Playoff hopes are now rooting for the Houston Rockets. In a game the Pelicans really needed to pull out they failed to finish strong and took the loss thanks to their efforts. Tied in the loss column for just 24 hours New Orleans must again hope for help from Oklahoma City Thunder opponents to claw into the playoffs.
The Pelicans showed no rust from the game last night early on and came out with guns blazing. A quick 14-4 run started the game as New Orleans scored on every possession that did not result in an Anthony Davis shot. More on that later. Eric Gordon had five quick points while Tyreke Evans chipped in four points and three assists. Then the wheels came off.
Over the next 20 minutes of game time the Portland Trailblazers outscored the Pelicans 52-30. Chris Kaman and LaMarcus Aldridge combined to abuse AD, Alexis Ajinca, and especially Ryan Anderson in the low post. If a turnaround or hook shot wasn't going through the net it was a kick out for an open three. The Pels tried doubling from the baseline, doubling from the inbound passer, doubling from the weak side wing, and playing straight up. No dice.
Portland was bound to score points, the bigger issue here is scoring just 30 points in 20 minutes. Unlike other cold spells the problem here was not turnovers, as the Pels committed just four. Instead the play-by-play is littered with "Jump Shot Missed". Anthony Davis again led the charge, going 3-8 in the span while committing half of the team's turnovers. Omer Asik picked up his third foul with the score 41-36. By halftime that five point lead would stretch to 12.
Fresh Out of the Locker Room
As has been the case lately, out of the locker room the Pels found a fire that was lacking for long stretches. Was it news that Kentucky's perfect season had been lost reaching AD's ears? Who knows. Whatever the cause a 12 point lead shrunk as small as four points within the first five minutes. A possible blow out had been avoided.
The heavy lifting? Courtesy of Eric Gordon (12 points), Tyreke Evans (8 points), and Anthony Davis (7 points). In the first six minutes Portland had two "stops" on ten offensive possessions. On both the Pelicans drew a foul (a rarity tonight) and Omer Asik and Tyreke Evans missed all four free throw attempts. The lead changed hands multiple times in the final three minutes and going into the fourth New Orleans was down just three points.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter no Pelican starter had logged more than 30 minutes. Monty Williams elected to begin the quarter with Norris Cole, Toney Douglas, Quincy Pondexter, Ryan Anderson, and Alexis Ajinca. Interesting. Even more so because that unit flipped the deficit into a four point lead in the first four minutes. Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Omer Asik took the court with a two point lead and 7:24 remaining on the clock.
After a horrendous second quarter the Pelican bench accomplished their mission. Get the starters a solid bit of rest and actually flipped the scoreboard in the process. Cole would going the other four starters for much of the remainder of the quarter, likely in an attempt to keep Tyreke Evans rested for the final stretch.
Sadly, the final stretch would be the Blazers salting the game away.
Hard Hedge Returns!
Oh hard hedge defense. How I hate you. Let me count the ways.
One Damian Lillard layup. Two Damian Lillard layups. Ha. Ha. Ha.
For reasons that continue to baffle me New Orleans elected to show hard with Anthony Davis on Lillard-Aldridge pick and rolls. The result? Free trips in a layup line as Anthony Davis observed from 30 feet from the hoop. On the game Lillard made just one shot beyond 15 feet. One.
The score knotted at 85 the Pelicans played 22 seconds of solid defense. While the shot clock wound down Lillard was 35 feet from the basket without much available but a heave. Tyreke Evans watched patiently. Nicolas Batum stood ready. Boom. Easy catch and shoot three that was not earned by the Blazers, but freely given by the Pelicans. Eric Gordon tried to answer back with a three of his own but missed.
Norris Cole elected this time was perfect to foul Lillard on a three point attempt. Why? No one will ever know. But Lillard went to the foul line and calmly drained all three at the charity stripe. In fact during the fourth quarter the Blazers made a grand total of one jump shot, Batum's three. Every other point was a layup or a free throw.
Every. Single. One.
Missing in Action
I don't know if Anthony Davis is 100%. But the player that is on the floor wearing a #23 jersey is not the AD we have come to know and love. Is the grind of the season wearing him down? That shoulder injury he suffered against Houston? Anything here is purely conjecture and should not be taken as an actual diagnosis.
What I do know is that he is not playing as well. Tonight he was 3-8 on uncontested shots and 8-20 overall. There was a possession in the fourth quarter designed to get Davis a jumper off the right elbow. The Pelicans executed well and the jumper was there for the taking. Davis elected to dribble a few times and reset instead. Why Davis is not rising and shooting here is beyond my comprehension.
Long Flight Back
The Pelicans are probably already on their way to the airport for a long plane flight. This was a game they could have won. Not should have won, but there was an opportunity. One not seized. For the next 15 hours we are all Houston Rocket fans.