Anthony Davis set a career high for points, dropping 43 while shooting a hyper-efficient 16-23 from the floor. It's tough to overstate how dominant Davis was offensively - he was death in the pick and roll, able to face up and blow by defenders, and knocked down tons of mid-range jumpers.
Perhaps most intriguingly, Davis got a lot of his points while leaking out in transition. The Pelican defense forced a ton of turnovers (11 team steals), and Davis was quick to run in transition on these plays. Prior to this game, the Pelicans guards would look Davis off as he was streaking down the court, but they started passing to him against the Jazz. He made several of these easy transition layups and dunks throughout the game (and two or three in a row in the fourth quarter).
The game started off tight, with neither team getting a big advantage until the second quarter. Monty went deep into his bench with Asik out for the third straight game, and the bench really responded in the first half. The Pelicans built a 17-point halftime lead thanks to some really stellar play from Jeff Withey and some pretty serviceable play from Luke Babbitt and Russ Smith (Russdiculous!). Hopefully this will give Monty the confidence to give some of the young reserves more minutes.
The run in the second quarter started right after a freak injury to Eric Gordon (of course). He was on defense and appeared to catch his shoulder on a Utah screener. As soon as the contact happened, he crumpled to the court by the sideline, clutching his left shoulder. John Reid has the details:
Pelicans confirmed - Eric Gordon has separated left shoulder - will not return tonight.— John Reid (@JohnReid64) November 23, 2014
Here's a nice writeup on separated shoulders - it looks like for the most common types of shoulder separations (grades I and II), a couple of weeks in a sling with some ice and anti-inflammatory medications should be enough for it to heal. If it was worse, (grades III and above), then surgery isn't out of the question. Personally, I would expect to see Gordon back by mid-December.
After the nice second quarter run, the third quarter was a bit harrowing - the Jazz were able to narrow the lead down to 5 at the end of the quarter thanks to some solid play by Derek Favors and Gordon Hayward. Favors had a field day down low against Davis and Anderson, making 11 points in the quarter and nabbing some big offensive rebounds. Gordon Hayward was a real matchup problem for the Pelicans - Evans did a decent job defending him, but Babbitt and Fredette and the rest of the team had some real problems hanging with Hayward. Those problems were magnified when the Pelicans switched on the pick and roll, isolating Hayward with a defender either too small or too slow to defend him.
Davis and Holiday really put the game on ice in the fourth, when Holiday made 10 of his 19 points and Davis was totally unstoppable. Davis played almost the entire second half and was only spelled by Withey for about three minutes late in the fourth quarter. Even while only playing nine minutes, Davis scored 11 points while nabbing five rebounds, effectively putting the game out of reach.
- Ryan Anderson had a night to forget, missing all six of his threes en route to a 2-15, 5 point performance. As a whole, the team couldn't buy a three, shooting only 4-17 from beyond the arc. With the shooters going cold, New Orleans really needed to have Davis carry the load, and he responded.
- Austin Rivers didn't play particularly well on offense tonight - he dribbled too much and was often out of control while driving to the rim. He shot 2-5 from beyond the arc but missed two wide-open shots from right at the break in quick succession. Had he knocked those down, his pedestrian shooting line of 3-8 for 8 points would have looked a lot better - 5-8 for 14 points.
- I'm pumped to see Jeff Withey get significant minutes for the second straight night - he's been fantastic. He was great in the pick and roll, handled the ball well, and played great defense, collecting a pair of blocks in just under 11 minutes of action. He seemed a lot more involved both offensively and defensively than Ajinca. One thing to look out for - he committed three fouls in those 11 minutes, a positively Ajinca-like foul rate.
- The Utah fans love them some Jimmer:
Jimmer Fredette enters at 2:50 of 3rd quarter for first time. Earlier there were "We want Jimmer!" and "Free Jimmer!" chants from Utah crowd— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) November 23, 2014
- Anthony Davis, while a monster on offense, did not have his best defensive night. His pick and roll defense was lazy at times, leaving passing lanes open to the roll man. That meant we saw a lot of Derrick Favors with the ball and a clear path to the basket. On another couple of occasions, he left the ball-handler too much space in the ICE pick-and-roll defense, letting them pull up for relatively short uncontested jumpers. Hey, even Anthony Davis can't be perfect.
- Jrue Holiday didn't have his A-game in the first half - if I recall correctly, he only made one field goal. He really came out firing in the second half, making two quick shots, and finished the game with a very respectable stat line (19 pts on 16 shots, 9 assists, 6 rebounds). I thought he was indispensable on defense, running over screens and preventing dribble penetration, even though he wound up with four fouls.
- Tyreke Evans's shooting woes continue - 4-13 for nine points. He's having trouble finishing near the rim, and the problems aren't appearing to correct themselves. It's not reasonable to start panicking about Evans's field goal percentage until after Christmas, but I think I'm starting to sweat a little.
- The team activity on defense seemed miles ahead of where it was in Denver - up and down the roster, players were fighting through screens, closing out better, and making snappier rotations. There were some lazy switches at times and some communication breakdowns, but this team still hasn't played a whole lot together, so it's still understandable.
The Utah game concludes a series of four tough Western Conference road games, with two back-to-backs. The Pelicans lost the first half of both of the back-to-backs in embarrassing fashion and came roaring back in both of the second games to notch solid wins. Tonight's game was an Anthony Davis win - nobody else on the team played great (and some had really bad nights), but he was so good that the game wasn't really close. This is why teams with superstars almost always make the playoffs - many nights, superstars can bend the game to their will.