Arriving in Minnesota, just two games remained on the calendar, yet these final days of the regular season held so much potential. The young Pelicans were probably fully aware of this fact; thus, it wasn't all that surprising to see them come out rather tight. We can't forget that playing in these type of meaningful games towards the end of a season is a first for this group collectively.
A couple of hours before tip-off, the Pelicans announced that Jrue Holiday would sit this one out.
.@OchsnerHealth injury update: Jrue Holiday (stress reaction - lower right leg) is OUT tonight vs. Minnesota.— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) April 13, 2015
It shouldn't have been a concern considering the Wolves had only 8 players available to play tonight with a slew of regulars sidelined. Yet a slow start still transpired. Fortunately for the Pelicans, the Wolves started the game off playing like the rookies that they are.
Tough start for Minnesota's rookies. LaVine/Payne/Wiggins: 5-for-21. Rest of the team: 7-for-13.— Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) April 14, 2015
The biggest key tonight was that the Pelicans defense showed up.
In addition, this young Wolves team likes to run. This past Saturday, they tallied 22 fastbreak points against the Golden State Warriors. Against the Pelicans, they didn't get their first fast break points of the game until the third quarter. For the night, they finished with just 8, and more importantly, their team shot under 40% from the floor and under 30% from the three-point line.
Against a defense that allows the highest amount of paints in the paint, the Pelicans came out shooting from the perimeter. 13 of the Pelicans 25 in all, led by an unusually aggressive Eric Gordon who hoisted 5 of them. Consequently, connecting on just 4 of them (no threes) and zero trips to the foul line resulted predictably in a miniscule 22-20 lead after the first quarter.
David Wesley made a good point in the 2nd quarter in that most of the Timberwolves are playing for jobs for next season; consequently, you could be sure of taking their best shot, regardless of how much force that shot actually possesses. As if on cue, the score was soon tied at 26.
So wouldn't you know that after a Wolves timeout, the Pelicans went on a 24-9 to close out the 1st half. Interestingly though, most of the damage was not done inside. After New Orleans scored 12 of their first 18 points in the paint, they managed to add just 6 more from the part of the floor for the rest of the half. They made 10 of their 23 jumpers, but it was the 10 made free throws in the second quarter that really did the trick.
In the 2nd half, the Pelicans methodically continued to pick apart the inferior team. LaVine and Wiggins are keepers and Budinger has a place in this league, but the rest of their roster? Meh. Although they made a couple of runs, the Wolves never closed the gap to closer than 9 points. If you haven't heard, it's kind of shocking to learn that this squad had actually pushed the Warriors just this past Saturday.
- In the first half, Anthony Davis looked to guard the rim in earnest. 24 hours earlier, he was nowhere to found in this department, but in tonight's game, he had 5 blocks at halftime. For the game, he finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 6 blocks.
- Outside of a few silly turnovers, Tyreke Evans had his best game in over a week: 22 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds. His jumpshot was particularly on as he canned 4 of his 5 attempts.
- Eric Gordon looked like Allen Iverson early on as he connected on just 1 of 6 field goal attempts within the first 7 minutes of the game. He settled down after that in a big way though, making 6 of his final 8 shots for the rest of the game including 4 treys.
- Remember when Alexis Ajinca used to contribute? Yeah, you gotta go back to March to find evidence of that.
- Both Ryan Anderson and Quincy Pondexter were really off. They combined for just 5 points on 2 of 13 from the floor and just 4 rebounds in 42 minutes of action. If the Pelicans have any hope of knocking off the Spurs in several days, no-shows like this will not be allowed.
- Nice to see the Pelicans remembered how to make free throws (20-24).
- Considering the Wolves give up the most points in the paint in the NBA, seeing the Pelicans put up 23 of their 43 first half attempts from the perimeter was a bit disheartening. As I stated earlier, they made a decent amount but that's living dangerously against a poor team. It worked out tonight though so forgive and forget.
Welp, it all comes down to the final game of the season. The first 81 preceding games resolved literally nothing outside of an OKC tiebreaker so the Pelicans must endure one more test. Lamentably, it's the San Antonio Spurs, the hottest team in the NBA since the All-Star break.
The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 20.0 points per 100 possessions over their 11-game winning streak: http://t.co/GqWFMEQ88v— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 13, 2015
Most likely, the Spurs will need to beat the Pelicans to secure a #2 seed in the upcoming Western Conference playoffs. That's bad news for the Pelicans, even if their head coach is Gregg Popovich (world-renowned for keeping his players fresh throughout the regular season). Some are speculating that he may throw caution into the wind and rest a couple of key players, but I don't see it. He's been in enough postseasons to know that throwing away a potential home court advantage is a foolish notion.
No matter, the Pelicans and their fans must believe; anything can happen in a single game. At the very least, they owe us for this garbage: