Raptors celebrate 2019 NBA title before win over Pelicans

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors celebrated their 2019 championship in style Tuesday night.

The reigning champs also picked up where they left off last spring.

Toronto went on an 8-0 run in overtime for a 130-122 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans in the regular-season opener for both teams at Scotiabank Arena.

With the teams tied at 122, Kyle Lowry hit a pair of free throws before Fred VanVleet drained a three-pointer. Lowry iced it with a three-point shot of his own with 56 seconds left.

VanVleet had 34 points while Pascal Siakam had 34 points and 18 rebounds before fouling out in the final minute of regulation. Lowry finished with 22 points and Serge Ibaka chipped in with 13.

Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 22 points.

Before the game, with the Larry O’Brien championship trophy on display and the Raptors watching from courtside, a video highlight package from last spring’s playoff run was shown on the arena’s big screens.

It showcased top moments from the first three rounds before culminating in Toronto’s six-game NBA Finals win over the Golden State Warriors, the first title in franchise history.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver welcomed members of the Raptors’ front office and ownership group to the floor before the players were introduced to emphatic applause as they received their championship rings.

Lowry took a turn on the mic and thanked fans before gathering his teammates around him for a five-second countdown and unfurling of the championship banner. Queen’s “We Are The Champions” provided a triumphant soundtrack.

After the festivities, the Raptors got back to work. It wasn’t pretty in the early going.

The Raptors were a disorganized mess over the first few possessions. A J.J. Redick three-pointer capped a 13-4 start for the Pelicans, forcing Toronto to call a quick timeout.

The home side settled in after the break with Siakam and Lowry pulling the strings. A VanVleet layup cut the deficit to one and Siakam followed with two free throws to give Toronto a 20-19 lead.

VanVleet delivered a highlight moments later with a reverse layup, switching hands under the basket and converting the free throw for a three-point play. Nickeil Alexander-Walker — a Toronto native — responded with a three-pointer for the Pelicans, who led 30-27 after one quarter.

The absence of Kawhi Leonard, who signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in the off-season as a free agent, was noticeable. A force at both ends of the floor, Leonard’s skillset is not easily replaced.

Head coach Nick Nurse went with a starting five of OG Anunoby, Marc Gasol, Lowry, Siakam and VanVleet.

Ibaka and Norm Powell were first up off the bench and Terence Davis picked up his first basket as a Raptor with 3:37 left in the second quarter to trim the New Orleans lead to 49-46.

On paper, the season opener looked like a mismatch as the Raptors, who were 58-24 last season, faced a Pelicans squad coming off a 33-49 campaign and without No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson (knee).

READ MORE: Go, Canada! Raptors beat Warriors 114-110 to win NBA title

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry made frequent substitutions with 12 different players seeing the court by the half. The Pelicans led 61-56 at the break.

The Raptors came out with renewed energy to start the second half.

An Anunoby dunk got the crowd back into it and gave Toronto a 73-70 lead. The Raptors led 88-86 after three quarters.

Siakam hit back-to-back three-pointers midway through the fourth quarter to give the Raptors a 103-99 advantage. The Pelicans responded with a 10-0 run before VanVleet hit a pair of free throws.

Siakam went back to work by converting a three-point play and adding a putback bucket to give Toronto a 110-109 lead with 2:37 left to play. The Toronto forward fouled out with 59.2 seconds left.

Anunoby played stifling defence on the Pelicans’ final possession of regulation time, forcing Jrue Holiday into a tough shot that Powell grabbed for a key rebound.

Powell missed a long three-point attempt at the buzzer and the teams played a five-minute OT session.

Notes: Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse and members of Hamilton rock band Arkells were in attendance. … Some 20,000 replica championship rings were given to fans before the game. … Toronto forwards Patrick McCaw (knee) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (groin) sat out. … The Raptors have won their last seven regular-season openers.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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