TORONTO — Fred VanVleet stepped up again when needed for the Toronto Raptors.
With the game tied at 93-93 and the stubborn New Orleans Pelicans refusing to go away, VanVleet scored the Raptors' next nine points — all three pointers, with Pascal Siakam assisting on two of them — en route to a 105-101 victory Sunday that extended the Raptors' win streak to six games.
"We got ourselves in a situation where we needed him to make some big plays," said Toronto coach Nick Nurse. "And obviously he made about three really huge ones in a row. Big shots man, big shots. Just a great will, will to win."
VanVleet, who finished with 32 points, has averaged 31.2 points and 6.7 assists during the six-game win streak
"Man, he took Kyle Lowry's spot now," former Raptor Jonas Valanciunas, who finished with 20 points for the Pelicans, said of VanVleet. "He's a captain, a court captain.
"I think he's playing at an all-star level. He's proved that he can be a leader on the court and off the court."
Siakam added 29 points for Toronto. He has averaged 23.7 points during the run of wins.
Leading by one at the half, the Raptors built that advantage to 10 at 79-69 in the third quarter. But New Orleans, as it had all game, answered with an 8-0 run — coupled with some aggressive defence — to trail 79-77 going into the fourth.
Siakam led Toronto with 13 points in the third with his seven straight points keeping the Raptors offence ticking to open the fourth. An 8-0 Toronto run also helped put some distance on the scoreboard.
A 7-0 New Orleans run cut the lead to 91-89. And Valanciunas, from under the basket, tied it at 93-93 with 3:50 remaining and the Pelicans outscoring Toronto 11-2.
VanVleet's three-pointer nudged Toronto ahead but the Pelicans answered with three-pointers from Devonte' Graham and Herbert Jones for a 99-96 lead.
VanVleet answered with a long-range moonshot of his own and then knocked down another to make it 102-99 with 1:31 remaining.
After a Brandon Ingram bucket, a Chris Boucher tip-in made it 104-101. Khem Birch got a big rebound, going to the line in the process for a 105-101 lead.
Toronto (20-17) had rallied for a 122-108 comeback win over the undermanned Utah Jazz on Friday, led by VanVleet's first career triple-double (37 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds). That followed consecutive victories over Milwaukee, San Antonio, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers, with the five straights wins tying a season high.
Toronto has won 10 of its last 12 games at home.
The Pelicans (14-26) were coming off a 101-96 home win over a depleted Golden State on Thursday but had lost four of five before that.
Siakam finished with 10 rebounds and seven assists. VanVleet made 8-of-17 three-point shots.
"Obviously it definitely reminds us of old times … It feels good. It's fun," Siakam said of the team's recent success. "When we're all rolling and playing well, it's fun."
Ingram led the Pelicans with 22 points. Five Pelicans finished in double figures.
"I'm extremely excited and proud at what our group is doing right now," said New Orleans coach Willie Green. "I said that in the locker-room. We put ourselves in a position to win the game and that's what you want. You want opportunities night in and night out.
"Unfortunately we didn't come up with the win but we fought, we battled, we played together, we stayed together, we played a game with joy. Our goal is to continue to improve and over the last 20 games, we're at .500 (10-10). We want to be better but that would be a playoff team. We've just got to keep our foot on the gas. A lot of basketball left."
With Toronto's Birch on the bench in foul trouble, Valanciunas completed a double-double midway through the third quarter.
VanVleet continued where he left off Friday, scoring seven of the Raptors' first 14 points and assisting on two more. Toronto built an early nine-point lead, only to see New Orleans pull ahead 24-22 on an 11-0 run thanks to a boost from the Pelican bench.
VanVleet finished with 13 points in the quarter with Toronto leading 27-26.
A 11-2 run to open the second quarter, helped by some stiff defence, gave the Raptors a 10-point lead. New Orleans answered with an 14-0 run to pull ahead 46-43 with Toronto missing six straight shots.
An OG Anunoby putback dunk gave the Raptors a 49-48 lead at the end of a first half that saw six lead changes. Ten Pelican turnovers helped the Toronto cause.
Toronto was without the injured Gary Trent Jr., a late scratch due to left ankle swelling, and Yuta Watanabe (health and safety protocols). Birch, a six-foot-nine Canadian, replaced Trent in the starting lineup.
New Orleans was missing starting guard Josh Hart, who did not make the trip north of the border because of a contact-tracing issue, according to the Times-Picayune. Star forward Zion Williamson has yet to play this season because of a foot fracture.
Tomas Satoransky was out due to health and safety protocols while Kira Lewis Jr. (knee) is injured. Didi Louzada is serving a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA/NBPA's anti-drug program
The six-foot-11 Valanciunas, who last played in Toronto on Dec. 9, 2018. spent six-plus seasons with the Raptors and stands second on the team’s all-time rebounding list (3,961) and seventh in scoring (5,524).
It was also a return home for New Orleans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a Toronto native. He finished with 11 points.
Prior to the game, the Pelicans waived Jared Harper and announced the signing of forward Gary Clark to a two-way contract.
Toronto wraps up its three-game homestand against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. The Pelicans host Minnesota on Tuesday.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press