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Pelicans Stifle Rockets, 99-90

For the first time since Monty Williams initial year as head coach, New Orleans leaves Houston with a win.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Don't look now but the Pelicans are causing havoc among playoff caliber teams:

  • 12/10 - Headed into the 4th quarter, led the Mavericks in Dallas but lost down the stretch as Monta Ellis could not be stopped.
  • 12/12 - Won in fine fashion against the Cavaliers, despite LeBron James 41 points and Anthony Davis only playing 7 minutes.
  • 12/14 - Lost in overtime to the Warriors, despite no Anthony Davis for the entire game.
  • 12/18 - Outscored the Rockets by 12 in the 4th quarter to win by 9 in Houston.
Earlier in the day, the Pelicans PR department tweeted Tyreke Evans was questionable for tonight's game.

Needless to say, no Evans meant getting a win in Houston was going to be even more cumbersome, regardless of whether the Rockets had tired legs after having won in overtime in Denver the night before. (For the record, coming into tonight, the Rockets are 5-1 on the 2nd night of back-to-backs.)

The game started off one-on-five. At the 7:13 mark of the first quarter, Anthony Davis had 8 did the Houston Rockets. For the remainder of the frame, both teams exchanged leads with neither team winning by more than 3 points.

The second quarter saw much of the same until about the 4 minute mark. With the score tied at 37, the Pelicans proceeded to outscore the Rockets 9-2 and take a 7 point lead into halftime.

In the first half, the Rockets didn't look like themselves. After attempting 6 three-pointers in their first 12 shots, they proceeded to attempt just 5 in their next 27 shots. The Pelicans held a 9-6 free throw attempt advantage. Lastly, Houston, the 2nd best offensive rebounding team, had only 1 rebound on that end in 24 minutes.

Admittedly, I feared the Rockets would come out like gangbusters in the 3rd quarter, and sure enough, they did. They attacked the glass hard and grabbed 8 offensive rebounds in less than 4 minutes. Then our offense withered. After Luke Babbitt hit a three at the 8:04 mark, the Pelicans would only amass 7 points for the rest of the quarter. When the dust had settled, Houston had outscored us 29-19.

If there was a glimmer of hope, it was the fact that Davis and Dwight Howard both sat down with 2:31 remaining. For the start of the 4th quarter, Davis was back on the floor, while the Rockets main starters continued to rest. This was key, but it's impossible to fault Kevin McHale. Less than 24 hours ago, all their starters had played well over 40 minutes in a grueling win in Denver. They needed their normal rest tonight.

By the time Kevin McHale put his horses back in, the Pelicans had turned a 3 point deficit into a four point lead at the 8:48 mark. Even at full strength, the Pelicans extended their lead over the next few minutes to 8. For the rest of the game, the Pelicans held onto the momentum and never allowed the Rockets to get any closer than 7. No final tense moments on this night!

Game Notes

- Anthony Davis played like an MVP candidate...again...and this tweet pretty much says it all:

If the Pelicans continue to show improvement, sneak into the playoffs, and show they belong on the floor against any opponent, it will be difficult to argue against Davis' legitimacy for the award. You know he'll have the astounding numbers and the jaw-dropping highlights so it's going to come down to our W/L record. Hey, it doesn't sound so far-fetched anymore.

- Jrue Holiday and Austin Rivers did a wonderful job against James Harden the entire night. Harden's best weapon is getting by his opponent and then drawing a foul a multitude of ways. Tonight, he couldn't consistently get around our two guards. They did a wonderful job of staying in front of him so he couldn't even mildly contort his body around them and pick up his typical fouls. The Pelicans committed 17 fouls and shot 22 free throws. The Rockets were whistled for 18 fouls and had 23 attempts from the charity stripe. Drawing equal in this department completely negated one of the Rockets biggest weapons.

- Offensively, both Holiday and Rivers combined for 26 points but 18 of them came after halftime. In addition, they chipped in 16 of the team's 21 assists. If you scan the 4th quarter play-by-play list though, you'll notice just how much this duo impacted the game during winning time. The production from Rivers was particularly satisfying. Without Evans, someone was going to need to step up. After a good start followed by a terrible string of games, Rivers is playing rather well again. It'll be interesting to see where his numbers finish at season's end.

- Ryan Anderson only hit one three-pointer on the night and it didn't occur until the 4th quarter, but it was a big one. It extended the lead to 4 and prompted McHale to return his starters a few minutes quicker than he would have preferred. For the game, Anderson finished with 16 points and 6 rebounds, but my favorite moment wasn't found in these stats. Rather, it came on the other end of the floor when he took a hard charge against Howard at the 5:28 mark of the 4th quarter. Such a heady play for a guy who routinely has to match up against more athletic and stronger players.

- Dante Cunningham was the x-factor. When the Pelicans needed a bail out bucket, he could be counted on to make a jumper from somewhere along the sidelines. If the Pelicans needed a possession, he could be found hustling for an offensive rebound or getting his hand in to shake the ball loose from a Rocket. He represents everything this team needed from the bench: defense, energy and a veteran presence that can handle the moment. Good fortune for us, but shame on the rest of the league for not trying to sign him before us. The charges against him were dropped back in August!

- Luke Babbitt splashed 3 more treys and now has 20 for the month of December. It would be nice to see him contribute a little more consistently in the rebounding department, but it can be argued he hasn't been given a full opportunity. He's only averaging 20 minutes of playing time this month and tonight's 14 minutes were particularly surprisingly without Evans in the lineup because...

- John Salmons couldn't throw it into the ocean. He was 0-7 from the floor, yet he saw the same amount of time on the floor as Babbitt. Understandably, Monty Williams had to give minutes to someone further down the bench and who could stay with Harden or Ariza, but one would have assumed with Salmons' inability to make a shot and the Rockets going small at the 4:18 mark of the 3rd quarter, Jimmer Fredette would have gotten a chance before the start of the 4th quarter. Some might consider it to be a minor quibble, but Monty electing to ride Salmons could have cost the Pelicans this game. When Harden sat down, the Rockets were down 6. By the end of the 3rd quarter, they were up 3.

- Many will probably write off the Rockets poor shooting to the game being their 2nd on a back-to-back, but the Pelicans defense deserves the majority of the credit. They kept Harden in front of them and forced the Rockets to take 12 more contested shots in the game. Asik, Davis and even Anderson played tougher in the lane than we've seen of late.

Extra Extra!

Tonight, the Bourbon Street Shots hosted a watch party at Tracey's on Magazine St. and everyone in attendance was paid a surprise visit by Eric Gordon.

What a fantastic gesture by a player who will never be confused for one of the team's most beloved. Seriously, props to Gordon for taking the time out of his schedule. However, instead of praising the deed, Jimmy Smith of the Times Picayune found it more appropriate to take a shot at an injured player.

Just ridiculous. The whole notion of a local celebrity reaching out to the fans of the community or the mere fact professional athletes in New Orleans are largely responsible for his livelihood never dawned on Smith? How about how his words reflect back on the storied Times Picayune? For shame, Jimmy.

Up Next

The Pelicans face a back-to-back this weekend. First, they host the Portland Trailblazers on Saturday and then fly out to Oklahoma City to battle the Thunder on Sunday. As we've preached numerous times, this month is brutal! Hopefully the Pelicans can continue to stay in the neighborhood of a .500 record and then can make their move up the standings when the schedule lightens.

Geaux Pels!