The beginning of the game was absolutely gorgeous. The Pelicans at their very best. The ball found open shooters and those shooters converted those open looks into points, rapidly. In their first 16 possessions the Pelicans scored 24 points and held a commanding 24-15 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks. At one point the lead had grown to 15-0 but holding an NBA opponent scoreless would probably be some kind of record. Out of the time out Alexis Ajinca entered for Omer Asik.
Ajinca has been an amazing pick up for Dell Demps. He has been the fulcrum of the offense with Anthony Davis out or shockingly long stretches. Ajinca has been near unstoppable in the post, dominating smaller opponents and looking like the lovechild of Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That Alexis Ajinca was not a the Smoothie King Center tonight. His mid range jumper abandoned him. The rolling hook shot into the lane could not find the target despite hitting every part of the rim. Thankfully, his partner in crime at the center spot was having one of his best games as a Pelican.
Asik and Destroy
Omer Asik was excellent tonight. He caught the ball (!) and finished around the trees repeatedly, shooting 6-8 from the floor. He also got to the line and converted there as well, making four of five attempts. With Asik on the floor tonight the Pelicans collected 86.2% of available defensive rebounds and 26.9% of offensive rebounds. In an ugly game his presence ended Milwaukee possessions and kept Pelican possessions going.
One big thing tonight was his chemistry with Eric Gordon, who set him up numerous times working the baseline. That is both a product of a catchable pass being throw from Gordon and Asik finding a window for Gordon to pass through.
Thankfully Monty Williams went to Omer Asik at the end. With Jason Kidd deciding to leave Zaza Pachulia on the court (a poor decision considering Monty's propensity to match the opposition's lineup) Asik continued to clog the lane until the final whistle. Usually teams go and stay small as the game progresses. Milwaukee did not electing to stay big on the court in the second half of the fourth quarter.
Asik ended the game with 16 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks and very nearly ended the Milwaukee threat on the final possession if it wasn't for a gifted timeout by the officials after what appeared to be a forced turnover.
Q-Pon Redeemed Here
Quincy Pondexter was the only Pelican who could consistently make a jump shot tonight. Boy did he ever connecting on five of ten three point attempts, including nailing three of five attempts in the corners. As with Asik on the baseline Pondexter's ability to find weak points in the defense and make himself available for difficult passes is a unheralded skill.
Monty Williams had his share of quality decisions tonight. On offense out of timeouts (four) the Pelicans scored eight points, good for an insane 200 Offensive Rating. As NBA TV showed during The Starters New Orleans leads the entire NBA in offensive efficiency out of timeouts. Thanks, in part, to Kidd's decision to stay big Monty also went back to the starting lineup in the final five minutes of the game.
Monty got absolutely nothing from the bench tonight and his minute distribution showed. Norris Cole was the only reserve to reach 20 minutes as Coach Williams leaned heavily on his starters to claw out a victory the Pels had to have before going on a daunting West Coast road trip. Every starter recorded a solid +/- tonight while every reserve was negative.
Where's the Foul?
One disturbing thing tonight, the sheer volume of contact on Anthony Davis drives that went uncalled. It was ridiculous to see Davis on the floor repeatedly due to subtle hip checks, shoves, and outright hacks with the officials doing nothing. Even with all those missed fouls Davis found his way to the line nine times tonight. If he got the kind of respect that James Harden or LeBron James does on a nightly basis it would have been 15 or more freebies for the Brow. At least.
On the last shot, a shockingly open attempt by Ersan Ilyasova, Pachulia simply held Davis to free up the Turkish power forward. After a (phantom?) timeout was given to Jason Kidd after Omer Asik and Quincy Pondexter combined to force a turnover by Giannis Antetokounmpo and the officials permitted that "screen" it was no wonder the basketball gods found it in themselves to waive off the basket in their own way.
Control Your Destiny
The Pelicans are back into 8th place with the win tonight. That position is only temporary as the Thunder can take it back tomorrow night with a victory over the Boston Celtics. However, with a tie in the loss column at 30 New Orleans has control of their own destiny with 15 games to play. Finish even or better than the Thunder and the Pelicans can punch their ticket to the playoffs.
It will not be easy. Up next, three games in four nights on the West Coast. First up, the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night. While Phoenix appears to have bowed out of the playoff hunt at the trade deadline they remain a tough out at home where they are 19-15. After that, a plane flight and a back-to-back against the rested Golden State Warriors. Nothing will be given from here on out. New Orleans must take it.