In the game preview, I had feared a defensive grind, if the Pelicans failed to execute on offense. Sure enough, for nearly 3/4's of the game, the Pelicans found themselves in a struggle with a depleted Magic team (no Victor Oladipo and Channing Frye). With 1:10 remaining in the third quarter, the Pelicans had only to that point managed to convert 3 jump shots in the entire game!
But, then it was as though a switch was flipped. New Orleans proceeded to close out the frame with an Anthony Davis jumper and 3 straight Ryan Anderson three point bombs, a la NBA Jam. No seriously.
In the fourth quarter, the Pelicans never looked back and finished the game strong. We were even privileged to a few minutes by the presence of Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik all gracing the floor all at the same time. It was fitting because the story of the game was their impact.
- Anthony Davis. Anthony Davis. ANTHONY DAVIS! He nearly had himself a triple double. 26 points, 17 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and 9 blocks. He was in video game mode. He, like many of his teammates, seemed to gamble a little more defensively. That's the beauty of Asik. So, after one regular season game, it's not irrational to say Davis should be considered an MVP candidate.
- Omer Asik got off to a fast start in his first ever game for the franchise. While the Pelicans struggled in the 1st quarter, he tallied 8 points and 6 rebounds. Well before halftime, he already had a double-double. For the game: 14 points, 17 rebounds and 5 blocks. He looked good in the post, his catching ability, for all the knocks over the years, was fine and he proved to be an adequate decision maker with the ball on the elbows within the set offense. However, his defensive presence in the paint was the star as it came as advertised. Last season, when a Pelican had lost their man, who was likely headed freely to the paint area, that player would either score or go to the foul line. Tonight, we witnessed visible improvement as the kitchen was closed. David Fisher, Rohan and I all picked Asik as the Pelican's likely second best player and this game was a notch in that belt.
- Ryan Anderson tied Anthony Davis for the most shot attempts with 22. In Winning Moves Part III, I had mentioned that both of them were among the league leaders in points per half court touch. The only problem was that they didn't get enough touches. Game 1 of the regular season had no such qualms. Anderson's 3 three's in the waning moments of the third quarter decided the game -- they completely took the air out of the opponent. More importantly, the crowd was electric. After his arduous rehabilitation, Anderson couldn't have had a better comeback game. Oh, and to reference his abilities and confidence in returning from spinal surgery, we got our answer with his 7 offensive rebounds. He showed absolutely no fear going down low and banging bodies.
- Tyreke Evans was the best guard among the starting triumvirate: 12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. His shooting efficiency wasn't good but he didn't have a single turnover. Out of the 9 boards, 7 were of the defensive variety. That's good. It will be necessary that whoever plays the shooting forward position be able to help the bigs on the glass. If we were to pick on one part of his game, Evans did manage to lose his man on too many occasions. As an on-the-ball defender, he's fine, but off of it, he still needs a good deal of work.
- Coming into the game, Jrue Holiday claimed he is operating at about 80%. Not counting the gorgeous block on Elfrid Payton's first ever shot attempt, this did indeed look to be the case in the first half. Holiday was noticeably more active coming out of halfttime, but shortly thereafter, he had to leave the game.
Pelicans PG Jrue Holiday has an abrasion over his right eye and needed stitches. He is probable to return.— nakia hogan (@nakiahogan) October 29, 2014
By the time Holiday returned, the game was well in hand. Holiday's line was mediocre but as a whole, his defense was solid and he did attempt 3 shots from beyond the arc.
- Coming into tonight, Eric Gordon was considered a good fantasy play for opening day games.
Not counting his rookie year, Eric Gordon LOVES opening day. In 4 games, he's averaged 22 PTS (on 50FG%), 2.5 REB, 2.5 AST, 1.8 STL, 1.0 BLK— Oleh Kosel (@Redhopeful) October 28, 2014
He only ended up with 8 points and 4 rebounds, but as evidenced by his 2 blocks and steals, his athleticism was a tick above all of last season. On a particular drive, I saw a little bit of that old burst. Based on just one game, it appears Gordon may be the player who relinquishes usage so that Davis, Anderson and Evans get theres. If so, we should all be on board.
- The first substitution of the game, outside of the core 6, was John Salmons. At this time, it's unclear as to why he came in before Luke Babbitt, who on paper had the better preseason. Maybe Monty didn't trust the younger player. Maybe it was matchup related. Either way, Salmons looked horrible and that can't happen again. Otherwise, expect more of this:
Salmons is the new Stiemsma.— David Fisher (@usnfish) October 29, 2014
- Austin Rivers and Jimmer Fredette both entered the game at the same time in the first quarter and left a short while later together. It may indicate Monty likes what he's seen of them when they've been together on the floor. Tonight, Jimmer's shot was off and Rivers still proved miserable at the foul line, but they did some good things. They competed well. Rivers showed off his midrange game by making a shot and he was responsible for 2 of Anderson's 3 straight daggers. Going forward, expect Monty to continue employing them as a unit.
- In the first half, the Pelicans had converted only 1-7 from beyond the arc and 3-14 from the line. 40 of their 48 points were scored in the paint. They held a lead at halftime due to their magnificent rebounding display in the 2nd quarter (23 v. 12) and a low 1st half turnover rate (3 v. 10).
- For the game, the Pelicans had a 52.5 TRB% but a poor 69.2 DREB%. At least the Pelicans grabbed 26 offensive rebounds versus the Magic's 16.
- Last season, the Pelicans averaged 22.6 personal fouls. Tonight, they only committed 17. That average would have easily led the league a season ago.
- The Pelicans were horrible from the foul line, converting only 15-31 (48.4%). Their 42.6 eFG% was sad as well.
- However, their defense was staunch. They only allowed 11 three point attempts and 21 free throws. The Magic posted an even more dismal eFG of 40.5%.
Game 1 is in the books and a perfect season remains intact. Anthony Davis was as stellar as any optimist could have hoped, but the PF/C rotation deserves the game ball. It will be interesting to see whether Monty continues to go with a smaller than usual rotation. Even though Ryan Anderson only played 22 minutes, will he be able to play all 82 games?
The Pelicans will have three days off before they welcome the Mavericks on Saturday. Dallas lost by the smallest of margins tonight against the San Antonio Spurs. However, before our matchup, Dallas will play the Utah Jazz on Thursday. Here's to an overtime. Or two. Geaux Pellies!