A well-rested New Orleans Pelicans team took two days to lick it’s wounds after a thorough beat down from the wand of the Washington Wizards. Tired of mythical beings and hocus pocus, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday looked to avenge the 16-point loss and 3-point assault Orlando put on them at the Smoothie King Center on October 30th by letting their bigs be big and beating up the Magic in the paint while Jrue Holiday figure skated up and down the court.
This game had more highlights than a pediatrician’s waiting room. Every one of Rajon Rondo’s eight assists were of the “holy shit” variety.
The Pelicans used an injury-ravaged Magic squad — Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier who lit up the Pels in the first meeting of this series were both out — to right much of their season’s wrongs.
In the pregame telecast, Jen Hale stated that the Pelicans goal entering this game was to develop an identity on defense and to clean up turnovers — So, of course, the Pelicans immediately turned the ball over on their first possession and then followed that turnover up with another near mistake. However, things really cleaned up with the Pelicans closing out the first quarter with just one turnover. They’d finish with 15 turnovers on the night, which wouldn’t necessarily seem like a monumental achievement, but it is an improvement and apparently a magic number for which this see-saw of a season pivots on.
The Pelicans are 10-4 when they finish with 15 or fewer turnovers. They had 15 on the dot tonight— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) December 23, 2017
After that initial hiccup, New Orleans would go on a 9-0 run. The defense was active, keeping the Magic scoreless for the first three minutes of action. They were sticking close to their covers and then collapsing on the ball handler as they neared the paint, forcing kick-outs to mostly cold shooters. In the first quarter the Pels set the tone by holding Orlando to 20 points on 38% shooting with no made threes and creating five turnovers.
A lot of what had been troubling me about the Pelicans was resolved for at least a night — as DeMarcus Cousins played inside of the arc for the entire 1st quarter. I love when Cousins is the big that plays low and Davis plays high because AD won’t settle for the perimeter shot — he’ll drive with the ball or roam to the free spot on the floor, which set up numerous alley-oops tonight. The Pels were definitely down with O-O-P.
Free safety on offense and defense https://t.co/IWKmM1bezn— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) December 23, 2017
I’m sure the coaches challenged Boogie to play in the paint tonight, but the fact that he was getting the whistles he deserves every night on this evening was likely the reason he rarely deviated from bullying Nikola Vucevic, Marreese Speights and Bismack Biyombo and keeping them in foul trouble.
We don’t know when he was born, but we know when he died https://t.co/dwptyK6HYD— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) December 23, 2017
In the second quarter, the Pelicans reverted to point Boogie early, with Rondo getting a rest. We saw a much more in control Boogie running the floor — even though he would finish with 4 turnovers; however, one was a well played Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man meme of a charge pickup from Mo Speights.
Still, you can see how having Boogie bring the ball up wears him down when Rondo sits as his handles were getting sloppier as the frame progressed. A well-timed time out from Alvin Gentry gave Boogie a much needed breather and the reinsertion of Rondo was quickly rewarded with an inbound alley-oop to AD. The Pelicans defense also softened up some, allowing the Magic to go on a little run, but the Pels would never lose control.
The Pelicans play some pretty lazy defense sometimes. Lots of reaching vs moving their feet.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) December 23, 2017
While infamous Pelican poacher Mo Buckets was rendered, “No Buckets,” my offseason targets Jonathan Simmons and Elfrid Payton exploited every reach and gap in the defense for some other worldly efficiency.
If we can hold Simmons to 85% and Payton to 87% shooting in the 2nd half we should win by 10.— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) December 23, 2017
Luckily, no one else would pose much of a threat, and nothing the Magic would pull out of their hats could stop Cousins, Davis and Holiday — including Frank Vogel’s decision to play two centers for a stretch or his latest experiment of having Mario Hezonja play the four, which may eventually find success in the East, but not against beasts.
This was the heart-warming holiday beatdown Pelicans fans deserved, but it did not come without concerns. Free throw shooting is becoming a problem as the Pels shot just 62.5% from the line in a game that weirdly featured at least four missed technical free throws (from both teams combined). Defensive intensity also continues to waver.
However, this team did what it should have done. Played big. Played in control. And stomped an opponent with inferior talent and injured key contributors. Frame these shot charts and give them to your favorite paint-loving Pels fan this Christmas.
Up next, the Pelicans play another Floridian mash unit in Miami. Hopefully the Pelicans’ big three come out Office Space style on another broken down unit.