On Friday, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry lauded his short-handed team for playing hard through adversity, for its strong effort since the All-Star break even as its injuries depleted its roster.
Then he offered a caveat that proved prescient.
“I think you’ve got to give guys a break sometimes in that sometimes, superior talent wins out,” Gentry said. “You can play as hard as you can, but sometimes the talent level wins out.”
On Saturday, the Toronto Raptors underscored his point, pounding the Pelicans 115-91 at the Smoothie King Center with smothering defense, efficient offense and pure talent.
DeMar DeRozan scored 23 points to lead seven Raptors in double digits, and Toronto controlled the game, leading by as many as 31 points and by double digits for the entire second half.
“Tonight was a perfect example,” Gentry said. “I thought DeRozan, even on some of his shots I thought we did a great job of defending him, and he still was able to jump up and make shots.”
For the second straight game, the Pelicans played without eight players, including five — forwards Anthony Davis and Quincy Pondexter and guards Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Bryce Dejean-Jones — who are out for the season. Guards Jrue Holiday and Norris Cole and forward Ryan Anderson also were sidelined.
Those players have combined to score 5,293 points this season, 72.4 percent of New Orleans’ season scoring. With the eight absences, the Pelicans hit 260 player games missed this season to injury and illness.
Alonzo Gee, who entered the game averaging 4.2 points per game, scored a season-high 18. Luke Babbitt, averaging 4.7 per game, added 14.
Meanwhile, the Raptors got well at New Orleans’ expense, snapping a two-game losing streak with a dominating performance against the overmatched Pelicans.
Toronto led 20-15 at the end of the first quarter, then took control in the second, leading by as many as 17 points. The Raptors took a 35-22 lead on DeRozan’s jumper with 4:56 to play in the second, and they led by double digits for the remainder of the game.
“You can’t get down, especially limited on numbers,” said Pelicans guard Tim Frazier, who scored 12 points on the day he signed a contract to remain with the team for the rest of the season. “Our job was to try to keep it close and fight all the way to the end. Props go to Toronto. They came out to play.”
On Thursday, the Pelicans fought the Pacers deep into the fourth quarter with the same eight players absent. But Toronto was keyed in defensively from the start.
New Orleans shot 27.3 percent in the first quarter and finished the game at 43.5 percent. The Pelicans hit 4 of 15 3-pointers. Their starting frontcourt of Dante Cunningham, Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik shot a combined 8 of 28 from the floor. Starting point guard Toney Douglas was 4 for 14.
The Raptors start a pair of All-Stars in DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who had 11 points and eight assists. The Pelicans, meanwhile, were without even key players who haven’t been shut down for the season.
Holiday missed his second straight game with a big toe injury. Anderson sat for the fourth straight game with a left groin injury.
New Orleans played Jordan Hamilton — who signed a 10-day contract with the team on Friday — 24 minutes off the bench. He scored 11 points. Frazier, who joined the team on a 10-day contract before signing through the end of the season, played 28 minutes.
As much as the Pelicans “tried to compete tonight,” Gentry said, they were overmatched.
“I thought they probably got into us defensively as well as anybody has this year,” Gentry said. “We just never got into a flow offensively, and we missed some shots early when we were down and we started to press a little bit.”