Tonight was hideous. The Denver Nuggets, while a talented roster, appear to be a team who openly despises their coach and at times each other. New Orleans was expected by many to come into the Pepsi Center a demolish a team who is actively protesting the existence of the remainder of the schedule. As we have come to expect, this team does not handle such expectations well.
None of this is to say the Pelicans did not run a relatively solid and efficient offense for much of the game. Open 3-pointers clanged off the rim throughout the first half where New Orleans shot just 1-11 behind the arc. Two Luke Babbitt threes were erased by questionable offensive foul calls away from the ball; a charge after the pass on Tyreke Evans and a moving screen on Quincy Pondexter. How bad was it? On the night New Orleans shot just 13-37 (35.1%) on open shots. Eric Gordon (3-10), Quincy Pondexter (2-6), and Luke Babbitt (1-3) all chipped in their share of bricks.
However, a 99-92 win, on the road, is nothing to sneeze at. Yes the Pelicans could not make a shot most of the game. Despite that they found a way to gut out a victory. Winning without their A game is something these Pels have rarely done since the beginning of the rebuild. The construction site is not always a pretty place.
Asik Owns the Paint
I cannot overstate Omer Asik's impact tonight. When he was on the floor he collected 70% of available defensive rebounds and the Nuggets did not have a single offensive board. Not one. That's not impressive. That's insane. Traditional box score numbers are easy to explain and understand to the casual fan. Every time the Nuggets missed a shot tonight if Asik was on the court their possession ended.
Asik will never wow you with a big stat line like Ajinca's 24 points on 10 shots Friday night. His impact tonight goes so far beyond his 9 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 assists. Kenneth Faried, who typically has enormous games against New Orleans, had just 3 points and 6 rebounds. Tonight was a defensive masterpiece by the Turkish big man.
Dante Cunningham does little stuff on the court. He slides in to take a charge. Dives after a loose ball to extend a possession. Occasionally he's the pressure relief valve when the Pelicans offense finds the paint clogged. Tonight New Orleans needed those mid range jumpers with the 3-pointer failing them. Cunningham delivered again and again, shooting 6-8 on jump shots beyond 16 feet.
Is that sustainable? Of course not! No more so than Gordon, Pondexter, Norris Cole, and Luke Babbitt going 5-20 behind the arc. On nights when the high variability of the 3-point attack comes up snake eyes it is good to have a couple alternate plans. Cunningham's mid range game and a quick burst of production in the post from Alexis Ajinca provided the stopgap necessary to pull ahead.
Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon did not play the most aesthetically pleasing game to the eye tonight. In the first half the two combined for 12 points on 12 shots with 3 assists and 4 turnovers. That not only lack beauty, it hits you in the face with the ugly stick.
The second half was a different story entirely. Evans scored 12 points on 7 shots (thank you, Brian Shaw for your entirely unnecessary hacking) to go with 5 assists and 5 rebounds. Gordon poured in 16 points while going 3-6 behind the arc (he was 0-4 in the first half) and 5-9 from the field over all. They combined for 40 points (22 for Tyreke, 18 for Gordon) on 28 shots with 9 rebounds and 9 assists. The next leading scorer was Dante Cunningham.
As has been the theme during this win streak, Evans captained an efficient offense in the fourth quarter. After checking in with 8:30 remaining the Pelicans had 18 possessions. They scored on 15 of those possessions, scoring 28 points. Evans accounted for 17 of those points by either scoring himself or assisting (two threes for Eric Gordon, an assist to Cunningham).
It isn't pretty, but it's working.