The New Orleans Pelicans need every single win regardless of how ugly the process might be game to game. Tonight the process, as well as the result, were both excellent. While the Phoenix Suns made a game of it throughout the Pelicans never trailed in the fourth quarter on their way to an exciting 122-116 victory.
It was a team effort but three players stood head and shoulders above the rest for New Orleans. Ryan Anderson continued his hot shooting, racking up 18 points in the first half alone. The threat he posed force Phoenix to make some difficult, and at times unsound, decisions in transition leading to a number of easy baskets for his teammates. Anderson finished the night with 29 points on just 14 shots.
Ish Smith is the motor revving this team up, and it is no surprise that the pace was much higher with Smith on the court (113.98!). Smith put up one of his most complete games yet as a Pelican and nearly posted a triple-double scoring 17 points to go with 8 assists and a improbable 9 rebounds for a diminutive guard. Alvin Gentry is going to have a good problem soon when Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole return to uniform; too many guards that deserve playing time.
Anthony Davis struggled to find the range in the first three quarters and did not make a shot outside the paint in the first 36 minutes. Thankfully he was still getting himself to the line and in the fourth quarter things paid off. In the fourth quarter Davis flipped on the clutch switch, scoring 13 points while shooting 5-6 from the field and 2-2 from the line in addition to 6 rebounds. In total AD's stat line is tremendous; 32 points, 19 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals. Oh, and he buried this jumper in the final minute to bail out an awful Pelican possession to boot.
The offense was really clicking in the first quarter. Even misses were off open looks as the ball and players were moving around fluidly. In a concerned development as soon as Omer Asik left the floor (Phoenix ended the night without collecting an offensive rebound when Asik was on the court) the Suns began crashing the glass immediately to great success. In total Phoenix had four offensive rebounds and five second chance points in the first quarter alone. Ryan Anderson would have his revenge.
Anderson scored 15 points in the second quarter to keep New Orleans ahead. Of his seven shots the only two misses were a late shot clock heave from the left wing (that still almost went in!) and a rushed corner three as the half expired. Inside the arc Ryno buried another stepback jumper and even threw down a two hand dunk. Defensive issues, especially on the glass, continued to haunt the Pelicans however. Phoenix had another four offensive rebounds. Eric Bledsoe was electric, scoring 13 points in the frame alone. The Suns were red hot behind the arc, shooting 6-8 led by T.J. Warren's 3-3 from deep.
The second half was a battle as both teams piled up the points. Not content with just 75% behind the arc Jeff Hornacek's team shot 5-6 in the third period. New Orleans answered back by repeatedly attacking inside; eight made baskets were recorded in the restricted area in the third quarter alone. The Suns made only nine such shots all game long.
While New Orleans never trailed during the fourth quarter the execution during the waning minutes left much to be desired. The Pelicans got good shots; open threes for Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon in the final three minutes failed to convert despite resulting from quality offensive possessions. Forcing the ball into Davis in the post resulted in an ugly turnover that could have been deadly. The next possession was equally bad but Davis buried a 3-pointer from the top of the arc despite bad offense.
Gentry: I know it sounds crazy but I thought we played pretty well defensively. #Pelicans— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) November 23, 2015
I'll be diving more into this between now and Wednesday but I agree with Gentry on the defense tonight. Offensive rebounds were fixed in the second half (16.7% for Phoenix in the 2nd compared to 26.9% in the first) and the paint was well defended. The Suns were averaging 18 made field goals in the restricted area before tonight; New Orleans held them to half that number. That accomplishment, while playing much of the game small (Asik played just 14:41 and Ajinca did not leave the bench) is huge if it becomes a trend for this team.
Anthony Davis and company have two nights up before a rematch in Phoenix on Wednesday night. Tyreke Evans could return after Thanksgiving. Norris Cole is following right behind him. If this Anthony Davis, not the distant one, sticks around these Pelicans might dig out of this hole just yet.