The Toronto Raptors started their NBA title defense on a high note with a 130-122 overtime win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday at Scotiabank Arena.
Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet each scored a game-high 34 points for the Raps, who raised their championship banner pregame and ended overtime on an 8-0 run.
The Pels were without star rookie Zion Williamson as he recovers from a torn meniscus suffered during the preseason.
Pelicans F Brandon Ingram: 8-of-19, 22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists
Pelicans G Josh Hart: 4-of-9, 15 points, 10 rebounds
Pelicans F Nicolo Melli: 5-of-7, 14 points, 5 rebounds
Pelicans G Lonzo Ball: 2-of-7, 8 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds
Raptors F Pascal Siakam: 11-of-26, 34 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists
Raptors G Fred VanVleet: 12-of-18, 34 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds
Raptors G Kyle Lowry: 4-of-15, 22 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds
Siakam, VanVleet Dominate on Opening Night
The Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks are considered the top two Eastern Conference contenders after the Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers, but Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet have different ideas.
The two players combined for 68 points and 23 of Toronto's 42 field goals on a night where the rest of the offense couldn't get much going on an efficient basis.
Both showed off their versatile games, dominating everywhere on the court from the rim to beyond the arc.
Siakam, who won the Most Improved Player award last year, might be an All-Star this year. He even found himself in great company thanks to his performance, per ESPN Stats & Info and Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Pascal Siakam (34 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists so far), joins Vince Carter (Dec. 7, 2001) as the only players in Raptors history with 30 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists in a game. He's just the 4th player in the last 40 seasons to accomplish this in a season opener. https://t.co/mpQHtMsGGk
His ball-handling skills were a significant problem for Pels defenders, as evidenced by this drive to the hoop:
Siakam also calmly hit clutch threes:
The owner of a new four-year max extension looks worth every penny of the $130 million contract he signed, but VanVleet looks like he's about to earn some serious cash when he enters free agency next year too.
An early candidate for the Most Improved Player award this season arguably played better than anyone on the floor, even Siakam. His 34 points came at an efficient 12-of-18 clip, and that's in addition to crashing the boards and finding his teammates for a 34-point, seven-assist, five-rebound night.
The aggressive guard out of Wichita State fearlessly drove to the lane and hoisted clutch threes just as easily, none more so than when he gave Toronto a five-point edge in overtime:
Chicago Bulls radio announcer Chuck Swirsky put it best:
With Leonard gone, Siakam and VanVleet look ready to build on excellent NBA Finals performances and assume much larger roles. They passed the first test easily, and that could be bad news for the East.
Pelicans' Second Unit Takes Raptors to the Limit
It's not common to see NBA coaches call for the entire starting five to hit the bench en masse. The San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich has used the practice when his starting unit performs poorly, but hockey-esque line changes are rare.
The Pelicans may regularly enact the practice, however, based on their substitution patterns Tuesday.
The Pels went 12 deep, with all players amassing double-digit minutes. A brand-new second unit even found itself on the floor with 4:16 left in the first quarter.
By the beginning of the second, head coach Alvin Gentry had used 12 players, per Will Guillory of The Athletic:
New Orleans found success with the move: The second unit led a 17-4 run capped by a Josh Hart step-back early in the second quarter. The Pels even took a 61-56 halftime lead.
The second half told a similar story. Once again, the second unit took over the Pels lineup, and once again, it excelled.
The lineup did have some help from starters this time around, with Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday closing the game.
But the Pels used Jahlil Okafor, Frank Jackson and Hart in crunch time during a fourth quarter where they engineered a 10-0 run to turn a 103-99 deficit into a 109-103 lead.
The plus/minus numbers from the Pels bench were positive on the whole: Kenrich Williams and Nicolo Melli each had plus-11 marks, and Jackson finished plus-seven.
Some of the Pels' bench players received strong praise from analysts around the league.
Jeff Duncan of The Athletic gave credit to 28-year-old rookie Melli, a sweet-shooting big from Italy:
Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com cited Hart's rebounding abilities, which helped lead to a double-double in his Pelicans debut:
And Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports shouted out Okafor, the former No. 3 overall draft pick who could make a nice home off the bench:
The Pels forced overtime but couldn't get it done in their opener. Still, New Orleans took Toronto to overtime without its superstar rookie in Zion Williamson. That's an excellent opening night even without the win and gives hope for the future.
The Pelicans will make their 2019-20 home debut on Friday against the Dallas Mavericks at 8 p.m. ET. The Raptors will visit the Boston Celtics on Friday at 7 p.m.