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Pelicans follow familiar script in narrow victory over Memphis

It wasn’t pretty. These games never are.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The first three quarters were eerily familiar. The New Orleans Pelicans ran out to a big lead over a hapless opponent in first half, tonight by relentlessly attacking the basket and making a living at the free throw line. Again out of the locker room after halftime they came out flat and opened the door wide open for the Memphis Grizzlies to seize an upset win. Thankfully in the fourth, some measure of order prevailed as Jrue Holiday piloted these Pelicans to a much needed win, even if it was closer than necessary.

Once again these Pelicans could not get it going behind the arc, shooting a ghastly 7-27 from deep. After an impressive run in December where they led the NBA in 3-point shooting at a ridiculous 43.1%, New Orleans is coming back down to earth, shooting 31% through nine January games, good for 27th league-wide. On the other hand, their opponent went thermonuclear, with the Grizzlies setting a team record with nine 3-pointers in the third quarter alone on their way to shooting 15-35 on the night. Former Pelican and 10-day contract hero Wayne Selden led the way with a career-high 31 points including 5-7 from long range.

Alvin Gentry went to his most effective lineup in the fourth quarter to finish things off, which meant starting point guard Rajon Rondo again spent crunch time on the bench. Jrue Holiday took the controls with E’Twaun Moore, Darius Miller, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins flanking him for the final four plus minutes. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but after a number of empty possessions, Boogie found AD under the basket for a wide-open dunk to put the Pelicans up six and another ugly minute finally put this game out of its misery.

It would have been nice if this team came out of halftime with some fire to put away an inferior opponent, but for some reason they cannot maintain the effort and intensity for four quarters. Possibly the familiarity with Memphis, and a long history of ugly basketball is to blame. I cannot remember a Pelican win over the Grizzlies that was not a struggle in one way or another. Efforts like tonight’s are commonplace for this franchise and if you’re waiting for them to turn the corner you’ll be hard-pressed to find evidence here.

All that isn’t to say there were not positives to take away. With the long ball abandoning them, New Orleans took it to the paint aggressively, led by Anthony Davis (in the first half) and Jrue Holiday all game long. As a result, both Davis and Cousins feasted at the foul line with 20 attempts combined. New Orleans scored 54 points in the paint and another 26 from the charity stripe. That’s living up to their #DoItBig motto.

Jrue Holiday led the Pels with 27 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. He was incredible all night and by far the best player for New Orleans. DeMarcus Cousins chipped in 24 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, while Anthony Davis had 21 points and 12 rebounds doing the vast majority of his damage in the first half. Darius Miller did well off the bench posting 12 points and six rebounds, although he had more than a couple open looks rim out on him.

The Pelicans have Sunday off before hosting the surging Chicago Bulls on Monday night. Do not be fooled by the Bulls overall record, they’re 15-10 in their last 25 games including victories in four of their last five.