The New Orleans Pelicans won for the second time in as many nights in relaxing fashion, coasting to an easy victory over the Miami Heat, 109-94. For just the fifth time this season, they beat an opponent by double-digits; the sixth time the Pels have held the opposition to under 100 points.
The hope is the Pelicans latest winning streak follows them through some holiday rest with a slate of upcoming home games including the scrappy Brooklyn Nets on the 27th, the currently inept but well-coached Dallas Mavericks on the 29th and the on-paper inferior but surprising New York Knicks. In theory, riding the success of these last two Florida vacations, the Pelicans should string together five straight victories — making it their longest win streak of the season — before a short but very important two-game road trip (Jazz & Timberwolves).
Although this current two-game streak seems like an oasis in a desert of up-and-down play, the Pels were stringing together more wins earlier this season than my feeble memory retained. In late October, the Pelicans knocked off the Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers. Then November saw three small streaks including wins over the Mavs, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. This was followed by back-to-back wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks in the middle of the month. The Pelicans closed out November with an impressive three-game streak over the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns. However, December’s wins came like the catch phrase from a regular Hornets game attendee who would say, “there goes Mo Pete with his ol’ one-in-a-row.” every time Morris Peterson would make a bucket. Like Peterson, the Pels couldn’t find back-to-back success.
Initially, Saturday’s game against an injury-ravaged Heat squad, that gutted out victories in four of their last five games, looked like it could be a trap game. Despite the Pelicans seizing the lead early, some initial sloppy play led to a 5-0 run by the Heat which ensured this would not be another wire-to-wire victory for the New Orleans. We saw lots of turnovers and also two quick personal fouls on DeMarcus Cousins — a blocking foul and a lazy reach — that had him on the bench early in the first quarter.
Four turnovers in four minutes..... pic.twitter.com/XixrRA76Pf— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) December 24, 2017
Even noted basketball genius, Rajon Rondo committed the boneheadiest of all turnovers — stepping out of bounds while catching what could have been either a super clean catch-and-shoot opportunity or drive and kick along the baseline.
Bam Adebayo and Tyler Johnson were out-hustling the Pelicans, but E’Twaun Moore was keeping New Orleans’ heads above water with his floater game. Moments of greatness — like a Jrue Holiday block and fastbreak opportunity — were rewarded with nothing on the scoreboard. It looked like a game where the ball was just going to bounce the wrong way all night, and the Heat were getting to the basket way too easily.
Tyler Johnson gets creative with the finish up off the glass! pic.twitter.com/A5ZOkoax0Q— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) December 24, 2017
James Johnson, who was questionable to play, added more meat to the steal jaws of the trap game with a miraculous catch and spin three-pointer with 0.6 seconds left on the clock to give Miami a 27-28 lead at the end of one.
End 1Q: #Pelicans 27, Heat 28— Trevor Ritchie (@ritchietmr) December 24, 2017
New Orleans commits six turnovers but shoots 52.6% from the field (2/3 3PT) and keeps it a one-point game.
End of the 1st: Heat lead the Pelicans, 28-27 after a rainbow 3 at the buzzer by James Johnson. Moore 6 points, Davis 5 points. Pels have 8 assists on their 10 field goals— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) December 24, 2017
Even though Darius Miller started the 2nd quarter scoring with his second three of the night, the warm feelings that would eventually come took some time to kick in as the Pelicans were lazy on the boards — well, mainly Dante Cunningham was lazy on the boards — and Boogie had an early turnover.
Dante Cunningham: World record holder for proximity to rebounds without actually collecting them.— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) December 24, 2017
Side note: I used to call Roman Harper, “Right Place, Wrong Guy,” for his ability to be in perfect position but to never make the play. I’m passing that nickname onto Dante for his rebounding, or lack thereof, prowess.
After a bumpy start to the second quarter, the despair, worry and depression broke with inspiration and hope and the promise of a brighter future, much like this scene from Bojack Horseman.
The bench plus Boogie lineup began to gel. Darius Miller again demonstrated that he isn’t just a catch-and-shoot assassin with a few nifty passes.
Boogie got engaged on defense — sparked by a strip under the basket that set up a one-man fastbreak. Then he drew a shooting foul on Bam which was followed by a Jameer Nelson three and an Ian Clark floater for a 10-0 run. Cousins also had a demonstrative block of Tyler Johnson at the rim that he followed up with a drawn charge on Kelly Olynyk.
2nd night in a row of good minutes for Boogie-only lineups.— Will (@Will_NOLA) December 24, 2017
While AD was being held in check (1-4 shooting and zero rebounds) throughout the first half, he was making his presence felt on defense, culminating in a great block (he’d finish with 4 total) and then save by Rondo, as well as, with his improved playmaking.
The Pelicans would ease off the gas with some sloppy defense to close out the half, letting Miami creep back in, but you could see that this one was possibly over — especially with the Pels’ drastically improved ball handling.
The @PelicansNBA committed 0 turnovers in final 8:32 of the first half and lead at the break 56-53 in Miami. E’twaun Moore has been great. Game high 13 pts on 6-8fg— Sean Kelley (@SeanKelleyLive) December 24, 2017
For the second night in a row, the Pelicans big men lived inside the paint — AD took just one three pointer and Boogie only took two. It was Cousins’ made three that started the third quarter off and the Pelicans stubbing out the Heats’ fire like a smoked to the filter cigarette. Also, this is the second night in a row where Cousins was getting calls inside, which will hopefully continue with his new commitment to playing inside. Jrue Holiday continued to be a mismatch on defense for big men, as he stripped the ball from Olynyk under the rim, forcing him to stumble awkwardly out of the paint. Boogie added to the big-to-big alley oop highlight reel finding Anthony Davis with a lob from just inside of the arc — finally getting Davis going offensively.
Despite all of this, Ian Clark would steal the third and fourth quarter with easily his best game as a Pelican — drilling threes from all over including a ridiculous, “Heat Checkmate.”
The third quarter was sewn up with an 18-4 run that resulted from engaged defense, ball movement, hot shooting and balanced scoring. Of course, the Pels would close the third with a head scratching inbounds turnover, an offensive foul from Cunningham and another missed technical free throw, but at 83-69, the game was all but wrapped up and stacked under the tree.
Three straight turnovers for the #Pelicans late in the 3Q....— Trevor Ritchie (@ritchietmr) December 24, 2017
New Orleans held Miami to 16 points in the 3rd on 5-of-21 shooting— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) December 24, 2017
Jameer Nelson would open the fourth with a prod and pod starting a 6-0 run that included DeMarcus Cousins bursting through Adebayo like the Kool-Aid Man.
The bench mob would lead the way in the fourth — led by once invisible, Ian Clark.
Take over, Ian Clark. It was heat-check time for Clark as he drained another trey from the left wing, giving Clark five three-pointers among his season-high 19 pts. NOP 95-73 with 7:42 left— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) December 24, 2017
The Pelicans would go on to crush the Heat with weapons that were once considered weaknesses. We saw solid defense. We saw improved ball control (only 14 total turnovers after 5 quick ones in the 1st quarter). But most importantly we saw balanced scoring — six players hit double figures, absurd shooting and key contributions from role players and a bench that spent the offseason and much of the early season being vilified.
The New Orleans Pelicans are currently shooting 62.5% from three-point range. That would tie their season-high mark which came against the Sixers and make it the 5th time this season they bettered 50% from out there.— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) December 24, 2017
Make that six: Clark, Davis, Cousins, Holiday, Moore and now Miller. https://t.co/YTkWDe5FJS— Trevor Ritchie (@ritchietmr) December 24, 2017
We are also starting to see a team that can win on the road, which hasn’t been the norm in recent seasons.
#Pelicans earn their 9th road win of the season (9-9). Their 9th road win didn't come last season until February 15th (Road Game #28).— Daniel Sallerson (@dsallerson) December 24, 2017
If the Pelicans can carry this level of play into the upcoming home stand, 2018 could be rosy.