New Orleans had lost to the Dallas Mavericks on nine consecutive occasions going into tonight. In addition, they had yet to win three in a row all season long, struggling to put together the kind of consistency necessary to win night in and out. For three quarters it felt like both streaks could come to an end.
Nine minutes remained in the fourth quarter and the Pelicans found themselves up 96-88 after an Anthony Davis jumper found the bottom of the net. Things began to unravel shortly afterward as the Pelicans settled for difficult long twos. Not only were the shots not falling, the ball and players stopped moving. Like many Pelican fans I was deeply concerned that 40 minutes of effort would be dashed by lack of execution in crunch time.
While New Orleans was dribbling and shooting prayers the Mavericks doubled down on movement. Offensive rebounds, hard cuts to the basket, and the combined forces of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis quickly turned an eight point lead into a Dallas lead. Anthony Davis sat down with 8:58 remaining. The next points the Pels scored were on an AD free throw; over three minutes of game time (and the lead) passed.
The Pelicans made their move with 4:33 to go, forgoing the starting unit and placing Quincy Pondexter with Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis, and Omer Asik. Dallas would score just three points in the following three minutes of game time as the Pelican defense forced Dallas to shoot 1-7 with a turnover in six possessions. Eric Gordon buried an ENORMOUS corner three to bring the game back to 102 all with 1:33 remaining. Then it happened.
Fast is Faster
Monta Ellis is a human blur. To say he blew by Quincy Pondexter on consecutive possessions is an insult to air. The first was too easy, as no Pelican credibly challenged his layup attempt to give the Mavericks a one point lead. His second attempt, with just 12.3 seconds remaining, was incredibly difficult. Omer Asik rotated over, went straight up, and forced Ellis to shoot an off balance floater some 14+ feet in the air off the glass over Asik's enormous outstretched arms. Amazing offense beat great defense.
Asik's defense on Monta's last layup attempt was superb. pic.twitter.com/B0FWhEiECf— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) January 26, 2015
In between those two Monta Ellis layups, the Pelicans had the ball down a point with 34.5 seconds remaining. Instead of the typical isolation possession New Orleans went to an old standby, Tyreke Evans on the left block. They have a number of options once a player with his skill set gets the ball so close, but the primary one is Evans rolling into the paint for an awkward hook/layup attempt. He buried it.
After Monta's improbable layup over Asik just 12.3 seconds remained and New Orleans was again down a point. I was literally sick. Seconds ticked off as Tyreke Evans attempted to inbound the ball. What happened next was unbelievable.
AD Gets A Superstar Call
This is not, unlike some foul calls, to say there was not a foul. As the picture below clearly shows, Tyson Chandler is hooking and grabbed Davis on the left hip as he extends to catch the pass.
The foul. I don't think ripping off AD's jersey is permitted. pic.twitter.com/8CEKFWmD0F— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) January 26, 2015
What makes this call a superstar call is when it occurs. You just don't see a foul call away from the ball or on an entry pass in the waning moments of a game. That is not to say fouls do not occur at these times, more fouling happens at this moment than any other time. More is permitted.
After a review Davis went to the line and knocked down two clutch free throws to give New Orleans a 107-106 lead. Dallas attempted, twice, to inbound the ball to Monta Ellis. Quincy Pondexter was denying Ellis while Evans doubled off the inbounder to force a different Maverick to win the game. Rajon Rondo's lob attempt over AD's head to Dirk was too short. After a ton of contact the ball between Ellis and Pondexter on the tip the ball ultimately landed in the hands of Davis, who quickly called a timeout.
Another impossibly long inbound play went to AD who was fouled by Tyson Chandler. Our All-Star again canned two free throws to extend the lead to 109-106. Lacking timeouts the Mavericks went to Ellis for a last heave at the basket, which thankfully did not fall.
The Pelicans have themselves a three game winning streak and a division best 6-4 record within the Southwest.
-Everyone was hot in the first half. Everyone. Ryan Anderson had all 18 of his points in the first half on 6-7 from the field, 2-3 behind the arc, and 4-4 from the free throw line. In the second half he went 0-3, two of those misses were at the rim. When Anderson is cooking this team is incredibly difficult to defend.
-Eric Gordon was not hot tonight, but he hit the big shot, a corner three, when he needed to for the Pelicans. 9 points on 3-7 from the field is not an impressive stat line, but Gordon also chipped in 5 assists to go with just 1 turnover. As a team New Orleans committed just 9 turnovers, critical to pulling out the win.
-Omer Asik was absolutely excellent tonight. 10 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes underplays his involvement. When he was on the court the Pelicans collected 80% of available defensive rebounds, with Asik doing the heavy lifting posting an absurd 45% defensive rebound rate personally. While a knee injury sent Tyson Chandler to the bench in the second half (he would return) the repeated alley oops were no where to be found for the Mavericks tonight. Chandler finished the night with just 4 points and 7 rebounds in over 33 minutes.
-Tyreke Evans played a great game with 24 points (on 11-19 from the field), 12 assists, and just 3 turnovers. He shot 10-14 within 16 feet tonight and 1-5 (the one make was a corner three) beyond 16. In the absence of Jrue Holiday Tyreke has capably shouldered the load at point guard averaging 19.3 points, 6.7 assists, and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 49.1% from the field.
-This Quincy Pondexter is a bargain considering both his contract and the assets (Austin Rivers and Russ Smith) used to acquire him. 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists is solid production considering his cost. If he can get the 3-point shot to start falling (he's only shooting 28.6% as a Pelican behind the arc) he should find his way into the starting lineup when Jrue Holiday returns.
-Nate Wolters appears to be locking up the reserve point guard role with solid if unspectacular play. In his last three games Wolters is averaging 18 minutes and 5 points per game while shooting 43.8% from the field. He has yet to make a three but is operating the offense and defending like Monty wants.
-Anthony Davis. Anthony. Davis. ANTHONY! DAVIS! AD started cold, going just 3-9 in the first half. That corrected itself in the second, as Davis went 5-9 from the field and knocked down two long jumpers. Since returning from a sprained toe AD had gone 5-19 beyond 16 feet before the second half tonight, where he went 2-4. Davis led the way with 28 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals, 1 block, and just 1 turnover.
The Pelicans have no rest, as the Philadelphia 76ers come to town tomorrow night. Revenge will surely be on their mind but the Sixers last played on Saturday against Memphis and will be rested. New Orleans must take each and every opponent seriously if they intend on contending for a playoff spot.