2 studs and 1 dud from tight Raptors victory against Pelicans

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 09: Khem Birch #24 of the Toronto Raptors grabs a rebound (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 09: Khem Birch #24 of the Toronto Raptors grabs a rebound (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

Fred VanVleet and the Toronto Raptors were as hot as can be in the new year, as they went into a matchup against Brandon Ingram and the New Orleans Pelicans ready to pick up another victory. With Khem Birch starting over the injured Gary Trent Jr. in this game, could Pascal Siakam and the offense go blow for blow with New Orleans?

After three quarters, this game was almost as even as can be. Every Raptors run was matched by several Pelicans jumpers finding the bottom of the, and Toronto nursed a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Would they hold on to this advantage and remain perfect in 2022?

In the end, Toronto was able to come away with a 105-101 victory in this game because they made more clutch shots than New Orleans did. Ingram and Devonte’ Graham put up one heck of a fight, but Toronto’s star power outshined that of the Pelicans and helped them stay unblemished since late December.

It’s hard to find many Raptors players who performed poorly outside of a few bigs that stunk things up. Toronto was buoyed by their heavy hitters on the offensive end playing to their full potential and coming through when Nick Nurse needed a clutch basket.

Final. 101. 69. 105. 81

Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet led the Toronto Raptors.

For most of this contest, it was Siakam who was the best offensive player on the floor. Matched up against old friend Jonas Valanciunas, Siakam was getting to the rim and free throw line with ease in one of his best 2021-22 showings.

Siakam finished the game with 29 points on 8-18 shooting and 10-10 from the charity stripe. With 10 rebounds and seven assists indicative of how he closed up Valanciunas and Herb Jones in this contest, Siakam added yet another 20-10-5 game to his ledger as he makes his own All-Star push.

While VanVleet cooled off after a searing first quarter, he came alive in the fourth quarter in an extremely eye-catching fashion. VanVleet knocked down three consecutive clutch triples with under four minutes left in order to propel Toronto to victory. He finished with 32 points on 8-17 from 3-point range and four assists.

At this point, anyone that doesn’t vote for VanVleet as an All-Star is either a Raptors hater or someone unwilling to change their mind after refusing to do so earlier. With the statistical prowess and clutch shooting needed for inclusion in the All-Star festivities, VanVleet needs to end up in Cleveland.

Khem Birch needs to play better for the Toronto Raptors.

Birch got the start today over Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher as the Raptors leaned on an ultra-big, four-forward lineup. While Boucher was able to make some defensive plays and Achiuwa put together a solid night on both ends thanks to his rebounding, Birch was underwhelming in his limited action.

Birch just six points and four rebounds in 21 minutes of action, even getting put on the bench in favor of Boucher and Achiuwa in the fourth quarter. Considering the investment Toronto made in him during the offseason, this wasn’t an ideal performance against a subpar New Orleans team.

Birch hasn’t been as assertive or dominant in the post since returning from a knee injury that cost him a large chunk of the first half of the season. On a team lacking elite size and girth in the post, they need a veteran like Birch to step up and provide consistency, especially in games against teams with elite centers.

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