Going into this game, I thought the Pelicans had a real shot of pulling the upset and stealing a win in Atlanta tonight. In fact, I had a weird feeling that this game was going to be like the win over the Clippers last January where the Pelicans wouldn't need Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday to knock off Los Angeles. And for the first three quarters or so I was right, the Pelicans didn't seem to need Davis, Holiday, Tyreke Evans or any of their other injured teammates to keep last night's momentum going. Unfortunately for New Orleans, they couldn't quite repeat that performance and, once again, we're left wondering where would this team be if healthy.
The roster's lack of health is robbing this team from having a more successful start to this season. I understand that every team has injuries and you'll just have to make due with what you have, but come on, what team stands a chance missing five of their seven best players? Injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played a large part in keeping the Thunder out of last season's playoffs; the Cavs' chances of winning last summer's Finals went down the drain when they lost Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Effort and grit can only go so far, talent more often than not will decide games. And as was the case again for New Orleans, they were bested by a team that may not have been that much better than them, but they were certainly healthier.
All that being said, on to the game review.
The first half was one of the better halves the Pelicans played all season. Without having Anthony Davis, getting Omer Asik for "five minute spurts" and Alexis Ajinca being MIA most of the night, the Pelicans were going to have a tough time generating offense in the paint so they'd have to find other means of scoring points. The team responded by hitting 11 of 18 threes, including their first six in the second quarter; that number could have been 12-19 had Toney Douglas been able to stay in bounds.
Unfortunately the Pelicans could not sustain their success shooting from beyond the arc and only hit three of their 11 second half three point attempts. This proved to be especially troublesome because...
No Post for the Weary
The Pelicans got annihilated down low. In the preview I said that the Pelicans needed to take advantage of Atlanta's deficiency in rebounding. The Hawks are 29th in the league in rebounding but still managed to own a +9 advantage during the game in New Orleans. Tonight the margin was trimmed slightly but Atlanta still managed to command a 44-40 edge. Not having Davis, or a minute restriction-less Asik prevented New Orleans from exploiting Atlanta's weakness. Ryan Anderson grabbed 11 rebounds not because he's an excellent rebounder, but because he was the only big New Orleans could throw for the majority of the game.
When New Orleans' outside shots quit falling, the effect of Davis' absence was magnified: the Pelicans had no half court offense. There was nobody to throw the ball to down low and Ish Smith drives to the hoop dried up after halftime. Unsurprisingly Atlanta outscored New Orleans in the points in the paint department by 18. To use a football analogy it was like watching a power run team not being able to give their running back lanes to operate and their only other shot at moving the ball was throwing 30-yard go routes. Sure you might get one every now and then, but any defense could live with the opposing offense being so inefficient. And the Hawks more than happily accepted New Orleans settling for so many jumpers.
- The phrase "Al Horford-stretch five" proved to be a problem for New Orleans tonight. Horford scored 20 of his 26 of his points in the first half and knocked down four of his six three point attempts. Which reminds me, Al Horford shot 4-6 from three tonight and nobody tried covering him. He got uncontested looks far too often. Tonight's version of Omer Asik didn't really stand a chance.
- Paul Millsap had a field day without Anthony Davis checking him. Millsap had 19 points and 16 rebounds 14 of which came defensively. So yeah there's reason number 116 the Pelicans needed Anthony Davis tonight.
- Kyle Korver finally missed a shot!
- The 1-2 punch of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder is so good and so unfair. The two combined for 26 and 14 assists. Gosh, if only New Orleans had a defensive fiend of a starting point guard they could use to counter players like them... oh wait they do, his name's Jrue Holiday but he's being restricted because life isn't fair.
- I've never heard of Mike Muscala and his missed dunk is probably why.
- Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon did as much as they could but it wasn't enough. Anderson put up 17 and 11 on 7-16 shooting that included two three-point shots, and Gordon led all Pelicans with 26 points. Gordon hit an even 50 percent (10-20) from the floor and made four of his six three pointers.
- Ish Smith is fast, y'all. I get that basketball players are some of the best athletes in the world so they're all "fast," but when one guy is noticeably faster than his peers it's something special. Smith had another nice night with 18 points and 10 assists, but those 18 points came on 17 shots and zero free throw attempts. I'm starting to like Smith and I think he brings something to the team, but he's got to get more efficient. Maybe once the team gets healthier it'll come.
- I don't know what it is about Atlanta's court and new uniforms but I dig it.
- Hopefully David Wesley gets over his laryngitis before the Toronto game because while I love Joel Meyer's velvety baritone voice, I hate that the two had to engage in their Jay and Silent Bob impression.