I was about to chuck my television out the window at the 4 minute mark -- I really need to stop doing that -- before the Pellies pulled out one of the unlikelier wins they'll have all season. Down 12 with 4:44 to go, New Orleans rallied behind Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis.
There's two ways we can look at this. Cleveland looks, inexplicably, like a surefire lottery team in the sad, pathetic, no good Eastern conference (somehow Toronto at 6-7 is the current 4 seed). Against said lottery team, New Orleans bumbled about for three and a half quarters, blowing wide open layups, generally looking an absolute mess on weakside help, getting schooled by Dion Waiters, who, after last night's 14 point on 9 shot effort, is at a negative 14 offensive efficiency differential for the year. This point of view is likely the one that caused fans to get up and leave the arena (though some are disputing this altogether), which, in turn, caused Monty Williams to comment on it after the game -- "When you're doing everything you can for this city and playing your heart out and we come back and win, I've told our guys it's going to be about this group. We got to pull through, our staff, Dell, and Micky."
The flip side is that, sure, it was a statistically unlikely outcome, but New Orleans did ramp up its defensive intensity. They maybe don't win if Anthony Davis doesn't blatantly foul Kyrie Irving and get away with, but the stops leading up to that possession were vital. Jrue Holiday did a phenomenal job of staying with Kyrie off the ball throughout the game, while Evans', Gordon's, and Davis' activity levels in the passing lane were huge. Cleveland turned over 19 times on 95 possessions -- a 20% turnover rate -- which in turn fueled New Orleans 23-2 advantage on fast break points.
The Pelicans continue to struggle with many halfcourt sets; you can watch the team's opening three offensive possessions to see some legitimately terrible coaching from Monty Williams. But their willingness to push the pace on offense and to lay out for steals on defense is masking a good deal of flaws right now.
- I spent most of the evening muttering about Tyreke Evans' nonexistent finishing ability at the rim -- seriously, what the hell is going on? -- but obviously the Pellies don't win this game without him off the bench. New Orleans posted a fantastic 83% defensive rebound rate, and Evans 10 boards were a large component of that. His missed layups led to some Davis putbacks as well, and the 4 assist/0 turnover night was very welcome given the giant, gleaming zero Williams got from the back-up point guard position.
- Anthony Davis fell one offensive rebound short of a double digit performance, and the team rebounded a pretty outrageous 38% (!!!) of its own misses. Stripping away the fast break points, the offensive boards, and the low turnover rate reveals just how woeful New Orleans' offense in the half court was. It's really sort of insane how many times Evans and Eric Gordon missed a wide open Davis in the paint tonight; Davis sealed off Thompson and Bynum with such regularity in the first half only to turn around to see Evans pound the ball into the ground while staring intently at his own shoes.
- Lou Amundson's efforts at a 4 trillion were foiled by the personal foul he picked up. The fact that he plays over Jeff Withey is an absolute farce.
- I feel like over the summer some part of my brain forgot just how awful Austin Rivers is. Woops.
- Though he kept up his by now expected give the ball away at halfcourt for a fastbreak layup streak, Holiday had an otherwise steady game. Strong defense, strong playmaking, huge shots down the stretch. Though I understand Cleveland's decision to play Kyrie Irving off the ball, I do think they did it far too frequently tonight. While Holiday was able to fight through screens admirably, Irving largely had him (and every other Pelican defender) on skates with the ball in his hands. Thankfully, Mike Brown kept the ball from him as much as he possibly could.
- This win made me ecstatic in the moment, but a day later and on a re-watch, the flaws are pretty blatant outside of the final five minutes. The potential of the late-game 5 man lineup is obvious, and it's being very well tapped right now. There's still a ton that needs fixing though, and we'll see Monday against San Antonio just how much this team has actually "grown up."