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Siakam, VanVleet shine on opening night

Raphielle Johnson

The 2019-20 NBA season tipped off Tuesday night, with just two games on the schedule. The home teams won both, with Toronto coming back to beat New Orleans in overtime and the Clippers beating the Lakers in the nightcap. Below is a look at both games, beginning with the Raptors and the performances of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet

Raptors 130, Pelicans 122 (OT)

With Kawhi Leonard now a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Toronto Raptors began defense of their NBA title Tuesday night without the biggest reason for the team’s success. The biggest question for Nick Nurse’s team entering the season: how would they account for the departure of the NBA Finals MVP? The Raptors may not have a superstar, but the team retained much of the rotation from that title-winning team. And in Tuesday’s 130-122 overtime win over the New Orleans Pelicans, three instrumental figures from that team stepped up to lead the way. 

Pascal Siakam, three days removed from signing a four-year max contract extension, and Fred VanVleet scored 34 points apiece and Kyle Lowry added 22. Siakam wasn’t around for the extra session as he fouled out late in regulation, but in addition to the 34 points (11-of-26 FGs, 10-of-11 FTs) he contributed 18 rebounds, five assists, one blocked shot, two 3-pointers and four turnovers in 38 minutes played. The rebound total was one shy of Siakam’s career-high (January 13 vs. Washington), and he finished with a usage of 35.8%. Last season Siakam had just three games in which he had a usage percentage above 30%; expect that to become a common occurrence for the fourth-year forward this season. 

As for VanVleet, his 44 minutes were second-most on the team (Lowry: 45), and he shot 12-of-18 from the field and 5-of-6 from the foul line. The fourth-year guard also tallied seven assists, five rebounds, two steals, five 3-pointers (on seven attempts) and two turnovers. The point total was a career-best for VanVleet, who scored 11 of his 34 in the third quarter. However, late in that quarter he had to leave after appearing to injure his right ankle. After a little time in the locker room VanVleet was able to return with eight remaining in the fourth, appearing to be a bit hobbled but still making big plays late. 

In addition to his 22 points, with 11 coming from the foul line as he was just 4-of-15 from the field, Lowry contributed six assists, five rebounds, two steals, three 3-pointers and four turnovers. Eleven of his 15 field goal attempts were three-pointers, a figure he reached just three times in 2018-19. Four of Toronto’s five starters finished in double figures, with OG Anunoby putting up a line of 11 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, one three-pointer and one turnover, and Serge Ibaka adding 13 points, five rebounds, one steal and three turnovers in 26 minutes off the bench. 

What made this game so interesting from the Raptors angle was the rotation Nurse used. He went with the guys he trusted, especially on the defensive end, which resulted in just eight players seeing time. Marc Gasol (six points, four rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer) played 32 minutes, with Norman Powell (five points, eight rebounds, two assists, one three-pointer and two turnovers) and Terence Davis (five points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one three-pointer) playing 29 and 15 minutes, respectively. It’s tough to envision a team getting through an entire season with an eight-man rotation, so Toronto’s going to need a couple of the guys who received the dreaded DNP-CD to step forward. 

New Orleans, playing without the injured Zion Williamson, went 12 players deep Tuesday night with just two (Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram) playing more than 30 minutes. Holiday, who looked really good during the preseason, struggled offensively as he shot 6-of-15 from the field (1-of-6 3-pointers) and finished with 13 points, six assists, four rebounds, two blocked shots and five turnovers. And despite playing a team-high 41 minutes, the veteran guard finished with a usage of just 20.8%. Last season Holiday, who finished the year with a usage of 25.4%, had just seven games in which he posted a number below 21%. 

Ingram had a good night in his official Pelicans debut, as he scored a team-high 22 points (8-of-19 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs) with five rebounds, five assists, two blocks, one steal, two 3-pointers and two turnovers in 35 minutes. According to Positive Residual, four of Ingram’s five assists were on Pelicans three-pointers. The fourth-year forward had a usage percentage of 26.6%, more than three percentage points higher than his number for the 2018-19 season as a member of the Lakers (23.2%). How the return of Williamson will affect Ingram’s usage remains to be seen, but that’s a question for six-to-eight weeks from now. 

JJ Redick shot 4-of-6 from three, scoring 16 points, with two rebounds, one assist and three turnovers in 27 minutes, while Lonzo Ball (eight points, five rebounds, five assists, two 3-pointers and one turnover) and Derrick Favors (six points, seven rebounds, two assists, one block and one turnover) played 25 and 21 minutes, respectively. Interestingly enough those three sat for much of the fourth quarter, with Jahlil Okafor (eight points, two rebounds and one block), Frank Jackson (nine points, one assist and one three-pointer) and Josh Hart (15 points, ten rebounds, one assist, one block and three 3-pointers) joining Holiday and Ingram on the floor. 

Rookie forward Nicolo Melli, who shot 4-of-5 from three and finished with 14 points, five rebounds, two assists and two turnovers in 20 minutes, also saw playing time during the fourth quarter. Redick would check back in late in the fourth, with Ball and Favors returning during overtime. Following the game Alvin Gentry said that the rotation, especially in crunch time, is still a work in progress. 

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, playing in front of a host of friends and family as he grew up in the Toronto area, put up ten shots in his 12 minutes. The rookie guard made just one, finishing with three points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one three-pointer. The positive: Alexander-Walker had a 37.4% usage percentage, and while that number will likely decrease in future games he’ll have his opportunities. 

Clippers 112, Lakers 102

Los Angeles was the location of the nightcap, and this game had a 2018-19 Raptors influence as well. Of course there was the official home debut for Kawhi Leonard, but on the other side was guard Danny Green. And both played well, with the NBA Finals MVP scoring a game-high 30 points (10-of-19 FGs, 9-of-10 FTs) with six rebounds, five assists, two steals, one block and one three-pointer in 32 minutes. 

If there was a negative for Leonard, who made seven straight shots after missing his first two attempts of the night, it was the turnover count as he racked up six. Last season Leonard had four games in which he turned the ball over five times or more, and for his career he began this season averaging just 1.5 turnovers per game, so it would be safe to assume that this won’t become a common occurrence. As for Green, while he didn’t get the win or outscore his former teammate he did manage to make Lakers franchise history. 

In 32 minutes Green shot 10-of-14 from the field, scoring 28 points to go along with seven rebounds, seven 3-pointers (on nine attempts), two steals and one blocked shot. The 28 points are the most that a Laker has scored in his regular season debut in franchise history, one point more than the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Of Green’s seven triples four were assisted by LeBron James, and for those in need of three-pointers the 11th-year guard would not be a bad pickup if he happens to be available. 

Going back to James, in 36 minutes he accounted for 18 points (7-of-19 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs), nine rebounds, eight assists, one steal, one blocked shot, one three-pointer and five turnovers. Anthony Davis, making his regular season debut for the Lakers, scored 26 points (8-of-21 FGs, 9-of-14 FTs) with ten rebounds, five assists, two blocks, one assist and three turnovers. Tuesday’s opener was a tale of two halves for James and Davis. After scoring a combined 35 points in the first 24 minutes, they were limited to 11 in the second half (and two in the fourth quarter). 

Something Frank Vogel will likely need to address at some point is the impact that using Davis at the power forward spot has on the team’s offensive spacing. JaVale McGee (four points, two rebounds and two blocks) and Dwight Howard (three points, six rebounds, one assist and one block) played a total of 36 minutes on the night, which allowEd Davis to play the majority of his minutes at the four rather than the five. But an argument can be made that Davis at the center position would improve the team’s spacing, especially when Kyle Kuzma (out due to a stress reaction in his left foot) returns to action.

The Lakers were down two rotation players Tuesday night, as Rajon Rondo was out due to calf soreness. And they didn’t get much production from players outside of the James/Davis/Green trio. Avery Bradley posted a line of eight points, three rebounds, two 3-pointers and two turnovers, with Jared Dudley (2-of-2 3-pointers) and Troy Daniels (2-of-6 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs, one assist and one three-pointer) adding six points apiece. Quinn Cook tallied four points on 2-of-7 shooting, two assists and one rebound, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went scoreless with three rebounds and three assists. 

The difference Tuesday night was the Clippers bench, as all four reserves that Doc Rivers played scored in double figures. Interestingly enough Rivers went with Patrick Patterson as his starting power forward alongside center Ivica Zubac. Those two combined to score 12 points (eight by Zubac) in 27 total minutes, with the triumvirate of JaMychal Green, Montrezl Harrell and Maurice Harkless playing a total of 66 minutes. 

Harrell scored 17 points (7-of-11 FGs, 3-of-8 FTs) with seven rebounds, four assists, one steal and one blocked shot in 38 minutes, with Green (19 minutes) adding 12 points and six rebounds and Harkless (29 minutes) tallying ten points, four rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots. Add in Lou Williams’ 21-point, seven-assist, five-rebound, one-steal effort, and the Clippers four reserves combined to score 60 of the team’s 112 points. The recipe was the same as the one that Rivers used to lead his team to 48 wins last season, and that stands to remain the case even when Paul George is able to take the floor. 

Patrick Beverley didn’t shoot the ball well, making just one of his seven field goal attempts, but he did contribute ten rebounds, six assists and one blocked shot in 31 minutes. Landry Shamet shot 2-of-4 from three, scoring eight points with three rebounds and two assists. 

Wednesday’s Schedule (all times Eastern)  

Chicago at Charlotte, 7 PM 

Detroit at Indiana, 7 PM 

Cleveland at Orlando, 7 PM 

Boston at Philadelphia, 7:30 PM 

Memphis at Miami, 7:30 PM 

Minnesota at Brooklyn, 7:30 PM 

Washington at Dallas, 8:30 PM 

New York at San Antonio, 8:30 PM 

Oklahoma City at Utah, 9 PM 

Denver at Portland, 10 PM 

Sacramento at Phoenix, 10 PM