So said fshabazz in the comments, and so it was.
New Orleans played its best game of the season before absolutely running out of gas in the fourth quarter, Memphis buried just a bit too deep to deliver the Pelicans a heartbreaking loss. If we were surefire Western contenders (the way Memphis ostensibly is?), I'd be more upset, but tonight I'm just going to focus on the fact the Pelicans stepped in so many ways they haven't thus far. And I'll even go ahead and silver-line the one negative in a double digit win against a surefire Western playoff team -- Memphis' comeback owed in majority to New Orleans stepping off the gas. It really didn't feel like a bad team at last showing its true colors as much as a young team unaccustomed to blowing out (admittedly Z-Bo less) contenders.
We've talked for a good week now about the shortcomings of New Orleans' "new" defense; tonight offered a glimpse of a blueprint that could solve some of those issues down the road: giant, gleaming heaps of turnovers. Memphis gave the ball away on 18 of 89 turnovers for a very, very poor 20% turnover rate (league average 12.5%). Some of that was simply terrible decision making by their ballhandlers, but the Pelicans' activity in the passing lanes was fantastic. Anthony Davis was, of course, the lynchpin here, shutting down passes in every direction, and in Eric Gordon, he had a devastating partner to finish the fast breaks he initiated.
Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Al-Farouq Aminu, and even Anthony Morrow got into the ball deflection act as the Pelicans suffocated the league's masters of ball pressure. Playing the passing lanes offers one of few avenues out of the certain doom that faces teams that overpressure the pick and roll because an unexpected deflection essentially renders moot a defender not making a rotation quickly enough or a big leaving the paint entirely exposed. As Memphis or Miami will tell you, it requires undying levels of energy, but for one night (or three quarters of one night) at least, New Orleans was up to the task.
- It's easy to forget that, healthy, Eric Gordon is and should be the team's go-to user of possessions. Even on an inefficient shooting night such as this (6 for 14), he's far too skilled at getting to the free throw line (6 for 6) for it to be too huge an issue. Gordon's relentless attacks of the rim in the halfcourt are so important, and he's established himself early as the team's best transition option.
- Anthony Davis is just insanely good at this sport -- that used to mean dunking basketballs, laying up basketballs, and even floating basketballs, but at this point, it's very clearly expanded out to shooting basketballs, dribbling basketballs, blocking basketballs, stealing basketballs... if it's a transitive verb, and it involves a basketball, you can rest assured it's something Anthony Davis excels at.
- Tyreke Evans victimized a Memphis second unit that was entirely powerless to guard him, too small (Jerryd Bayless) or slow (Mike Miller) to stop him getting to the rim at will. Evans took only three of his 12 shots outside of 13 feet (and only 4 outside of... 2 feet), a welcome change from all the settling he did in the season's opening week.
- Another game, another 79% defensive rebounding effort (New Orleans came into the evening at 79.2%, good for third in the league). As terrible as the defense had been, it's quite easy to forget what a huge component of defense rebounding is. Between the boardwork of Davis, Aminu, Stiemsma (don't laugh!) and Tyreke Evans (16% rate at the guard), the Pelicans just haven't let opponents get two looks on too many possessions.
- A note on the pace -- 89 possessions (where the pace was tonight) doesn't sound that fast, but a Memphis-New Orleans game a season ago would have likely finished in the very low 80s. The Pelicans had been averaging close to 5 more possessions per game coming in, and again, we saw the transition flashes and quicker half-court setups tonight that have been key drivers of that stat.
- Greg Stiemsma was noticeably active today, and even if his defensive success was of the more lucky than good variety, Greg Stiemsma and defensive success haven't been typed in the same sentence very often since his arrival in New Orleans. And, hey! They were just typed twice in the same sentence.
- Even in a double digit blowout win, Anthony Morrow needs to, needs to be taking more than two threes per game. Monty Williams' aversion to the three is bizarre and especially exacerbated with the loss of Greivis Vasquez, which is unfortunate.
- With Charlotte, Indiana, and Orlando (against the Clippers!) winning tonight and Phoenix losing on the road to San Antonio by just 3, New Orleans' first five opponents are now 15-9 on the year. That means nothing at all, but hey, weird things happen over the first couple weeks or, for that matter, over any random stretch of games during a season. We don't know yet know who the Pelicans are, nor will we for at least a little while longer.