NEW ORLEANS — From the moment the Toronto Raptors’ charter touched down at Louis Armstrong International Airport, former New Orleans point guard Greivis Vasquez had his radar locked and loaded.
“We call him ‘Spicy,'” guard DeMar DeRozan said about Vasquez. “We knew he was hot about something. It’s cool to have a teammate like that to see how much he wants it.”
After a slow start Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center, Vasquez caught fire in the final 90 seconds, scoring five consecutive points to break open a tie game and lead the Raptors to a 107-100 comeback victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
DeRozan scored a game-high 31 points to help Toronto (38-29) snap a two-game losing streak, but it was Vasquez, traded away in the offseason by the Pelicans, who made the key offensive plays down the stretch.
Vasquez broke a 94-94 tie with a floater on the right side of the lane with 1:58 left.
Then, after Pelicans guard Brian Roberts missed a 15-footer on the other end, Vasquez’s 3-pointer from the right baseline hit iron, but he hustled in to get his own rebound and sank a reverse layup while being fouled. When Vasquez made the free throw, Toronto led 99-94 with 1:21 left, and New Orleans never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
“I really struggled in the first half, but in the second half I was on a mission,” said Vasquez, who scored 12 of his 14 points after halftime. “I will never be afraid to shoot. I’m the type of player who is willing to risk anything. I thought (the 3-pointer) was going in, but I got a little too excited. But I went back up and got the follow, and everything worked out.”
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Toronto trailed 87-83, and the Raptors missed three consecutive shots on the same possession, but they kept the ball alive on the offensive glass. Vasquez wound up free in the right corner for a critical 3-pointer.
“That was a big sequence, especially in the fourth quarter,” said Toronto center Tyler Hansbrough, who had 13 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass, while subbing for injured starter Jonas Valanciunas. “We kept getting rebounds and kicked the ball to Greivis. He’ll take any shot at the beginning of the game or the end.”
The Pelicans, playing without All-Star forward Anthony Davis, out due to an upper-respiratory infection, led 94-90 with 4:26 left after center Jeff Withey’s free throw. Toronto ran off 15 of the next 21 points, with Vasquez and forward Amir Johnson scoring six points apiece during the run.
Toronto coach Dwane Casey said he especially liked the way his team, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, locked in after allowing New Orleans 32 first-quarter points on 81 percent shooting (13-for-16 from the floor).
“I didn’t recognize the team in the first half that gave up 80 percent from the field,” Casey said. “I told them they looked like they were playing in a rec league game in the summertime. This game was about mental and physical toughness, more so than skill. No matter who you are playing, you have to bring that each and every night, and I thought our guys did.”
New Orleans made up Davis’ absence by placing six players in double figures — led by forward Al-Farouq Aminu with 19, guard Tyreke Evans with 18 and guard Eric Gordon with 15. However, Gordon failed to score in the second half.
“It hurt once he got into foul trouble,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said of Gordon. “Once he got his fourth (with 4:11 left in the third quarter), I think that probably broke his rhythm.”
The Raptors outrebounded the Pelicans 48-34, including a whopping 22-5 edge on the offensive boards.
“They had a lot of offensive rebounds,” New Orleans reserve guard Anthony Morrow said. “They were throwing it up on the glass, but they were getting on that glass pretty tough. It’s a team thing. We have to gang rebound.”
NOTES: Pelicans F Anthony Davis posted career highs (36 and then 40 points) each of the previous two games before missing Wednesday’s game. … New Orleans coach Monty Williams said he was happy his team, despite season-ending injuries to PG Jrue Holiday, F Ryan Anderson and C Jason Smith, matched last year’s win total (27) with 16 games to go. “I still feel like we left a few games on the floor,” he said. … Williams said rookie C Jeff Withey, who is playing better in the second half of the season, may see more action. … Toronto played without C Jonas Valanciunas, who has a sprained lower back. Coach Dwane Casey said C Tyler Hansbrough and F Chuck Hayes would have to pick up the slack. “We’ve been very fortunate not to have that many injuries up to this part of the season,” Casey said.
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