Just when you thought you’ve seen all the surprises the 2016-17 Pelicans have to offer, they pulled their biggest one out of the rabbit hole yet.
New Orleans shocked the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday night by a final score of 124-122. What’s even more surprising is that they beat the defending champions without Anthony Davis in the lineup. Winning with AD was hard enough, but presumably close to impossible without him.
Luckily, other Pels carried the slack and gave the Pels the W they so desperately needed to stay in the thick of the standings race (the Nuggets lost the day before against the Timberpups). With the victory, the Pels are now 1 game back, again, of the disastrous 8th seed.
Jrue Holiday came out smoking in the 1st quarter, scoring 10 points, but more importantly, dishing out 6 assists. 4 of those were to Terrence Jones, who wound up with 17 big points in the 1st, to lead the Pelicans to a big 35-point opening frame.
Jrue Holiday, long considered an integral piece to the AD era of New Orleans, would take matter into his own hands in the 2nd quarter. It was a 33-49 lead for the Pelicans when he subbed in. In typical Jrue fashion, he deferred to Tyreke when they shared the floor. The offense stalled and the Cavs were able to cut the lead to 9, 40-49.
Then, handed the full set of keys to the offense again, Jrue made 5 unassisted baskets in the final 4:45 minutes of the first half. He helped New Orleans extend the lead thanks to a 21-10 run in the final moments of the 2Q to regain the momentum. The result: a 70-50 halftime score!?!
Of course, the Cavs fought back, why wouldn’t they? They’re one of the few teams with the proverbial “switch”. And so they switched it on.
Kyrie Irving led the charge during their comeback. He was absolutely scintillating! Kyrie punished the “drop” defense. Despite excellent coverage from the Pels, Kyrie kept hitting tough shots. Pull up after pull up, contorted layup after layup, he made everything. He brought the Cavs back to life, practically by himself, scoring 19 points in the 3rd and helping the Cavs cut a 20 point deficit to a more manageable 8 points entering the final quarter.
The Pels needed all of that 20-point lead to survive as the offense struggled some in the second half. All the motions and openings they got? Gone. The Cavs tightened their defense and forced the Pels to take tough shots. New Orleans shot 38.6 percent during the game’s last 24 minutes. It was the Pels that we’ve always known: slow to pick up their offense, lots of dribbling or senseless passing.
But somehow, they made all the right baskets at the right time. Sure, there were calls the went the Cavs way, but honestly? It was a pretty uneven game for both teams. A lot of James and Kyrie’s drives to the rim could have been called for a foul, but they weren’t.
The Pels won because they built a a big lead and they did just enough not to lose. Against any other team, this would have been a distressing sign. But against a top tier team? To build a lead? To withstand their runs? And without your star player? That’s something to cheer about. It was the perfect way to come back from a disappointing blowout loss to the Nets a mere 72 hours ago.
Incredible 36-point game, Terrence.
And a lot of important contributions were made by Langston Galloway, Donatas Motiejunas and E’Twaun Moore. Don’t forget that Dante Cunningham gutted out a bad stomach, too.
A blowout win wouldn’t have been nearly as good. That could easily be chalked down to a hot streak, which the 1st half was. We needed a reminder that this team has some skin. And they showed some tonight. In the face of overwhelming odds, the Pels rose up to the occasion and won. It was one of the few nights where I felt proud to be a Pels fan.
Don’t forget to cherish these moments.