The night started out on a positive note:
Once the game tipped off, things continued to go smoothly, at least initially. After Nikola Vucevic got the scoring started, the Pelicans scored the next 10 points, with 6 of them on Eric Gordon threes. Then the Pelicans committed 4 straight turnovers and that aided the Magic to go on a 9-0 run themselves.
The Pelicans would go on to regroup, but the Magic stayed close, thanks to 5 first quarter turnovers and 4 of 6 misses from the free throw line. Although Tyreke Evans had 5 assists, he missed a ton of wide open teammates on several bad drives to the rim. To boot, he attempted 3 shots from behind the arc!?
The second frame began with the Pelicans quickly scoring 4 points and then they started to rain jumpers that included several treys (Q-Pon, Ryno). After scoring 20 points in the first 12 minutes, they proceeded to add 21 in a little over the first 7 minutes in the second quarter. Go bench!
But then the reserves hit a wall -- cue the doldrums for the 2nd time in the first half. After leading by 9 more than midway through the second quarter, the Magic once again came back from a sizable deficit to tie the game. Fortunately, the Pelicans recovered some and on the strength of several jumpers by Davis, they took a 47-43 lead into halftime.
Shooting from the field wasn't a problem: 51.4 FG%/ 40 3FG%. Rather missed freethrows, turnovers (4 by Anthony Davis !!!) and giving up too many points in the paint derailed the Pels from having a good half. With the Magic's starting backcourt getting into foul trouble, New Orleans should have been able to take better advantage. By the way, the roller coaster first half perfectly synced with the inconsistent play we have seen out of the Pelicans all season.
The second half began with Davis taking it strong to the rim that earned him a trip to the foul line. However, the Magic would go on to take the lead as the Pelicans mysterious lackadaisical play reappeared. Monty smartly called a timeout, but the team didn't really respond (a theme on the night). At the 4:26 mark, the Pelicans found themselves down 7 points after the Pelicans continued to give up easy looks to the Magic. For instance, they were getting their shots blocked on one end and then the transition defense was no where to be found on the other part of the floor.
With one quarter remaining and trailing 73-71, it was put up or shut up time. The Pelicans trailed significantly in two effort categories: fast break points (13-4) and points in the paint (50-32). So what did we get?
- 4 minutes into the final frame, the Pelicans deficit had stretched from 2 to 7. Out of a timeout, the Magic moved both the ball and personnel crisply and Evan Fournier ended up splashing an open three.
- 6 minutes into the final frame, the deficit was 12 points as the Pelicans attempted and missed 3 straight three-pointers.
- 8 minutes into the final frame, the Pelicans were still down 10 points, having made only 1 field goal and been credited with just one attempt around the rim.
At no point, did the Pelicans make a run. It might not be a team's night, but there should still be some kind of spark. Some kind of display of a will to win, no?
- Anthony Davis started slowly and he stayed that way: 13 points (on 15 shots), 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. There was no denying Davis looked rusty, perhaps even tentative. No matter what I or anyone else writes though, the pain he's feeling right at the sound of the final buzzer is punishment enough.
- Tyreke Evans filled up the boxscore (14 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds) but I didn't like his game tonight. For starters, he jacked up 5 three point shots. The only time he should ever attempt that many is if he's at least made several of them on the night already.
- Omer Asik didn't have much of a chance tonight (20 minutes) as the Pelicans were down for most of the 2nd half, but when he was in, he wasn't all that effective against Nikola Vucevic. However, don't pummel him or berate him too much as his teammates are 95% more responsible for giving up 64 points in the paint tonight.
- Eric Gordon started off like a firecracker, hitting 2 threes and scoring 8 points in less than the first four minutes of the game. Thus, it's downright inexcusable he only added another 3 points and attempted only 5 more shots for the rest of the game. On the other end of the floor, Victor Oladipo did a number on him.
- Ryan Anderson, the good? He made his first 2 shots on the night! The bad? He went 2 for 9 the rest of the game.
- The small forward duo of Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter combined to shoot 6 of 8. IMO they were the only individuals who played up to their capabilities.
- The Pelicans were -7 in fast breaks and -28 in points in the paint against a team 21 games under .500.
It's really hard to think about tomorrow's match-up as tonight's loss has the similar feel of the one the Pelicans suffered in Philadelphia last month. I can understand some inconsistency at the start of this game, when considering the long All-Star lay-off, but at some point, the light switch should have come on. For crying out loud, especially by the time the game entered the fourth quarter!
Instead, New Orleans netted 13 points in the final frame. They went 9 minutes without a field goal and nearly all of their attempts were in the form of medium to long jump shots. Not surprisingly, not once did they make any kind of a run. It's incredibly disappointing this team didn't show any kind of fire during crunch time against another bad team from the Eastern Conference.
The Pelicans knew what was at stake. Hell, they've had 9 days to think about how 29 games remained and they sat a mere 1 and 1/2 games out of a possible post-season berth. They should have become furious as this game progressed, but they seemed as emotionless as robots. Not once did I see anyone trying to light a fire underneath another. An earnest pep talk, or on the other side of the spectrum, a calculated berating. It's frightening to me that Monty Williams was the only one who exuded any kind of anger as the camera panned on him as the game entered a timeout.
Thus, when we look at the stats, and that the Pelicans missed 24 of their 36 uncontested looks, we know better. Yeah, the shots didn't fall, but it's all about context. When you're in a rut, it's not wise to continue hoisting outside jumpers. When a spark is needed, go out and make a play. A steal. A rebound in traffic that starts an advantageous break. A drive to the rim where you're hunting for an And-1 opportunity.
For God's sake, don't settle. But that's exactly what they did and now they've got a 2-10 record against the Eastern Conference on the road. It may have been only one game, but the playoffs have never felt further out of reach this season than right now.
Anywho, there's a game tomorrow. In Miami. Geaux Pels?