Anthony Davis finally appeared on the bench after spending nearly an hour and a half in the locker room. His first two attempts? Nothing but the bottom of the net. When he checked in the New Orleans Pelicans trailed the Denver Nuggets 106-104 and had been an absolute disaster on defense. In the next seven and a half minutes New Orleans would outscore Denver 21-12 and secure their third win on the road this season.
Davis had help in the form of the Finishing Five. Alvin Gentry has rarely played this lineup, with the quintet logging just eight minutes together this season despite being available since Tyreke Evans returned from injury nine games ago. Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon joined Davis, Evans, and Ryan Anderson on the floor with 5:41 remaining in the fourth quarter and Denver up 114-110.
In ten possessions over the next five minutes the Finishing Five demolished the Nuggets, going on a 15-4 run. Davis chipped in three blocks in the waning minutes to clean up the horrendous defense. This lineup, as we have mentioned repeatedly, needs more time together on the floor.
Even with injuries a couple lineups for NOLA need to become staples. Finishing Five (Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson, Davis) needs time.— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) December 20, 2015
Tyreke Evans has been back for 9 games. The Finishing Five has played 8 minutes. TOTAL.— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) December 20, 2015
As good as the offense was tonight, the defense almost matched them the opposite direction. In the game preview I said the Pelicans needed to keep Danilo Gallinari off the foul line.
Keep Gallinari off the line: Gallo gets himself to the line at a tremendous rate, averaging over a free throw attempt per two shots attempts. Gallinari is shooting just over 40% inside the arc, so the Pelicans need to stay grounded when he gets inside the 3-point line with his herky-jerky game. Don't look to block his shot, just provide a solid challenge and live with the results.
Gallinari attempted 12 free throws IN THE FIRST QUARTER. Omer Asik, Dante Cunningham (twice), Tyreke Evans (twice on consecutive possessions), and Jrue Holiday all sent Gallo to the foul line. It was truly a team effort. Sadly, the defense was only going to get worse.
Will Barton has been a solid player off the bench for the Nuggets and is a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate, ranking third in the league in points per game off the pine. (Ryan Anderson is first, in case you're wondering.) Tonight Barton set a career high with 32 points on 12-25 shooting. He had 28 when Jrue Holiday checked in with specific instructions from Alvin Gentry.
Jrue Holiday on Will Barton: pic.twitter.com/Yuz3dGdh22— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) December 21, 2015
The first possession Barton had the ball Holiday picked his pocket and converted a layup on the resulting turnover. Tone, set.
Monty Ball Back
Tonight the Pelicans did not attempt to run Alvin Gentry's offense. Neanderthal basketball was back. New Orleans had just 264 passes, a positively Monty Williams-esque total. Still, those passes were largely effective, turning into 24 assists on their 44 made field goals. Crashing the offensive glass was back in and Omer Asik had three quick second chance points in the first quarter on the way to his best game of this short season. Tyreke Evans was free to dribble to his heart's content and he responded with a near triple-double; 21 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds, and just 2 turnovers.
Speaking of stat lines, four different Pelicans scored 20+ tonight. Davis poured in 27 points in just 20 minutes. Jrue Holiday joined Evans with 21 points of his own to go along with 5 assists and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes. Eric Gordon defrosted after a rough outing in Phoenix to score 20 points on 6-11 from the field and 4-7 behind the arc.
New Orleans isn't going to win a lot of games with that defense. Tonight the offense bailed them out and the process continues to ignore the tenets being taught in practice. Effort was much improved but we have yet to see this team put forth the necessary defensive execution or sheer will to pull out a win if their shooters are not scorching hot.
Still, 2-3 on a road trip after this team started the season 1-10 away from the Smoothie King Center is a modicum of progress. Jrue Holiday's minutes restriction is set to expire on December 30th according to Joel Meyers at the end of the broadcast tonight. Quincy Pondexter might return soon, as he has been playing one-on-one with Alonzo Gee according to reports. The schedule is about to get a lot easier.
There's hope if you want to believe. I'm waiting for the same team to show up a couple nights in a row first.