Coming into tonight’s game, the Pelicans were at a crossroads as to how the second half of their season could go: push for the playoffs or more ping pong balls? New Orleans is alive for both scenarios and it’s plausible to think that Wednesday’s result could swing the end of season goal for New Orleans.
If the Pelicans were serious about making the postseason, earning a win in Memphis, which has been a house of horrors for New Orleans in recent years, was crucial. Lose and maybe Dell Demps tells Alvin Gentry to pack it in, play Buddy Hield and Chieck Dallo more and not overexert Anthony Davis.
The playoffs are still a long shot considering all the competition, but New Orleans refused to go gently into the All-Star break.
New Orleans exercised some road demons tonight in Memphis with a 95-91 win over their division rival. The Pelicans snapped a seven-game losing streak to Memphis that dated back to December of 2014 and took three games out of four on this road trip.
Things could have gone a little bit easier for New Orleans had they executed better in the fourth quarter but when have they ever wanted to make life easy? New Orleans led Memphis by as many as 18 points, but Memphis gritted and grinded the lead all the way down to one before the Pelicans made some clutch baskets at the end. Hey, at least the Grizzlies never reportedly had it easy.
The Unusual Suspects
To snap a seven-game losing streak against a current playoff team in their arena, one of two things have to happen: your star player puts on a show or the supporting cast balls out and plays out of their minds. The latter happened tonight.
Alexis Ajinca unequivocally played his best game of the season. He recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and tacked on three steals and two blocks for good measure. Where this performance came from I don’t know, but it was a welcome sight.
However, the biggest surprise of the night may have been King Solomon Hill, who led the way for New Orleans with a season-high 23 points. Hill had a hot hand from three point land, hitting four of his six attempts and none bigger than his final make which pushed the Pelican lead back up to four points with 3:17 to play. Hill also reinvigorated New Orleans in the first quarter: Memphis got out to an early 12-3 lead and Hill responded by scoring 12 points. Hill did equal amounts of damage by getting to the rim and dropping bombs from three.
It’s safe to say that without Hill and Ajinca New Orleans doesn’t get out of Memphis with a win. This win is significant because New Orleans won in a way we haven’t seen much of this year: they won without Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday leading the way.
Simply put, Anthony Davis was not Anthony Davis tonight. There was someone on the court wearing the red No. 23 jersey, sure, but it wasn’t Anthony Davis. Whoever that person was, they had 18 points and seven rebounds. Luckily for that person, the Pelicans had Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca.
To me the mark of a good team isn’t necessarily how many star players you have. What makes a team exceptional is whether or not the role players are able to carry the load when the stars have a less than stellar night. Far too often this season stellar performances by Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday have been undone by the rest of the team not carrying their weight. Tonight the supporting cast, namely Hill and Ajinca, served as the catalyst for New Orleans.
Defensively, the Pelicans spent most of the night suffocating Memphis. The Grizzlies shot 37 percent from the floor and made 18 percent (6-33) of their threes. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley were woefully inefficient tonight combining for an 11-33 shooting performance.
The fourth quarter never should have gotten as close as it did, but the Pelicans got sloppy and displayed just some horrid basketball IQ. New Orleans’ lead grew in the third as the pace picked up and Memphis was forced to play a style they dislike, but New Orleans got the Grizzlies back in the game by putting them on the free throw line. Of course this slowed the game down to a favorable tempo for Memphis and allowed far too many rebounds which led to an excess of second chance points. The Pelicans were out-rebounded 48-38 and gave up 13 offensive boards.
In spite of a near total meltdown, New Orleans held on for the win. The Pelicans head into the All-Star break winners of three of four and maybe, just maybe, riding some season-altering momentum.
New Orleans finishes this road trip winning 3 of 4 games, marking the first time since 09-10 season NOP has won 3 games on a 4 game trip.— Pelicans PR (@PelicansPR) February 16, 2017
We won’t see the Pelicans until February 23 against Houston, and we’ll get a better idea as to what the goal for the remainder of the season is based off what moves — if any — Dell Demps makes between now and then.
The Pelicans’ future is cloudy, but the present is clear: New Orleans is going into the All-Star break on a high note.