Tonight was not all roses and puppies. Ryan Anderson could not convert an open shot tonight. Despite nearly every shot looking on line both to my eyes and according to Joel Meyers and David Wesley on the broadcast the ball simply would not go into the basket. Ryno shot 1-7 tonight on uncontested shots according to NBA Stats. That makes no sense. Thanks to his struggles the Pelicans shot just 4-15 behind the arc tonight, masking the significant gap both in talent and execution between these two teams.
Anthony Davis did not fair much better, starting the game 1-6 in the first half. Despite missing a number of shots we expect AD to make he was still able to make a lasting contribution tonight with his defense and versatility. At one point in the fourth quarter Davis was guarding J.R. Smith while Omer Asik guarded Amar'e Stoudemire and Dante Cunningham drew Carmelo Anthony. Smith attempted to take AD off the dribble to no avail as his shot was blocked from behind jump starting a Tyreke Evans fast break.
The star tonight was Omer Asik. His stat line jumps off the page, which helps sell the argument. 16 points (7-10 from the field) with 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, an assist and zero turnovers is not an average night for Asik. That is exceptional for him, especially on the offensive end. It was his defense that was most important in my mind.
After the first possession ended with a Jrue Holiday three point play Monty Williams went to an interesting lineup in the fourth quarter. Gal Mekel was at the controls with Austin Rivers, Dante Cunningham, Ryan Anderson, and Omer Asik. In the first three and a half minutes of the fourth quarter the Pelican reserve unit (with Asik instead of Ajinca anchoring inside) went on a 10-2 run turning a four point lead into a solid 12 point margin.
The reserves not just holding serve but extending the lead allowed Monty Williams to keep Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis on the bench much long than anyone expected. On the night Tyreke Evans led the team with just 34 minutes. Performances by the reserves like that, hypothetically, allow for New Orleans to field a more rested team tomorrow night after the flight to Dallas. The Mavericks too played tonight and have a less pleasant flight on the docket tonight; they lost 114-105 in Memphis.
Unlikely Breakout Performance
The Knicks, despite their generally terrible defensive numbers, are currently the best team in the entire league at defending the rim. Not only are they holding opponents to 47.0% at the bucket, they are keeping the volume down as well. Tyreke Evans has struggled at the rim mightily most of this season. This was not a good matchup.
It is insane that two of Tyreke's best games (tonight and against OKC) came against teams who excel at defending the rim. Evans is shooting 46.4% at the basket on the season. Tonight he shot a scorching 81.9% (9-11) within eight feet. Why Derek Fisher (who was the victim repeatedly during Tyreke's 40 point outburst last season) decided in the fourth quarter to guard Evans with Jose Calderon is beyond explanation.
Rather than belabor the point Monty Williams immediately took the ball out of Tyreke's hands up top and started feeding him on the left block. A nifty cross action ended with an AD screen for Evans getting into the lane with his right hand. Layups and free throws were the result. Over the final four minutes the Pelicans scored on seven of eight possessions, netting 13 points. One basket even included an unadvised Tyreke Evans step back long two. When you're hot, you're hot.
A Forceful Victory
As a team the Pelicans shot 64.3% (27-42) within eight feet of the rim tonight. Repeatedly hammering the Knicks inside New Orleans was relentless. NOLA outscored New York 54-40 in the paint tonight and won the battle on the glass 43-30. When Asik was on the floor the Pelicans collected 92% of available defensive rebounds. That is not controlling the glass. That's eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The Knicks, like the Lakers on Sunday, are not a very good basketball team. Despite subpar performances from Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson the Pelicans treated them as such. That's progress.
- Dante Cunningham is beginning to look like a brilliant pick up. In 30 minutes tonight he scored 7 points, pulled down 5 rebounds, and provided excellent defense and effort. He's not the shooter that Morrow was last year, but the role he fills beyond the X's and O's is going to be similar I feel.
- Austin Rivers bounced back tonight. It had been a rough go for him since the Minnesota game but tonight's stat line (9 points on 4-6 shooting plus knocking down his one catch and shoot 3-pointer) was a welcome change. As he and Mekel get used to one another maybe a comfort level can develop between Rivers and his new role.
- Gal Mekel is still struggling putting the ball in the hoop. That's the story on him. As with Asik's limitations catching and scoring on offense expecting a grand revelation from Mekel seems foolish. Appreciate the things he can do. On the television it appears he has excellent vision and some flair too.
- Luke Babbitt knows his job and he's doing it. Tonight, against a small forward like Carmelo Anthony, Monty chose defense with Cunningham over spacing and offense with Babbitt. The two of them will likely continue to log the majority of the minutes at SF for the foreseeable future. Keeping knocking down threes (2-6 tonight) and Babbitt should continue to see playing time.
- Jrue Holiday isn't going to get attention for tonight. 13 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and ZERO turnovers. New Orleans turned the ball over just 11 times tonight and Holiday's solid ball handling is a big reason why.
- Gal Mekel and Dante Cunningham are shooting a combined 8-33 so far this season. Yet their ability to be in the right place and pass (Mekel) or defend (Cunningham) has already made them significant upgrades from the roster spots previously occupied by Darius Miller and Patric Young. What they are providing so far does not show up in the stats but is immensely valuable.