Tonight should have been a lot easier for the New Orleans Pelicans, but at the end of the day, all wins really do count the same in the standings.
At home against the 2-11 Atlanta Hawks, co-owners of the worst record in basketball, the Pelicans were in prime position to have a glorified scrimmage to get prepared for Wednesday’s rematch with the Toronto Raptors. But a funny thing happened in the first quarter of tonight’s game, the Hawks made a three. And another. And another after that one.
Before anyone could process what was happening, the first quarter came to an Eminem snap back to reality oh there goes gravity halt and New Orleans was on the wrong side of a 32-23 deficit. Turnovers, which has been a recent sore spot for New Orleans, continued to be a problem area for the Pelicans as they lazily gave the ball away 13 times in the first half.
New Orleans should have been able to totally unleash Anthony Davis on Atlanta — the Hawks were starting Luke Babbitt opposite Davis for goodness’ sake, but the Hawks were able to befuddle Davis defensively, holding him to only seven shots. Atlanta kept doubling Davis every time he got the ball on the post and it really through him off his game tonight. Davis was spooked, and had as many turnovers, five, as made baskets.
With Davis unable to crack Atlanta’s code, the burden fell on DeMarcus Cousins, and while the box score says Boogie had another stellar night (22 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists), the eye test says otherwise. Cousins was taxed all night long and again couldn’t shake his recent turnover obsession. Cousins’ seven assists were offset by seven turnovers and the Pelicans were only +1 with him on the court tonight.
So what happens when you have two All-Star big men and their play is largely held in check? If you’re the Hawks you make threes. Lots and lots of threes. The Hawks played to their strength and hit on 17 of their 36 three point attempts. Former Pelican Luke Babbitt, Marco Belinelli and Tyler Cavanaugh each had four threes and Kent Bazemore was right on their heels with three of his own. Despite their 2-11 record, Atlanta led by as many as 14 points and was able to counter almost every response New Orleans had.
A funny thing happened tonight in the Smoothie King Center: the Hawks gave DeMarcus Cousins fits and rendered Anthony Davis MIA, but they had no answer for E’Twaun Moore or, even more improbably, Darius Miller. Both players equaled or set new career-highs in points, with 24 and 21 respectively. Moore was hitting everything inside the arc and Miller came up huge with five three pointers, four coming in the last five minutes.
This is by no means a win New Orleans should feel good about. But it’s a win New Orleans shouldn’t apologize for either. Like the Sacramento game, New Orleans very easily could have thrown their hands up and said tonight’s not our night. But they overcame the turnovers, weathered the opponents’ hot shooting from three, and got contributions from atypical sources. I don’t know if this team makes this same come back a year ago. But this current group? Even despite the flaws on the roster and the parts that don’t quite make sense, this team has shown it can take an opponent’s best shot and make a come back.
Lost in the excitement of the comeback over a lousy team, Rajon Rondo made his New Orleans debut. It was brief, but tonight hopefully saw the beginning of what we can expect from Rondo the rest of the season. Rondo played only five minutes — it was announced he’d be only allowed up to six, and in his very first possession, he curled around Cousins, got the give and go, and layed the ball in the basket. On the next possession, he repaid Boogie with an assist good for three points. It was over as quick as it started, but Rondo hopefully teased what’s in store for the New Orleans offense the rest of the season.
But for now, the future will have to wait until Wednesday night against the Raptors. Tonight the Pelicans got win number eight and owe it in large part to none other than Darius Miller.
Who would’ve thought?