TORONTO — DeMar Derozan says there's no better feeling than having the ball in his hands when the clock is ticking down in a close game.
DeRozan scored 10 of his 33 points in the final two-and-a-half minutes Thursday, lifting the Toronto Raptors to a thrilling 122-118 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
"It's everything," DeRozan said. "As a competitor, you want to be in the situation where you just indulge in the moment, in the crowd on their feet, close game, it starts getting loud . . . It's one of those feelings that you dream about and you try and re-enact when you're a kid, watching all your favourite players. It's always big for me to just be in that moment."
Serge Ibaka added 19 points, Kyle Lowry finished with 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and Jonas Valanciunas grabbed a team-high 13 boards for Toronto (7-4).
Jrue Holiday had 34 points to top the Pelicans (6-6) in their first loss in four games, while DeMarcus Cousins added 20 and Anthony Davis finished with 18.
Two nights after the Raptors' ugly 119-114 win over Chicago, the game was an entertaining affair that saw the lead change hands 22 times.
The Raptors led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter, and then nine in the third, but by the end of the third quarter, the game was all tied up at 92-92.
The Pelicans led by four points in the fourth but the Raptors found another gear, and when DeRozan fell under the basket while driving to the hoop, but still managed to find a wide-open Lowry lurking at the three-point line, Lowry's long bomb gave Toronto a 109-107 lead with 3:20 to play.
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry called it the "biggest play of the game." The Raptors never trailed after that.
"(DeRozan) falls in the lane and in some kind of way gets it to Kyle for a three-point shot," Gentry said. "That's a possession that we should have had, at worst, a jump ball."
Leading by two, and with a noisy and capacity Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800 on its feet, DeRozan scored with 33 seconds left to give the Raptors a four-point cushion. DeRozan's pair of free throws with 15 seconds left would prove the game-clincher.
The Pelicans posed a huge frontcourt challenge in Cousins and Davis, who are top six in the league in both points and rebounding.
"We know (Cousins) is going to score," Valanciunas said. "He's so talented. But our job is to make it really hard for him to score. Make him miss, make him miss a layup, miss a shot. He was 8-for-24 so we're pretty happy."
The Pelicans' balanced attack proved more problematic, with five players scoring in double figures.
"I'm gonna say this, New Orleans is a talented offensive team in a multitude of ways," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "All their bigs can shoot the three, all of them can go inside and draw fouls. Their guards can shoot the three, their big guards can go in and post up."
DeRozan tossed up five three-point attempts in the first quarter, connecting on two of them as part of his 12 points in the frame. The Raptors led by as many as 10 points, but it took a turnaround shot by DeRozan with a second left in the quarter to give Toronto a 34-32 lead.
The lead swapped hands several times in the second, and once again, DeRozan scored with a second on the clock to send the Raptors into the dressing room at halftime with a 66-60 advantage.
The Raptors now head on the road for three straight games, beginning Sunday in Boston. They'll play at Houston and New Orleans and are back home to host the New York Knicks on Nov. 17.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press