The New Orleans Pelicans fell to 6-17 on the season with a 98-94 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 22 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and one block. For the Bulls, Pau Gasol finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and two assists. The Pelicans are now 5-6 in their last 11 games of the season after starting 1-11.
Even as I watched this game, I didn't know how to actually feel about it. There were things to like, but in the midst of a sloppy run in the first half, I found myself happy with the way New Orleans was playing. Much of that was due to the Pelicans' defensive work. The Pelicans looked good, had really good moments through the game, but in the end, they fell short. Overall, I think it was a game where the Pelicans dropped a game, but had a moment the team and coaching staff hope they can build on.
Back to the defensive side of the ball, New Orleans' defense was kinetic in the first half: moving around, great rotations forcing turnovers and scoring on them and overall running the quarter. Omer Asik looked good, also. I think those two things work in sync, as the last really good defensive performance I saw in Cleveland also had Asik involved at the top of the defense. Good to see that Asik can still bring it from time to time and I'm sure being in Chicago, his first NBA home, helped that.
By the end of the first half, the Pelicans held Chicago to just 36.6 percent from the field. Gasol was having trouble scoring over the combination of Davis and Asik, Derrick Rose was missing his jumpers and Jimmy Butler wasn't getting calls when attacking the basket. Doug McDermott was tied for the team lead with seven points and was one of two players shooting over 50 percent. It was a moment we needed to see from New Orleans on account of their defense struggling so much this season.
Offenively, the Pelicans didn't shoot many threes, just 16 total attempts on Saturday. It was probably by design by Chicago, but the Pelicans didn't launch them as much as I thought. Tyreke Evans came back down to earth after making five threes against Washington, nailing two of his five attempts. Eric Gordon also knocked down two attempts.
After a strong performance defensively, the Pelicans began to fall apart in the fourth quarter. After holding Chicago to just 29.4 percent shooting in the third quarter and 34.5 percent over three quarters, the Bulls caught on fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 34 points and hitting on 65.0 percent of their shots while doing so. Aaron Brooks was the main stick of dynamite for Chicago, scoring 15 points and nailing three of their four threes.
The Pelicans, hitting 45 percent of their shots in the fourth, went to Anthony Davis repeatedly. He finished 2-7 from the field and the rest of the offense was fleeting. Tyreke Evans played the entire quarter, hit three of his six shots for seven points and dished out three assists. Unfortunately, the Pelicans defense couldn't stop a cold, Chicago quickly built a lead and after a few back and forth possessions, the Pelicans went quietly into the night.
Norris Cole hit five of his nine shots, scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out six assists. Oddly enough, he didn't even attempt a three. The Pelicans have a group of guards to work with, all they have to do is figure out what to do with them. All I know is that Tyreke Evans and Ish Smith shouldn't play together, as they should run the units. Gordon and Holiday can space the floor and Cole could do things from time-to-time. Is it the best group of guards? Not quite, but I feel like you can constantly produce decent backcourt production from these guys on a nightly basis.
Credit Chicago's defense for forcing Gordon, Davis and Evans to combine for 61 shots. No Jrue Holiday hurt some of New Orleans' ability to create and score in the second unit, but their defense was good in making their best players take shots and take bad shots.
Another time where I want to have Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca do the fusion dance and become one solid two-way center. Seeing Ajinca get the start was great (and probably the way to go moving forward), while Asik coming off the bench and providing solid defense at the rim was also good. If only Ajinca was better defensively while Asik was better offensively.
Anthony Davis had an average game, but had some nice drives to the rim, highlighted by the dunk over Pau Gasol in the first half. While he wasn't completely stopped, the Bulls did engage in letting him shoot away from the rim, and Davis obliged, hitting 1-10 on shots outside 12 feet. He also went 5-9 at the rim, which was cool.