Close to a several weeks ago, David Fisher broke down a happy ending -- the Pelicans executing in crunch time against the Kings. Unfortunately last night, the polar opposite happened and the final play of the game failed spectacularly.
The Pelicans have spread the floor and both Jrue Holiday and John Salmons are intended to be spectators. Anthony Davis sets a screen on Ryan Anderson's man, Paul Pierce. Immediately and smartly, Marcin Gortat makes the switch and picks up Anderson streaking across the floor.
Anderson now has a much larger player guarding him without any discernable loss in footspeed. Considering Ryno isn't fleet-footed and will solely be looking for a three point attempt, this is very bad. Thus, when Anderson attempts to fake a hand-off to Tyreke Evans, Gortat is quick and long enough to react and never lose sight of him. Ryan realizes he won't be able to get off a look and looks to pass the ball.
9.3 seconds remain on the clock but that's as long as the play appeared to be intended to run. There appears to be no plan B as none of the other Pelicans without the ball make any kind of move. They're all just kind of watching Anderson as though he's alone on some island.
Jrue Holiday is up next with the hot potato and he feigns a move towards the hoop, hoping to create enough space to then take a step-back three point shot from the corner. Sadly, John Wall doesn't bite.
Worse, none of the other Pelicans instinctively attempt to do anything. Yes the play has run its course, but the players still have time to react and continue playing basketball. Anderson could have either made a cut to the hoop or attempted to set a screen to free up Holiday. Similarly, Evans could have dove through the middle. Either one of them could have probably scored on a lay-in (and maybe even picked up a foul) with enough time remaining to still foul the opposition and make them earn it from the line. Remember, Bradley Beal had missed the Wizards last two FT attempts.
Instead, we witness Evans, who was 2 for 14 before the final ill-fated shot, hoist a fade away with Beal draped all over him. Predictably, the shot missed.
On just a single play, it would appear the coaches and players made several errors. Coming out of the timeout, there were 11.5 seconds remaining. That's a lot of time. Why did it appear the play was designed for just one option? If the Pelicans didn't get an immediate good look from the perimeter, why didn't someone try and score a quick two, foul the Wizards and hope they would miss on at least one attempt. With another timeout remaining, the Pelicans could have advanced the ball and could have at the very least saved this play for the final few seconds of the game, if necessary.
Everyone in the arena knew full well what the Pelicans would be hoping to accomplish and the Wizards defense was surely going to stretch out to beyond the 3-point line. Why didn't we attempt to create some space? With Evans and Holiday on the floor, they could have driven into the paint area and perhaps drawn another defender. It sure worked out well for Wall just 2 minutes earlier.
Look how wide open Pierce is at the top of the arc! However, if Monty didn't want the ball changing hands in fear of a turnover, he still had another option available. If Ryan Anderson was intended to be the sole option, why didn't we set multiple picks in an attempt to better confuse the defense? It worked for Damian Lillard and the Blazers in the playoffs against the Rockets.
Disturbingly, a multitude of errors are slowly becoming a trend for the Pelicans during the final moments of a game. According to NBA Stats, our team has the second worst True Shooting Percentage in league in the last five minutes of games where the lead by either team is five points or less. In addition, for a team boasting a lot of youth and speed at core positions, their pace is the worst in the league during this time frame. Never mind not taking advantage of a team strength for a moment, but where the hell is a sense of urgency?
In the last five minutes of close ball games, the Pels Net Rating is the 2nd worst in the league. Do you know what other teams are keeping us company in the subterranean depths of the bottom five? The 4-13 Knicks, the 4-9 Celtics, the 3-13 Lakers and 3-13 Pistons.
Despite the ridiculously small sample size of 19 minutes, it's not a good omen the team has been wilting during crunch time very similarly to the worst teams in the league. Over the course of a season, a good number of games are ultimately decided in the final minutes of ball games. This absolutely has to change on the part of both the players and coaches in the very near future. In what looks to be another tough Western Conference, the Pelicans can't afford to be giving away games if the playoffs are to remain a viable goal.