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X's and O's -- Did the Pelicans 4th Quarter Defense Bend or Break Against the Hornets?

New Orleans has been downright shoddy in too many 4th quarters this season, but against the Hornets, their defense wasn't as bad as most people initially believed, myself included.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

After our most recent loss to the Hornets, many fans have vented a lot of anger. The hatred has been directed at pretty much anyone not named Anthony Davis, and Monty Williams seems to continually draw most of the ire. Is it justified?

Overall, the defense does not rank well in comparison to the rest of the NBA. On Nylon Calculus, we're currently ranked 21st; over on NBA Stats, 25th. Seeing that the previous two seasons have also been well below average, Monty has made for an easy target considering he's most associated with being a defensive coach.

Since Monty's first two seasons as head coach, the Pelicans disappointing overall defensive rating has been well documented. However, very little attention as been given to how his teams have fared throughout the course of a game.

DefRTG 1st Qtr DefRTG 2nd Qtr DefRTG 3rd Qtr DefRTG 4th Qtr DefRTG
2010-11 102.5 (10th) 105.4 (18th) 102.0 (7th) 99.3 (8th) 103.2 (9th)
2011-12 102.3 (16th) 102.9 (16th) 100.7 (9th) 104.3 (22nd) 101.0 (10th)
2012-13 107.6 (28th) 106.0 (23rd) 107.6 (26th) 106.4 (27th) 110.2 (29th)
2013-14 107.3 (26th) 102.0 (11th) 107.3 (26th) 109.0 (26th) 112.1 (29th)
2014-15 105.8 (25th) 100.8 (11th) 102.3 (16th) 106.3 (24th) 113.4 (30th)

This season the defense has never been more interesting -- just look at it's trajectory through the course of a game. It's a startling linear drop from an above average defense to apparently one of the most abysmal units ever assembled.

As it was mentioned several days ago, the Pelicans gave up 57 points to the Hornets in the second half. They normally average 45.9. In particular, Charlotte tallied 31 points in the final frame, despite the fact they average 22.6 (3rd worst in the NBA) for the season.

Are you wondering what in the world is happening in our 4th quarters yet? Good. Let's see if we can decipher anything by breaking down every single play of our most recent 4th quarter.

Defensive Play-by-Play Nightmare

1) With the start of the final frame, and the Pelicans ahead 70-67, Brian Roberts hits a three pointer to immediate tie the game. FAULT: Jrue Holiday. He got stuck in no man's land attempting to help, and lost track of Roberts leaking to the top of the perimeter for a wide open look.

2) Gary Neal missed a pretty good look running off a Marvin Williams screen. FAULTRyan Anderson collapsed down into the paint to far and gave Neal too much space.

3) After a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist offensive rebound off Neal's miss, he got another opportunity, this time from the land of three. The Pelicans were fortunate he rushed his shot and missed because he was wide open off of a simple pick and roll. Ryan Anderson hedged out to momentarily give some resistance but retreated back towards his man. Meanwhile, Eric Gordon decided to stay with Anderson's man on a switch. FAULT: Terrible PnR scheme execution by Gordon and Anderson.

4) MKG burned Eric Gordon by getting into the lane for two free throw attempts. FAULT: Gordon's approach was too nonchalant as he never got into proper position to dissuade MKG's drive. It's a big defensive no-no to allow a wing to penetrate into the lane via the middle of the floor..

5) On a PnR between Roberts and Williams, Anderson stayed with the ball handler this time, but Jimmer Fredette was fighting through the pick to get back to Roberts. Hence, Williams was able to drive from the arc all the way to the restricted area. Anthony Davis came and helped and was able to get a piece of the shot, but unfortunately it landed right in Jason Maxiell's hands (since AD had left to help). FAULT: Terrible PnR scheme execution by Jimmer and Anderson.

6) Off a defensive rebound, MKG was able to dribble coast to coast, but he missed the shot at the rim. Later, Neal missed another in the paint against the mismatched Anderson. FAULT: Team effort. The most disheartening thing was that with 4 Pelicans around the rim, Jason Maxiell was able to grab the offensive board off MKG's miss. Someone should have been looking to get in between the rim and any potential Hornets.

7) Roberts juked Jimmer easily and got into the lane to draw a foul. FAULT: Jimmer's man to man defense.

8) First decent initial defense of the quarter. Anderson and Jimmer were involved defending another PnR, but this time Anderson hedged on Roberts enough for Jimmer to recover and contest Robert's three point attempt.

9) The video is difficult to comprehend since the broadcast was more concerned with showing a bouncing David Wesley than the action on the floor, but it appeared Gerald Henderson received a friendly call on a semi-phantom Gordon push?

10) Off a steal, the Hornets were able to hit Maxiell in the post with Holiday on him, but he took an unnecessarily difficult shot and missed. Pelicans were fortunate to regain possession thanks to poor offensive execution by the Hornets.

11) Gary Neal hit a three pointer from the top of the key after freeing himself easily off a simple half-hearted Williams screen. FAULT: Jimmer's man to man defense.

12) Immediately after bringing the ball up the floor, Maxiell screened Holiday, forcing Asik to contest Neal at the three point line. Smartly, Maxiell dove into the paint, but Anderson took away that option; however, that left Williams wide open from the top of the key -- fortunately he missed. FAULT: Holiday didn't handle that screen well: he didn't anticipate it as well as he should have nor did he take a proper path. Neal wasn't on fire so he should have gone under Maxiell, especially considering from how far away the hoop the initial screen began.

13) Kemba Walker broke down Holiday, got right into the heart of the paint drawing Asik's help and gave Maxiell and uncontested 10 footer from the baseline. FAULT: Holiday is very good at anticipating and cutting off offensive players, but in this case, he was caught leaning the wrong way. You just can't make the mistake of allowing the opponent to drive into the lane from the top of the key. It's always better to guess incorrectly the other way and have the opposition drive from the baseline side.

14) This time down the floor, Walker does beat Holiday to the baseline side and he was able to get Williams another wide open three point attempt. He missed yet again, but for the second time, Maxiell gets the offensive rebound and gets to the free throw line. FAULT: There was no reason Anderson should have helped Holiday as far down as he did. That is not his assignment as there was plenty of help at the rim in the event Holiday would have needed all that assistance.

At this point, Monty removes Omer Asik, who has just picked up two fouls in the same minute due to the defensive breakdowns, and decides to go with a Davis/Anderson frontcourt.

15) Walker dished to a cutting Zeller towards the rim and he beat AD for the score. FAULT: In deciding to try and go for a steal against Walker, Zeller was able to gain a step and beat AD to the rim. Davis could have mitigated the damage too by not leaving his feet early and allowing Zeller to shoot the ball on the other side of the rim. He's got to learn that he doesn't need to anticipate a shot, rather just wait for it to happen. With his size and speed, very few will be able to get a shot over him even if they do get into the air first. (As a side note, I bet Zeller doesn't get that uncontested look if Asik is in the game instead of Anderson.)

16) Against Gordon, Henderson takes a difficult 8 foot jumper along the baseline. In my opinion, this was just the second good defensive effort of the frame up to this point.

17) Kemba Walker is no doubt a handful, and on this possession, he was able to get into the lane twice. Thanks to a poor Evans reach, he got to the free throw line. FAULT: Evan should not have reached from his position. Since Walker isn't going to jump over people, the Pelicans would have been better served to see how Anderson would have ended up faring against him. He had pretty good position and Holiday was recovering quickly.

18) Good 3rd instance of defense of the 4th quarter. Initially, Anderson and Holiday played the PnR well and then Holiday stayed with Walker nicely, all the way to the rim on his second option to force the miss.

19) Holiday was screened three different times on this play, but fortunately for him, Davis was able to pick up the streaking Walker and force a miss at the rim. Good defense #4.

20) Bismack Biyombo set a good screen on Gordon, but both Davis and Anderson were able to contest Henderon's elbow jumper enough to force a miss. Good defense #5.

21) Kemba Walker chose to attack in a PnR against Davis and Holiday, he missed and Anderson was able to keep away their offensive rebounders with good positioning. Good defense #6.

22) Henderson, who had been shooting mid range shots for much of the night, thought he was open from 15 feet along the base line. There's just no such thing when Anthony Davis has a beat on you. Good defense #7.

It wasn't brought up by anyone, but the Pelicans had five solid defensive stops in a row during crunch time. They turned an 8 point deficit into a 2 point lead in just a tick over 3 minutes. Unfortunately, Kemba Walker would go on to make his final three attempts.

23) After a PnR, Walker found himself guarded by Anderson, created some separation around the foul line and made the jumper. FAULT: No one. Anderson isn't a good defender, but on this play, he still was able to force Walker into a mildly difficult fadeaway. Hard to fault Monty for leaving Anderson in there too considering the Pelicans were on a 10-0 run.

24) Walker made a much more difficult fall-away, this time from further out and against Anthony Davis. FAULT: No one. Davis did as well as anyone should hope for, and after a timeout, Monty had substituted Dante Cunningham in for Anderson.

25) With his previous two shots, Walker probably didn't think there was a shot out there that he couldn't make. He was right.

FAULT: Technically, you can have an issue with Holiday because he fouled him, but with Walker's ability to get by people and the fire he was breathing at the time, a defenses best bet would have been to force the ball out of his hands. Someone could have come and doubled when Walker made his initial move, but again, it's hard to be too upset with Monty's rationale as Holiday is a pretty good on-the-ball defender.

Even Bad Losses Can Cloud Some Judgment

With 6:35 of the 3rd quarter, the Pelicans had a 13 point lead. That, combined with the fact many correctly assumed the Pelicans should beat one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, who were without their best player (Al Jefferson), had fans outraged over the loss.

Overall, the defense in the 4th quarter was not good, but when examining it through each individual play, the Pelicans at least played rather well on Monty's preferred side of the floor during crunch time. It took a very special effort by Kemba Walker to pull out the victory for the Hornets.

In the future, the Pelicans need to learn that they need to play for a full 48 minutes. It may sound cliche, but it's most assuredly true. They allowed the Bobcats to find momentum through their hustle and from the numerous of individual Pelican mistakes.

Specifically, New Orleans pick and roll defense let them down time and again. We've already seen this too many times this season. Whether it was from a lack of communication or simply poor execution, Ryan Anderson was oftentimes in the middle of a number of the failures. However, a number of other Pelicans were at times also at fault: Jimmer Fredette, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, and yes, even Anthony Davis.

Concluding Thought

Through the first 17 Hornets' possessions of the 4th quarter, the Pelicans defense might be able to claim they played well just three times. However, for their remaining 8, New Orleans did a lot of good things, and not once could you say they 100% screwed something up, neither players nor coaches.

Based on the Pelicans' 4th quarter defensive rating to date, I can understand the reluctance of accepting any encouraging signs from just one game. Now, what if I was to tell you that in their last 10 games, the Pels have a 4th quarter DefRTG of 103.7? That their defensive rating is rated as the 11th  best during this time frame?

Sorry guys but the sky isn't falling quite yet.