Playing without injured key players Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday, the New Orleans Pelicans dug themselves a hole in Monday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors.
But with reserve players stepping up, they climbed their way out of it and posted a 100-97 victory at the Smoothie King Center.
The victory was the second in a row for the Pelicans (29-27), who began a three-game homestand looking to stay in the race for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
“The way we’ve come through this thing, our journey has been like this,” coach Monty Williams said. “We have to keep fighting.”
The victory ended a four-game home losing streak. And New Orleans swept the season series 2-0 against Toronto (37-19), which has the Eastern Conference’s second-best record, for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
The Pelicans bench, questioned as to whether it could step to fill the void of the 57.3 points per game averaged by the injured trio, scored 55 points. Luke Babbitt, Alexis Ajinca and new point guard Norris Cole combined for 49.
Babbitt, who had 18 points, shot 4-of-5 on 3-point attempts, making one with 1:55 left that gave the Pelicans their first lead at 94-93.
Trailing 87-79 midway through the fourth quarter, the Pelicans outscored Toronto 17-6 to take a 96-93 lead with 1:23 left after the huge 3-pointer by Babbitt, then a drive by Tyreke Evans.
New Orleans hung on the rest of the way, with center Omer Asik getting a big block of a driving shot by Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry with 6.2 seconds left. Jimmer Fredette sank two free throws with 4.5 seconds left, and Lowry missed a 3-pointer as time expired.
New Orleans shot 13-of-18 in the fourth quarter to overcome poor shooting much of the game as well as 17 turnovers. The Raptors shot 8-of-23 in the fourth, including 1-of-7 on 3-point tries.
Toronto led 77-67 a minute into the fourth. But Cole ignited a 10-2 run with a pull-up jumper, then followed with a 3, bringing New Orleans to 79-77.
The Pelicans trailed 56-44 at halftime, with Toronto going 13-of-16 on free throws compared to 2-of-4 by the Pelicans.
The Pelicans fell behind 10-2, trailed 28-17 after the first quarter and then fought uphill the rest of the way.