Pelicans coach Monty Williams now has a better idea of how badly his undermanned squad wants to stay in the Western Conference playoff race.
Alexis Ajinca capped a 16-point performance with a go-ahead layup in the final minute, and New Orleans erased an 18-point deficit en route to a 100-97 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday night.
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”A lot of character being displayed on the floor,” said Williams, whose squad pulled out its largest comeback this season without All-Star Anthony Davis and two other top players in uniform. ”It was a total team effort. You don’t get to say that a lot when you’re coaching sports, but tonight was for sure.”
Luke Babbitt scored a season-high 18 for New Orleans, including a 3-pointer that gave the Pelicans their first lead of the game with 1:55 left.
The clutch outings by the two reserves helped New Orleans overcome the absence of Davis (sprained right shoulder) and fellow forward Ryan Anderson (sprained right knee), who were both injured Saturday night in Miami – not to mention point guard Jrue Holiday (lower right leg injury), who hasn’t played since Jan. 12.
”We never gave up. We stick to the plan, stay together and keep fighting,” Ajinca said.
Newly acquired Norris Cole scored 15 for New Orleans. Omer Asik added 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Tyreke Evans had 13 points and 12 assists.
Kyle Lowry scored 22 for Toronto, but missed a driving layup for the lead with 6 seconds left when he was blocked by Asik, who also snared the rebound. Jimmer Fredette then hit a pair of free throws for New Orleans, and Lowry’s 27-foot attempt for a tie missed.
”We should have had that one,” said Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, who had 14 points. ”It’s frustrating … We settled for too many jump shots and didn’t press the issue.”
Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and 14 rebounds for Toronto, which lost its second straight.
James Johnson scored 15 points, but the Raptors hurt themselves by missing nine of 31 free throws and missing 18 of 23 3-point attempts.
”We got 3-point happy a little bit,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. ”We were in transition. We have to take it to the basket. … Some nights, 3s aren’t falling. That’s when you drive it.”
The result gave New Orleans a 2-0 sweep of the season series, with the Pelicans overcoming double-digit, fourth-quarter deficits – and the absence of Davis – in both games.
While Toronto leads the Atlantic Division, the Pelicans desperately need to string a few wins together, now two games behind Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Down 62-49 in the third quarter, New Orleans began to claw back when Eric Gordon hit a 3, marking the start of a 17-8 run over the next six minutes.
The Raptors briefly regained a 10-point lead on Terrence Ross’ 3 in the fourth quarter, but the Pelicans stormed back with a 10-2 run during which Cole scored seven points, including a 3.
New Orleans finally took its first lead of the game, at 94-93, on Babbitt’s fourth 3, then briefly went ahead 96-93 on Evans’ driving layup.
Toronto scored the next four points to retake the lead before Ajinca’s go-ahead basket with 50 seconds left.
Raptors: Guard Lou Williams returned from a sprained ankle that sidelined him one game. He played nearly 25 minutes and finished with nine points. … Forward Patrick Patterson sat out with a sprained left knee after trying to play with the injury two nights earlier in Houston.
Pelicans: New Orleans won for the first time in five home games. … Ajinca has averaged 13.5 points in the nine games in which he’s played 20 or more minutes this season.
Toronto scored first 16 seconds into the game and opened on a 10-2 run, then built its largest lead when James Johnson’s layup made it 51-33.
The Pelicans might have fallen farther behind if not for Ajinca, who scored 10 points in his first 12 minutes on the court. Babbitt added eight of his points in the second quarter, helping New Orleans trim its deficit to 56-44 at halftime.