There was a very good chance the Pelicans should have picked up the win. Twice tonight, the starters found themselves down by a considerable margin. Both times, the bench battled back to make it a close game. Yet in the final minutes of the game, Monty Williams elected to put in the biggest offenders in for our two leading scorers: Greg Stiemsma and, to a lesser extent, Tyreke Evans.
In the preview, I had remarked how important balance is for many coaches like Rick Carlisle. Seventy-eight games into the season, in his fourth season, Monty still scoffs at the simple idea. No doubt the Pelicans have been reduced to a makeshift squad, with so many starters having missed games. Anthony Davis joined the list tonight as he was wisely kept on the bench after not looking like himself for over the last two weeks now. However, as this match-up would prove, the Pelicans are not completely devoid of options to where Monty needs to play the poorest of lineups or finish games with inadequate choices.
Pointing out our head coach's mistakes has become so trite this season. The Bird Writes has mentioned it dozens of times in recaps and articles. I apologize. But with each new offense, it would be wrong to start ignoring it. That would be acceptance of our fate and worse, our future.
With Davis out, the much publicized Unholy Trio drew the start. Never mind that in their previous 156 minutes on the floor, Aminu-Evans-Stiemsma have a -33.4 Net Rating. An 83.8 offensive rating -- a number well worse than Austin Rivers rookie season. And a 117.2 defensive rating -- infinitely worse than what Greivis Vasquez managed defensively in his final year in New Orleans. Thus, after the first quarter, it shouldn't have been shocking the team was down 9 points, 23-14. That we had shot a miserable 5-24 from the floor.
What was surprising though, was how the Pelicans stormed back in the second quarter. An 8-0 run to start the frame quickly shifted the momentum of the game. New Orleans would go on to make 14 of their 18 shots from the field. The 25 points by the reserves helped offset a -12 fast break points disadvantage in the first half.
Perhaps the two different tales of the first 24 minutes should have resulted in a change to the lineup in the second half?
Nope, more Unholy Trio. Before Jeff Withey checked in with 5:43 remaining in the quarter, the ghastly starting unit combined for 6 points on 3 of 11 from the floor. Just disturbing.
However, for the second time in the game, the reserves managed to recover from another offensive disaster and take a 2 point lead after an Anthony Morrow bomb with 5:37 left in the fourth. Monty had several players awaiting to check into the game, but due to the run that propelled the team into the lead, he smartly pulled them back from the table. But before anyone can say the word, progress, Monty went ahead and brought Evans and Stiemsma back into the game just moments later. When Stiemsma entered with 4:20 remaining, the Pelicans were sitting on 82 points. For the rest of the game, they would only add 6 more.
- Jeff Withey gets the game ball -- he set a career high with 17 points. He also chipped in 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block in close to 24 minutes of playing time. Although those numbers don't jump off the page, it was clear as day what his presence meant. With the rookie on the floor, the offense operated more smoothly and more shots were contested on the other end. It's absolutely criminal he didn't finish the game.
- Darius Miller drew the start and posted 14 points and 2 rebounds/assists/steals. At the very least, he saw over 31 minutes of action.
- Al-Farouq Aminu drew the start in place of Davis, but if Stiemsma AND Evans are on the floor, he shouldn't be. Why can't Monty realize it's ridiculous to put two offensive liabilities at the 4 and 5 and thus have Evans face three defenders in the paint on all drives?
- Luke Babbitt had his best game since last month with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 three's. Any bets on whether this will be his last blurb despite 4 games remaining on the season?
- Austin Rivers shot was off and he jumped into traffic one too many times, but he played a much better game than Brian Roberts. 10 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds.
- Anthony Morrow had another efficient night from the floor, 14 points on 8 shots. Been harping for awhile that his recent hot streak might ensure his ticket out of town, yet it might be possible other teams may not be as interested as we all think they should. He is posting numbers on a talent-deprived team (due to injury). At his age, there is no upside. And in his previous NBA stops, he's either underwhelmed or never even gotten off the bench.
Welp, it was another game where the recap decided to make Monty the focal point. The players made plenty of mistakes that ultimately aided in the loss (how about Tyreke's three attempt with 19 seconds remaining when the Pelicans were down 3), but it's more demoralizing having a coach continually mismanage the rotations. That it makes sense to give Greg Stiemsma the majority of playing time at center but keep Alexis Ajinca glued to the bench because of match-up issues.
"We tried to make the plays. We had costly turnovers where we had control of the ball, we’re in transition, Austin’s trying to make the right play, which I love, but we could never get that play to give ourselves a buffer. But I have nothing to complain about with our group. We held that team to 94 points. We couldn’t score in the first and third quarter, but we scrapped and played the way that we like to play. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket enough times to win."
One of Monty's post-game quotes. Seriously? How about not killing the flow of the reserves with substitutions in the final part of the game? Or how about probing some statistics and realizing some lineups should never see the light of day?
Sigh. Hats off to the Suns, and I really hope they make the playoffs, but tonight should have probably resulted in a different outcome.