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Pelicans Pull Away in 3rd Quarter, Beat Lakers by 7

Depsite falling into an early hole the Pelicans rode strong performances in the 2nd and 3rd quarter to a convincing win over Kobe Bryant and the boys in purple and gold.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

As our own Chris (@J_C_Cucchiara) wrote earlier this week, this was a game the Pelicans needed to win if they wanted to consider themselves legitimate playoff contenders. The Lakers are a downright lousy basketball team and a home loss to a sub-30 win team (which the Lakers will be) early in the year will haunt you in April. But Anthony Davis and the Pelicans took care of business, and thanks to superb 2nd and 3rd quarter performances they held on for a 109-102 victory over Los Angeles.

I say held on because the team's last 3 or 4 minutes were not the best and this game should've been a double-digit win, easily. Davis spoke about this at the end of the game with Jen Hale, and how he and the coaches would not be happy about how they closed. But let's get back to the result from tonight, which, as I said before, was Anthony Davis taking care of business:

This was my favorite play of the game, for a multitude of reasons. First off the finish by AD was absolutely thunderous. And when I say thunderous, I mean I thought a lightning bolt went off in the arena. Second was the patience and then execution of the pass by Tyreke Evans. It was perfectly placed. Finally was Tyreke's reaction, followed by the hand slap with Davis. I mean, if that doesn't give you basketball goosebumps, I don't know what does.

The first quarter started ominously for the Pelicans, as New Orleans blew a lead as big as seven and let LA score the final five points of the quarter to go up 25-23. This was due to some ridiculous shot-making by Kobe Bryant, who continues to dazzle with his offensive skills even after 18+years in the association. Some other noticeable stats and occurences:

  • 16 of the Pelicans' first 17 points (excluding an Eric Gordon free throw) came in the paint. This is a trend that would continue throughout the game. Luke Babbitt (yes, THE Luke Babbitt!) was the first sub to check into the game. He came in at the 5:25 mark of the period for Evans. This was an interesting development, and was foreshadowing to Babbitt getting almost 17 minutes of run for the game. He hit a quick release three-ball in the 4th in his second of his two shot attempts. His first was a pull up jumper after pump faking on a 3-pointer late in the 1st. It was swiftly blocked away by Wesley Johnson. The only other thing of note by Babbitt was that he was the one who got torched by Kobe in his late 1st quarter scoring spree. We all feel for you Luke.
  • In another trend that continued through the game, the Pelicans continue to have team breakdowns on defense too often. Tonight it was the putrid Lakers who were in town, but on nights when the league's cream of the crop are in their house, the team cannot continue to afford undisciplined play on D. We could be talking about a different result if this was Portland (see game in Denver tonight) or Golden State.
  • Anthony Davis is just a beast defensively. We are truly lucky to watch his shot blocking ability on a nightly basis. He showed it on Jordan Hill (in the low post) and Ed Davis (on a nice spin to the basket by Davis that AD flicked away with ease) in the 1st quarter. Then Davis embarrassed veteran Carlos Boozer in the 2nd after a pump-fake and up and under by the former Bull. Here it is slowed down for your viewing pleasure:
  • Carlos never learns does he?

    The Lakers got some timely offensive rebounds in the 2nd to continue possessions, but the Pels corrected that in the end by out-rebounding LA 44-38 overall. I had my Tyreke Layup Counter out early when he missed a couple gimmes in the first half, and he and Anderson struggled to score with the 2nd unit  in their first run. Austin Rivers also couldn't finish on his drives, but played the best defense of everybody on the team on Kobe. I saw this as another reason to consider moving him next to Holiday in the starting lineup and bumping Gordon to the bench as 6th man (which I enumerated here in our roundtable this week).

    It was also in this period that I realized how much I love our primary big man rotation, aka the Three-Headed Monster of Davis, Asik, and Anderson. Their games are all so different and compliment each other so well on the court that I really hope Demps can somehow hold on to all three of them for seasons to come. Asik's offensive game is limited, but he cleans up misses close to the basket and is fairly efficient at the rim and within 5 feet. Asik and Davis on defense has been a nightmare for opponents and Anderson's offensive game seems to be evolving at the same rate as Davis' (which should scare the crap out of the rest of the league). His array of Dirk-like fall-aways and and D-West-ish turnarounds (to go along with incredible footwork) is torching the league. Thus I agree with the always excellent Joel Meyers and his dubbing of Anderson as "The Flamethrower". Touche sir.

    Tyreke led off the 2nd half with a couple nice dimes to Davis (the alley oop from Mount Olympus above) and Holiday (gotta love those corner threes! One of the team's four for the game). As shown by this lovely graphic we tweeted out after the game, Evans created for every corner three (4) the Pelicans made, and stacked up 11 assists in total on the evening.

    Jrue Holiday had a nice stretch offensively in the 2nd half of the 3rd quarter (part of a much improved Evans-Anderson 2nd unit from the 1st half), scoring 9 points and adding 2 assists. When he gets to 100 percent healthy, I think we can expect a facsimile of Mike Conley in the game of Holiday. Jrue might be slightly worse defensively (while still the best perimeter guy we have) but more diverse offensively.

    Austin Rivers played 20-plus minutes and put up a stat line of 8 points and 4 assists. Loved his defense on Kobe. Loved his aggressiveness on offense. His crossover may be one of the sickest in the league. But the dude still can't finish or knock down open shots consistently enough. Still he is growing with every game and I hope he continues to merit more and more playing time as the season progresses. His Tyreke-esque drive and finish at the eight minute mark of the 4th quarter was a thing of beauty. I hope he gets to opportunity to start sooner rather than later.

    Both Pelicans' broadcasters were on point tonight, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we are lucky to have them calling games for our favorite team. Wesley pointing out how AD blocks shots to teammates and Meyers' comments about loving Rick Carlisle and Davis blossoming into a star in front of our eyes were a few highlights.

    The only other happenings of note were the team's atrocious closing to the game (letting the Lakers score the last 11 points of the contest and having their final two possessions end on turnovers) and the fact that the starters played to the very end, to the disgruntlement of myself and a few of my colleagues here at The Bird Writes. You know who you are.

    Withey, Ajinca, and Babbitt all found their way into the game in the last two minutes. Withey even blocked a shot! However, Salmons and Fredette were no-shows; neither earned a single minute from Monty tonight. I suspect this was an indication from Monty that he didn't want to screw around with this game, even with an 18-point lead (which was semi-validated by the team's final three minutes).

    Eric Gordon played his best game of the season with 7 points and 5 assists (all in the 1st quarter, all of which were very nice basketball plays), but still struggled with his shot going 2-for-8 from the field. The guy can't get any calls (on either end) and has the Tyreke Rivers fever (a very rare layup-missing disease) that is going around the team. But still it was encouraging to seem him play better, if not what you'd call well.

    Anthony Davis' final stat line of 25 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks (which he has done four times in his career while the rest of the league has done it twice) came in 36 spectacular minutes, and his plus/minus of  +15 was second on the team to Evans' +16.

    It's safe to say if not for Kobe Bryant dropping his awe-inducing 33 points that this game would not have been close. As Anthony Davis spoke about after the game, the team can't close out games like that (especially at home) and they will definitely have areas to improve on, especially on defense. But the team took care of business and will try to carry over the momentum onto Ricky Rubio-less Minnesota on Friday. Feel free to leave your thoughts/comments on the game down below, and give me a heads-up on anything else you noticed on the game. Oh, and here's the Evans to Davis alley oop again, just for old times' sake. Cheers!