TORONTO — It’s inconceivable to imagine yourself playing a basketball game without being sure of the safety of your friends and family after an attack on your home country.
But that’s what New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca had to do in Friday’s 100-81 loss at the Toronto Raptors.
After devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, Ajinca was unable to speak with his family and verify their safety until after the game.
“Pretty much all of my family is in Paris,” he said afterward. “I just found out everybody is OK now. During the whole game, I was trying to get this out of my mind so I’d be able to stay focused. It felt weird. I was thinking about it the whole game.”
Ajinca found out about the attacks via social media before the game, and he immediately started reaching out to family members. One of his cousins was in the stadium near where a bombing occurred and had to remain there for a while. Another cousin was unreachable, but he turned out to be simply sleeping.
“That was the good news,” Ajinca said. “Not everybody got lucky. My family, everybody’s safe. Friends, as far as I know, everybody’s safe. All of my prayers go to all of the families that lost love ones. It’s just unfair.”
“It’s just a crazy world, man,” he continued. “You think you’re safe. You’re just walking down the street. And the next thing you know, people start shooting. It’s just crazy. My prayers go to my family friends down in Paris right now. I hope everybody’s safe.”
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry spoke with Ajinca before the game to see how he was feeling. Although he was disappointed in his team’s effort in the second half, he was quick to remind the assembled media what mattered. On Friday night, it wasn’t the final score of a basketball game.
“There’s a lot on his mind,” Gentry said. “There should be a lot on everybody’s mind. That’s why I say, you know, ‘We go out and we play and we compete, but that’s not life, guys.’ What happened over there, that’s the real world. It’s unfortunate. I thought (Ajinca) played well, I thought he focused on the game and did a good job, but it’s tragic what’s going on over there. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Ajinca played 24 minutes in the loss and finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. The Pelicans got off to a great start but couldn’t sustain their effort or match Toronto’s effort in the second half despite a 30-point effort from Eric Gordon and 19 points for Jrue Holiday. Anthony Davis missed his second straight game with a hip injury.
Toronto opened the fourth quarter on a 16-5 run and extended its lead to 20 before the midway point of the quarter before rolling to an easy victory. Jonas Valanciunas led the way for the Raptors with 20 points and 10 rebounds for Toronto. DeMar DeRozan added 15 points and 11 assists, and Kyle Lowry scored 20 points.