In a Sunday afternoon matinee the Pelicans came out scorching hot. They literally could not miss at the beginning of the game and ran out to a 15-5 early lead. Much of the shot making to that point had the feeling of being unsustainable. Norris Cole pull ups over DeAndre Jordan are not a good place to start or end and offense. Anthony Davis was back after missing two games with a sprained ankle and did not miss a beat, draining a variety of pull up jumpers on the left side of the court.
With Davis starting so hot the Clippers had to adjust, and adjust they did. The second defender started rotating over before the pass to Davis was even made. This led to a number of assists for Davis (5 on the night) but he also began to look pretty hesitant. The pressure and arms thrown his direction took him out of rhythm, eliminating the catch-and-shoot from his repertoire early on. Davis has made great strides in this area, but the Clippers did an excellent job on defense to force other Pelicans to beat them. On the game Anthony Davis, a big man, led the Pelicans in touches with 63 according to NBA Stats. That is simply unheard of.
A big Clipper run near the end of the second quarter (11-0) was answered by a 10-0 New Orleans run to end the half. The Pelicans were shooting the lights out but had trouble controlling the defensive glass. 57.9% from the field and 63.6% behind the arc were held back by nine turnovers and eight offensive rebounds allowed. One of my keys to the game was to bury the Clipper bench. That simply did not happen in the first or second half.
Second Half, Clippers Turn it On
The third quarter was when the wheels started to rattle off a little. Anthony Davis picked up three personal fouls in just 9:03 on the court and took an early seat on the bench. I would guess that Monty Williams had hopes of playing Davis nearly all of the final 24 minutes but foul trouble would not allow for it. Again controlling the glass was a problem, the Clippers collected six offensive rebounds in the third quarter alone; the Pelicans had just seven defensive rebounds. Six more turnovers should have doomed New Orleans.
The fourth quarter started ponderously slow. It took three minutes before either team would score and Nate Robinson stretched the Los Angeles lead to 85-77. The Pelicans answered back with
eight six points of their own to tie it up come within two points. An absolutely horrendous goaltending call negated a beautiful Anthony Davis follow.
In the cylinder huh? pic.twitter.com/iqUWuOolCw— Oleh Kosel (@Redhopeful) March 22, 2015
Monty Williams picked up a technical foul. J.J. Redick made the free throw then drained a 15-footer to stretch the Clipper lead back to five points. The goaltending actually counts as a turnover, one of two Davis would commit during the game. The Pelicans would trim the lead to as small as three but came no closer as the Clippers held them at arm's length for the remainder of the game.
Players Make Poor Choices
In the deciding portion of the game the Pelicans got good shots and just did not knock them down. However, there were better decisions to be made. With 3:40 or so remaining the Pelicans ran their pet play. Eric Gordon took the role of Ryan Anderson and after an Anthony Davis pick and roll with Norris Cole he set an additional screen for Davis and popped out to the top of the key. Cole looked but had no chance to pass to Davis. Instead he smartly swung the ball to Dante Cunningham, who took this shot.
Notice Gordon is standing in his own personal zip code without a defender within 15 feet of him. Gordon, who has been automatic on catch and shoot opportunities since coming back from a torn labrum. Cunningham HAS TO make the extra pass here. There is no doubt in my mind the Pelican coaches drill into the players' heads to make the extra pass. Cunningham should know this set and see that four Clippers are below the broken circle to take away any chance for AD to receive a pass. Going to Gordon is not only the smart pass, but the easy pass.
The very next trip down the Pelicans ran a pick and roll with Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis. Again the Clippers collapsed on Davis to force the ball elsewhere. At the time Blake Griffin is guarding Anthony Davis and DeAndre Jordan is "guarding" Dante Cunningham. Notice where Jordan is at the time of this pass by Gordon.
Griffin and Matt Barnes both go at Gordon to force the ball out of his hands. DeAndre Jordan abandoned Cunningham at the moment of the pick and roll to set up shop at the top of the restricted area, taking away Anthony Davis. Gordon smartly passes to Cunningham. You can see above Chris Paul taking a step towards Cunningham. That is all the further he would go, electing to stunt and take away the pass to Cole for a corner three. Cunningham would miss the jumper, all but sinking any realistic shot at a comeback attempt.
Cunningham took just three shots all quarter, while Anthony Davis took
five four. Even on the possessions where Davis did not shoot the intention was to get him the ball, and the Clippers did everything in their power to force others to beat them instead.
Missing Pieces - In Suits
It is times like these when the reputation of a shooter like Ryan Anderson or Jrue Holiday off the ball could create the space necessary for AD to get more shots. Instead in order to mask defensive deficiencies the Pelicans make it doubly difficult to score in crunch time. Norris Cole and Quincy Pondexter, hardly renowned shooters, ably hold defenders in the corners off the ball. The third player on the court, even one as adept at shooting for mid range at Cunningham (he is shooting 41.8% from that range, LaMarcus Aldridge is shooting 40.9% for comparison) does not threaten opponents enough.
The Pelicans need three point shooters on the floor. A lineup like their preferred "Finishing Five" with Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis running the pick and roll while Anderson, Holiday, and Gordon stretch the defense to its breaking point. Sadly, that group has only played 189 minutes together in the last two seasons combined due to injuries. To compare, the Clippers starting lineup tonight has played 962 minutes together this season alone. Continuity, it seems, will continue to be a problem for the Pelicans going forward.