Alexis Ajinca scored a career-high 24 points off the bench to give the New Orleans the 104-102 victory over the Miami Heat. Along with Ajinca’s career night, Eric Gordon chipped in with 20 points and eight assists. For the Heat, Luol Deng scored 22 points, while Goran Dragic added 20 points and five assists.
How close was that to disaster? As soon as that pass went off Gordon’s hands, I laughed, then went back to the Spurs game, where another Pelican blunder forced overtime. Thank god Dwyane Wade, a lackluster three point shooter for most of his career, decided to take the last shot from beyond the arc. A beautiful miss and the Pelicans enter their next game on a four-game winning streak. They like to put those little streaks together.
The first half was back and forth between the two teams. Goran Dragic was running, and as a result, continued to get to the basket. He also did a great job of moving the ball around, finding Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside for easy finishes. Bill, er, Henry Walker came back from the basketball graveyard, launching threes and even hitting on a few. Good to see you back in the league, Henry Walker, keep on cooking.
For the Pelicans, it was a ton of Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter. Evans, as he’s been one to do in Davis’ absence, has balanced his scoring with the team’s needs, finding guys like Dante Cunningham and Gordon for some quality shots. He also found Pondexter, who did a good job of converting in the first half. Pondexter went 3-4 from the field in the first with some easy finishes in the mid-range.
The third quarter was a slog. Huge slog. Both teams combined for 21 points in the quarter midway through. At one point, Mario Chalmers had the lone points for Miami in the third. The Pelicans couldn't get any good looks (Norris Cole took a couple terrible shots in this quarter), while Miami saw Wade clank a couple jumpers. Then, the Pelicans defense took a small nap, allowing Miami to finish with 28 points in the third. Luol Deng hit a couple easy baskets, but it was Whiteside who pushed Miami.
Going 4-4 in the third, Whiteside did an excellent job of finishing at the rim, and even flashed some post moves, faking a jumper, backing into the post and hitting an impressive hook shot. I’m not telling you anything new here, but man is he good and what a (lucky) find by Miami.
In the fourth, the Heat got a bit too trigger happy from beyond the arc. They went 2-7 from three-point territory. On the other end, Eric Gordon hit a couple baskets, Tyreke Evans did his thing - attacking the basket - before fouling out and Alexis Ajinca went 3-3 from the floor with all of his shots within five feet. The Pelicans almost threw the game away at the end, but they didn’t and it was a solid performance by all…except Norris Cole. Sorry, Norris. Just wasn’t your night.
Pellies win. Here are some notes.
- Kareem Abdul-Ajinca. Ajinca finished with 24 points, 9-10 from the floor, 6-8 from the line, eight rebounds and a game-winner to boot. He did a great job of working in the pick and roll with Eric Gordon, he did a good job of sealing and finishing on Hassan Whiteside (better than Asik, for sure). With Miami full of small post players in terms of girth, Ajinca’s wide frame and ability to finish on either side gave him the advantage when finishing down low.
- Pour a bit out for the Norris Cole revenge game. 0-10 from the floor and 0-3 from three with three points and four assists. He played some solid defense, though. I like the long-term fit for the Pelicans and Cole. Hopefully, he can find that three ball. Tonight? The ball didn't drop even once.
- I love Eric Gordon and I love watching him play. There, I said it. He can shoot, he can run the offense at times, and he’s creative in the pick and roll. Even with his past knee/leg injuries, he can still finish at the rim, too. I’m so-so on his defense, but Gordon is fun to watch, man. The balance he gives the starting lineup is beautiful.
- Both Dante Cunningham and Omer Asik got the job done, even though it wasn’t pretty. For Asik, there were numerous possessions where he just couldn’t get around Hassan Whiteside. He basically had to go over him for a couple of rebounds. However, Asik finished with 10 boards and some solid defense. Cunningham did much of the same, playing great defense, hitting a couple jumpers and finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
- Hey, Tyreke Evans was good out there. With Holiday out, Evans is doing a good, no, great way of balancing his scoring with the team’s need for a basket. Helps that Eric Gordon also does a bit of the same thing, but Evans is working hard, adjusting his game a bit and putting the Pelicans on his back as Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson are on the mend.
- Henry Walker, Shabazz Napier, Hassan Whiteside, Michael Beasley. What is in the water in Miami? (Don’t answer that)