Wow. It's amazing how the Pelicans continue to catch us all by surprise. After so many big wins this season, we should expect it. Then again, we say we should, but in the moment, we don't necessarily believe it -- we've endured too much heartbreak and have rarely had the privilege of watching #FullSquadron on the floor together. Yet, they manage to come through. A 10-12 record against the top 10 in the NBA most assuredly says so.
The Pelicans started down a quick 8-1 as they failed to match the intensity of the Raptors out of the gates. For whatever reason, Toronto was able to find little resistance inside the paint and scored 8 of their first 10 points in the prime region of the floor. The Raptors offense continued to click, knocking down 8 of their first 12 attempts, while the Pelicans were still fumbling around for the keys to the ignition.
Leading the slumber was Tyreke Evans, who began 1 for 6 (with a number of attempts from the outside) and added a poor turnover on a fastbreak opportunity (but had also made a few other bad decisions by not moving the ball quickly enough). Eric Gordon was the only Pelican with more than one make from the field; thus, a double digit deficit after the first quarter sounded just about right.
Alexis Ajinca started to get some shots to go down in the second quarter, but the Raptors lead continued to grow. However, AA's persistent scoring finally started to make a dent, reducing a 13 point lead to 7 at the 6:03 mark. At this point, remarkably 14 of the Pel's 31 points were from our centers. Then, Asik returned for AA and the offense proceeded to die again.
When Gordon/Evans are struggling, I just don't see how you can have Asik and Cunningham out on the floor with them. Case in point, that 7 point disadvantage was 18 in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, Monty brought Luke Babbitt back into the game for Cunningham and something was salvaged as the halftime score was a little more acceptable at 56-44.
That 12 point deficit seemed like it should have been worse. Way worse. The Raptors had managed to grab 10 offensive rebounds in the first 24 minutes, made nearly 50% of their shots and had only 3 turnovers. To boot, they were +12 in free throw attempts.
The Pelicans started the third quarter much the same way they started the game -- a lack of offense. Asik kicked things off by the rim getting one of it's patented blocks on an open look, and then Evans resumed missing the mark. In all, the team started a lovely 1-4 with 3 turnovers out of intermission.
At the 7:15 mark, Eric Gordon made a 3 to bring the deficit back to 10 points, and a Pelicans charge was born. If our centers weren't bobbling it away, they were slamming it home with authority. Really, it was a flip of a coin tonight. The deficit was cut to 6 several times but it could have been a lot closer had the Pelicans avoided turning it over 3 times within a 5 possession span. By the time the frame ended, the deficit was a manageable 7, but one couldn't help but think it should have been a lot less and that all those mistakes were going to catch up with the team in the fourth quarter.
In the first minute of the final 12, the Pelicans went down by 10, but before you could open your mouth to complain, the Pelicans went on a 10-2 run in the next two minutes. Just a two point deficit! Yet, after the Raptors timeout and two consecutive turnovers, their lead was back up to 7.
With 5:35 to go, the Pelicans were down 6, but they weren't done. Two unlikely heroes, Norris Cole and Luke Babbitt, would get them right back into it by scoring 10 of the next 11 points. With 1:23 to go, Tyreke Evans made a lay-up to give the Pelicans the biggest lead of the game -- 3 points.
Of course, with all the preceding roller coaster of emotions, this one couldn't be over yet. Kyle Lowry scored the next 4 points and Toronto retook the lead with 1:00 remaining. After an Alexis lay-in, Lowry missed his next jumper and the Pelicans had an opportunity to push the lead to 3 or even 4. Unfortunately, Evans proceeded to infuriate everyone watching. He dribbled out the shot-clock and took a tough jumper, one that he's probably likely to make less than 5 times out of 100 attempts.
Once again, the defense was going to have to come up huge. Never mind that it had already limited the Raptors to 4 points in the previous 2:30. Never mind that the opposition sports the second best offensive rating in the league.
Well, when you've got Omer Asik, it really is no problem.
The Raptors final shot attempt, another one by Kyle Lowry, was a thing of beauty...if you're a fan of Asik's defense. Seriously, the Turkish delight not only stayed with a starting guard from the All-Star game, he swatted his shot attempt with ease. After a couple of Fredette free throws, Lowry was forced to take a difficult 27 footer to tie the game. It missed the mark rather easily.
- We're going to start with Tyreke Evans. His play was very mediocre at times as evidenced by his stat line (5-13, 4 turnovers), yet without him, the Pelicans don't win the game. Post-game, Monty Williams divulged Evans has been sick all day, but as he usually does, he gutted it out. However, there has to be someone on the team, player or coaching staff member, to have a sit down with him on final possessions. Dribbling out the clock and hoisting a low percentage attempt is unacceptable.
- Omer Asik had 14 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. His defense was sublime and it should never be overshadowed by whatever incompetent moments that will happen on the other end of the floor. Oh, btw, Asik had 10 free throw attempts on the night. The last time he had double-digit attempts? April 6, 2014.
- Eric Gordon wasn't on the mark but he did a little bit of everything: 11 points, 3 threes, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block.
- Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter were rather invisible. Thus, we all must applaud Monty for closing the game with Luke Babbitt and Norris Cole. Still, going forward, I would love to see Cunningham and Asik not occupy the floor so much together. It's an offensive nightmare when Anthony Davis doesn't play.
- I already mentioned the reserves individually in the immediate post-game thread. They were incredible as they scored 55 points (in 80 minutes of action) and combined for a scorching 68.6% from the floor. Luke Babbitt's prowess from beyond the arc, Norris Cole's fearless play and Ajinca's touch inside all deserve the game ball. (Well, along with Asik's contributions.)
- After starting 1-8 from the three-point line, the Pelicans went on to make 9 of their next 14.
- After making their first 8 of 12, the second best offense in the league proceeded to make just 27 of their next 72 looks. That's a piss-poor 37.5%.
- The Pelicans committed 9 more turnovers and attempted 15 less free throws. ZOINKS!
- The Pelicans move to 2-0 with Norris Cole on the roster. I know it's been only 2 games, but I'm at a loss at the defensive specialist label. Right now, I'm looking squarely at Coach Spoelstra and wondering why his system squashed this dynamic little player so much.
With the win, New Orleans moves ahead of the Phoenix Suns in the standings and sit two games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 8th seed. The Pelicans will take their two game win streak to Brooklyn to face the Nets on Wednesday. Which Pelican squad will show up? Who the hell knows, but there's a reason the must-see-tv slogan exists.