans began to walk out of the arena. Toronto finished the game with 25 points off 17 forced turnovers, 66 points in the paint and 53 fast-break points. Leonard’s 31-point performance led the Raptors. Pascal Siakam poured in 19 points to back Leonard.
Jackson finished with 20 points, Randle with 18 and Diallo finished with 16 and 12 rebounds to lead the Pelicans. Despite these strong performances and a good first half by this young Pelicans team, it wasn’t enough to overcome Toronto.
On Sunday, March 10 the Pelicans will take on the Atlanta Hawks (22-45). According to ESPN, guard Jrue Holiday and forward Anthony Davis are expected to not play once again.