Before the game, there was a rush of good news for the Pelicans. Omer Asik was returning from injury, after missing four games. That was huge for New Orleans because of DeMarcus Cousins, but more importantly, to stop Sacramento on the glass, as the Kings ranked third in rebounds per game. Then, the Kings announced that Rudy Gay and Darren Collison were both out for the game, displacing two starters in Sacramento's lineup.
Even with Eric Gordon out, going into this game, the Pelicans had a good chance to win this game with two starters out for Sacramento.
The game got off in the right note, but quickly went off the rails. New Orleans scored the game's first basket, proceeded by a 12-0 run by Sacramento. The Pelicans came out the gate sluggish, starting with three turnovers and a 1-9 shooting start. Early in the game, it was Sacramento's guards that came to play. Getting the start with Collison out, Ramon Sessions attacked the basket and moved the ball well, while Ben McLemore went 2-2, giving the Sacramento guards nine of their first 15 points in their first six minutes of the game.
When Ryan Anderson came into the game for New Orleans, the Pelicans did a good job finding him for some open jumpers, but they failed to fall. Oddly enough, the one shot that did fall was a quarter-ending buzzer beater. On the defensive end, the Kings did a great job of attacking him with DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins had two plays where he caught the ball in the low post and simply overpowered Anderson during one-on-one situations. At one point, Anderson was visibly upset with his teammates for not helping him as Cousins barreled his way to the basket.
The second quarter saw the second unit, led by Ryan Anderson, close the gap. Anderson went 5-6 in the quarter, including 2-2 from three for 12 points. Jimmer Fredette found him for a couple open jumpers, and Ryan asserted himself a bit with Cousins on the bench and the interior open. The defense looked better from the first quarter. The energy felt different with the second unit, and Jeff Withey had a couple good possessions. Getting the bench minutes over Alexis Ajinca (who finished with a DNP), Withey did a good job catching and finishing on the roll, and blocking a couple of shots on the defensive end.
Early in the second quarter, Kings head coach Michael Malone got thrown out of the game. A Sessions drove to the basket and didn't draw a foul, resulting in New Orleans getting a quick Anthony Davis basket. Malone flipped his lid, picking up two quick technicals. It was humorous to see DeMarcus Cousins look at his coach and beg the ref to take the technical from Cousins. It was awesome.
Speaking of DeMarcus Cousins, he absolutely took New Orleans out of rhythm in the third quarter. New Orleans and Sacramento went back and forth on five possessions to start the quarter, but Cousins took over, eventually finishing with 10 points, five rebounds, and three assists in the quarter. Here are some of the things that he did:
- Tough layup over Asik and Davis (2pts)
- Jumper (2pts)
- Missed jumper, but in the fight for the rebound, Cousins drew Jrue Holiday's fourth foul of the game with 9:14 left in the third, received free throws (1pt)
- Cousins leads a break, finishing with an assist and bucket by Casspi (2pts)
- Cousins steal, leading to a Pelican shot clock violation
- Cousins steal
Not only was Cousins thriving and making plays, but Omri Casspi did a good job of being a pest as well. With Rudy Gay out, Casspi did a great job at the small forward position, serving as a cutter and attacked the basket with relative ease. When Casspi wasn't attacking the basket, he was open from three, giving Austin Rivers and Tyreke Evans problems on the perimeter with his mobility and just running them around screens as he tried to get open.
A Few Notes
-- Jeff Withey played well, well enough for me to think he should get more playing time moving forward. He's nothing special overall, but I like that he can block some shots, finish on the pick and roll, and hit a couple jumpers. Getting the minutes over Ajinca was good to see, and finishing with six points, four rebounds, and three blocks should ensure that he gets more minutes as Monty Williams tinkers with his rotation.
-- Monty did a fine job with his rotation tonight. Jrue Holiday's foul trouble forced a bit more Austin Rivers into the game, but other than John Salmons getting nine minutes, Williams did a fine job balancing some lineups. The one lineup I want to see is Holiday, Rivers, Miller, Davis, and Asik. It relies on Davis/Holiday offense a bit too much, but Rivers aside, I like the defensive upside of it.
-- I like Ben McLemore. In an era of average shooting guards, he has a chance to be really, really special.
-- Good lord on Sacramento's rebounding. The Pelicans finished with more rebounds in the game, but it looked like Sacramento was just throwing guys out of the way to grab a rebound. If they couldn't get out of the way, they would go over you. Jason Thompson had two rebound chances where he tried to jump over Anthony Davis. DeMarcus Cousins was just a beast out there fighting for rebounds, and Carl Landry was banging bodies in that second lineup. I knew the stat, but to see them actually go out there and attempt to rebound was incredible to see.
The Pelicans have Wednesday and Thursday off before traveling to Atlanta on Friday. No rest for the weary as six of the next eight games are against playoff teams from last season. Oh, and Oklahoma City might be getting Russell Westbrook back early.
Have a great holiday. Don't forget to be thankful for Anthony Davis on Thursday.