Tonight, fans were treated to the team's best win of the season, a superb collective effort. The Miami Heat failed to win a single quarter. The Pelicans beat the defending champions on the glass, in the paint, on fast breaks and the ever important turnover category. And they even held their own from beyond the arc and at the free throw line.
The game started inauspiciously enough. Eric Gordon was ruled out with left knee tendinitis. After the opening tip, the Heat raced out to a 10-2 advantage. Then, something clicked, and it didn't stop until the final buzzer. After an early timeout, the Pelicans went on a 15-3 run of their own. They ended up tied after the first quarter at 22 a piece, largely on 7 opponent turnovers and 10 fast break points.
In the second quarter, New Orleans managed to build a lead of 8 points. They scored 6 straight field goals at the rim and Davis chipped in 2 free throws. It's no wonder why the Heat pursued Greg Oden so adamantly this past off season. Fortunately for them, Michael Beasley came up big in the quarter and his 12 points helped the Heat close the deficit to just two at halftime.
Fans have been down this road before. They've witnessed some excellent 1st halves, regardless of the competition, to only see leads collapse after intermission. Well, not tonight. The team decidedly changed the frequently used script.
The Pelicans extended their lead in the first 5 minutes of the third quarter to 7. At the center of it, Luke Babbitt, the surprise starter. In the span of seconds, he made a beautiful pass to Aminu for a dunk and then drilled a three to force Coach Spoelstra to call a timeout. For the rest of the frame, the Heat never managed to get closer than 3 and the Pelicans carried a precarious 4-point lead into the final period.
But fear not, remember, we've already mentioned these weren't your typical post-January injury Pelicans. This evening, much of the fourth quarter was an absolute thing of beauty. When Merriam-Webster updates to their latest version, don't be surprised if the editors finagle a snapshot of the Pelicans play-by-play under the definition of the word. After an initial missed jumper by Anthony Morrow, the Pelicans went on to score on 8 of their next 10 field goal attempts. The highlights were many, but what stood out was an Anthony Davis And-1, banked-in jumper from the top of the key and a Tyreke Evans fadeaway mid-range shot. Once it was over, the Pelicans found themselves up 100-84 with 3:54 remaining. The energy of the crowd was just amazing.
Due to the previous 68 games, plenty of doubters still remained on Twitter, but how could anyone fault them? Scarred memories run deep. And in the next minute and a half, the Heat quickly added 8 points to their total. Meanwhile Davis was the only Pelican to counter, just two points in the next 3 minutes. Fortunately, the Heat were off their game. No Dwayne Wade and a lackluster March performance contributed to make the ending not as interesting as many had assumed.
- Anthony Davis really should just change his name to suuuuuperstarrrr. His recent dominance has been jaw-dropping and this night wasn't any different: 30 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 important block on Chris Bosh, that he won't soon forget. That's 8 straight games of 28+ points folks. Also, it must be mentioned, that in the first quarter it was a sight to see AD, tonight's starting center, out there directing his teammates on defense.
- Hats off to Monty Williams. First, he started Babbitt and the floor balance against Miami's small ball team was evident. Second, his substitutions were spot-on. For instance, after a lackluster team performance during Greg Stiemsma's appearance, Monty gave those minutes in the 2nd half to Alexis Ajinca and he delivered 3 dunks into the final quarter. Shortly after the game had started, Michael McNamara of Bourbon Street Shots was trying to convince me Monty might still be the best option at the helm with his recent experimentation to the lineup -- he might be showing evidence of learning. I'm still not entirely convinced (as I fear Monty might revert to his traditional schemes with a fully healthy roster) but this game surely has to get the attention of even the most stringent naysayers. There may be hope left?
- A big reason for success of the entire team was the ball movement. It was fantastic. When the teammates don't have to be subjected to watching guards penetrate into traffic on one too many consecutive possessions or witness Brian Roberts dribble out 16-20 seconds of the shot clock, a collective effort is allowed to take place. Besides Davis' 30, four other Pelicans scored in double figures and a host of others just missed. Aminu, who had the unenviable task of guarding LeBron James (and did a great job), had a super efficient night. Morrow showed signs of emerging out of his nearly 2 week long slump. Evans was Evans but didn't have to be a 20+ scorer.
- And last, but certainly not least, Luke Babbitt made a significant impact for a second straight game. He made 3 of 8 from three and forced the Heat to be cognizant of his whereabouts. And when he wasn't mimicking Ryan Anderson, he was able to break down the defense with ballfakes and crisp passes. As I remarked in his initial stint with the team, he has the ability to provide exactly what this team needs: a deep ball threat who also makes quick decisions. He really was as big of a proponent of tonight's ball movement as anyone else.
- To nitpick, the Pelicans still have some important issues they need to overcome. Right before the end of the third quarter, the Pelicans allowed Ray Allen to catch a 3/4 of the court length pass and beat the buzzer for a basket. The Heat got off a fantastic look with 3 seconds on the clock despite having to advance the ball that length of distance. Then, with 1:12 remaining in the game, the Pelicans got called for 5 second penalty on a sideline inbound play. It's just got to stop.
The Pelicans biggest win of the season is now their 6th win in their last 9 games. So while Bill Simmons and others continue to lament our past off-season moves, relish watching Davis' star continue to shine brighter and brighter. With his presence on the floor and inevitable improvement, the New Orleans organization was likely never going to land an enviable 2014 first round draft pick. Yep, we're already blessed.