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New Orleans Pelicans lose first game without Cousins, fall to Los Angeles Clippers, 112-103

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Great start, shoddy finish against a Western Conference playoff contender.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans fell 112-103 in a crucial loss at home on Sunday afternoon to fellow playoff contenders, the Los Angeles Clippers.

Early on, the Pelicans seemed to fare well in the absence of DeMarcus Cousins. New Orleans shot 56.8% from the field and 43.8% from three in the first half due to a high-level of energy, effort and consistent ball movement. New Orleans assisted on 17 of its 25 made field goals leading into halftime and held a 62-51 lead at the break.

Out of the intermission, the Pelicans had trouble finding rhythm yet again. New Orleans was outscored 29-15 in the third frame as the three-ball stopped falling and the ball movement ceased. In the third quarter collapse, there were only two shot attempts in the paint — an area of concern considering what attacking the paint does to open up this roster. This point is amplified when you consider the Pelicans shot 2-of-19 from three-point range in the second half. On the decision to continue shooting the three, Alvin Gentry’s message for his team to stay the course.

“I think we’ve got to shoot the shots that are going to be available,” said Gentry. “That’s what we’ve done the whole year. It’s the game of basketball. When you have those shots, you have to step in and make them. If we don’t, we’ve got to be able to get back and guard defensively.”

Down the stretch, nothing seemed to come together for New Orleans. Los Angeles continued to find its spots, attacked with purpose and maintained control. Blake Griffin, who paced all scorers with 27 points and added 12 rebounds and seven assists, hit a critical three with 42 seconds left that put the Clippers ahead by six and proved to be the dagger.

Anthony Davis went about his way quietly, not necessarily making it a mission to attack the paint, but finished with a stout 25 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and two steals, Holiday made his mark with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists of his own.

Ultimately, the entire message was consistent. This team is not dead. Cousins’ injury will call for adjustments on every level, but that does not mean this team cannot compete. Darius Miller put it simply after the loss: “We’re going to come out and continue to compete. It’s like we’re giving up by any means or doubt ourselves. We’re still going to come out and try to win every game.”

As a sidenote, Anthony Davis passed David West for the most career rebounds in franchise history during Sunday’s loss, but declined to speak to the media after the game.

Up next, the Pelicans host the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday evening. If New Orleans can notch the victory, it’ll mark 10 wins for January, capping off the Pelicans most impressive month thus far this season.