For the first time in over three weeks, the New Orleans Pelicans lost a game inside the Smoothie King Center, falling to the Chicago Bulls by a 117-110 margin. To further dampen spirits, your professional Crescent City basketball team is now just one loss or Trail Blazers win away from officially being eliminated from the 2017 playoff race.
New Orleans failed to possess the lead at any point and Jimmy Butler wound up the best player on the floor this night. He started hot, pouring in 12 points in the opening frame, and finished with 39 points overall, making more than half of his field goal attempts including all three of his 3-point attempts.
This was the common theme: the Pelicans were unable to keep the Bulls at bay long enough — especially Butler — to put the outcome of this one in serious doubt. After a solid first quarter, the Bulls made 14 of 20 shots in the second quarter to seize a 63-47 halftime lead.
Contributing to the sizable deficit throughout the game, the Pelicans gave up 32 fast break points to a team that normally averages only 13.9 FBPS. It also didn’t help matters that the Bulls, normally one of the worst three-point shooting teams, made exactly half of their 26 attempts from behind the arc.
It wasn’t a high number turnovers (12) that destroyed New Orleans either but rather a lack of effort according to DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins on early Bulls pace: "They came out firing early. They came out pushing. I guess you can say we came out a little too casual."— Justin Verrier (@JustinVerrier) April 3, 2017
To give the Pelicans some credit, they battled back in the second half to cut huge holes to trail by just six points twice, but each time Butler had an answer and helped the Bulls extend their lead into more comfortable ranges.
Anthony Davis led the Pelicans in scoring with 30 points and he also added 11 rebounds, three steals and 13 of 14 makes from the charity stripe. That kind of proficiency from the free throw line would normally earn praise from every mountain top, but tonight AD was the only member of the Pelicans to miss a freebie! Yep, New Orleans made 34 of 35 free throw attempts and still struggled to stay in this game against a sub-.500 Eastern Conference team. Problems with effort will always lead to porous defense and tonight was no different.
It needs to be noted that there was a question Davis would even be able to play after halftime. He sprained his ankle on the following play when his right foot landed awkwardly on Bobby Portis in the second quarter.
According to post-game comments, Davis wasn’t sure if the ankle will cause him to miss time down the road saying it “is what it is.” If the Pelicans get eliminated tomorrow (if POR knocks off MIN), don’t be surprised to see AD get a few days off.
Boogie Cousins had another decent outing — 26 points, 18 rebounds, three assists and two threes — but turnovers reared their ugly head again as he was responsible for more than half of the team’s miscues with seven. In addition, it was clear as day he was far from happy with the officiating in this one and it’s hard to blame him. There were multiple instances Cousins took shots which failed to draw whistles, meanwhile the Bulls took advantage of Big Cuz’s reputation. For instance, it was a little surprising to see him avoid a technical foul, especially after Rajon Rondo flopped against him successfully once and almost twice. Barring a complete 180 degree turnaround in his on-the-court demeanor, it’s probably high time to start recording all such devious plays against Cousins to help give him a fighting chance against the seemingly built-in biases across the league.
Jrue Holiday put up a respectable 17/6 and Jordan Crawford scored in double figures for the 13th time in 14 games by chipping in 15. On the flip side, Tim Frazier (1-6) and Solomon Hill (2-7) struggled to get it going.
Up next, the Pelicans host the Denver Nuggets in the final home game of the 2016-17 season. With Nikola Jokic and company falling fast in the standings, Tuesday’s matchup has lost a ton of luster it promised just a week or two ago. Still, the Nuggets always present a fun matchup, so if you’ve got the time, saying good bye to the Pelicans until next fall would be time well spent.