The New Orleans Pelicans, the last remaining undefeated team in the Western Conference, entered Saturday night’s contest against the Utah Jazz whistling in the intoxication of Friday night’s late game heroics from Jrue Holiday over the Brooklyn Nets.
And then 45 minutes prior to tip-off, some very bad news dropped.
Julius Randle is starting in place of Anthony Davis. https://t.co/jFU0U7yZQm— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) October 27, 2018
With Julius Randle battling his own plantar fasciitis, Saturday night’s contest promised to be a daunting task against a Jazz squad that won 26 of their final 35 contests last season, featuring Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert — with no Anthony Davis to monitor him.
And daunting it was. The Jazz led by as many as 28 points in a game where the Pelicans simply had no answers for Rudy Gobert or Ricky Rubio, ultimately falling 132-111.
The Pelicans were able to stay in close proximity throughout the first quarter behind the hot shooting of Nikola Mirotic, who scored 13 of the Pelicans first 23 points.
And right alongside him was Jrue Holiday, who gave a delicious give and go with Niko, followed by a gorgeous move in isolation on the ensuing possession.
Nice feed from Holiday. His 3rd assist of the night pic.twitter.com/BkxxoZJbjp— Off the Glass (@otgbasketball) October 27, 2018
However, more bad news was announced soon thereafter.
After exiting for a period on Friday night due to cramps, Elfrid Payton would struggle early in this one, failing to get into any rhythm on both ends of the floor. Unable to manage Ricky Rubio, who exploded in the first half thanks to a number of lay-ins at the rim, Payton went back into the Pelicans’ locker room late in the first quarter.
Elfrid Payton heading to the locker room. Ian Clark is in for him and Solomon Hill just checked in for Julius Randle.— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) October 27, 2018
Perhaps the worst news of all for New Orleans was the play of Rudy Gobert. With the giant Frenchman dominating the paint, the Pelicans had numerous problems corralling rebounds. In the first quarter alone, the Jazz dominated the glass to the tune of 11-3.
But with 23 of the Pelicans 31 points coming from Holiday and Mirotic, the Pelicans managed to head into the second quarter with a cautious lead of 31-28 — and that’s when the chaos ensued.
Mirotic was feeling it in the 1Q— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) October 27, 2018
15 PTS, 6/7 pic.twitter.com/ZIVpvGVF30
Behind a lineup of Frank Jackson - Ian Clark - Solomon Hill - Wes Johnson -Jahlil Okafor, the Pelicans suffered a quick 7-0 run by the Jazz in the opening two minutes of the frame. Although Jrue and Randle entered shortly thereafter, it didn’t change the trend as the Jazz run morphed into an 18-4 scamper.
Ultimately, the Jazz were decisive in their second quarter performance, winning the stanza in 36-18 fashion. The Pelicans knocked down just seven of 23 field goals in the second quarter, and while Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic would finish with 31 points on 12/19 shooting, the rest of the Pelicans managed a miserable contribution of five makes out of 26 attempts.
Gobert and Rubio had their way with the Pelicans defense in the first half, with both posting brilliant performances in the paint and timely passes from Rubio. The two would finish the half with 36 points on 14 of 21 from the field. Honestly, though, the Jazz dominated in every facet, leading in rebounds 24-16, 20-11 in assists (on 25 made baskets) and 32-20 in points-in-the-paint. The lead was a commanding 64-49 margin.
For what it’s worth, Holiday and the Pelicans did a terrific job minimizing Donovan Mitchell, holding him to but three shots, but overall, the effort and intensity witnessed in the Pelicans’ first four matchups was not present. The squad often fell asleep on team defensive concepts, didn’t contest well enough in the paint or decide to rotate to the corners. It didn’t help matters they lacked aggressiveness on the offensive side with Gobert constantly roaming the area. Julius Randle attempted to lure the 2018 Defensive Player of the Year out to the perimeter, but with Randle failing to convert any jumpers, Gobert had no reason to venture out of his comfort zone.
Things wouldn’t get much better in the third, as head coach Alvin Gentry called timeout 40 seconds into the half as the Jazz scored a five quick points. The lead would extend to 28, and with 3:15 remaining in the third, Gentry decided to empty the bench. It was hard to blame him with the way Gobert was eviscerating the Pelicans all night long and New Orleans playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Pelicans have no answer for Gobert down low pic.twitter.com/dlObTjXUoq— Off the Glass (@otgbasketball) October 28, 2018
Due to Davis’ problematic elbow, Randle’s plantar fasciitis and Elfrid Payton’s ineffectiveness, it made sense to wave the white flag and get some playing time for those needing an extended look in regular season action.
With the game in doubt, Gentry and his staff got an extended look at two young players the Pelicans hope to find eventual rotational minutes during the regular season, Frank Jackson and Jahlil Okafor.
So, wouldn’t you know the ‘prove-it players,’ Kenrich Williams, Tim Frazier, Frank Jackson, Solomon Hill and Jahlil Okafor, went on a 12-4 run, momentarily reducing the deficit to under 20, and finish the third with a 101-80 deficit.
And then the most improbable thing happened: The Pelicans ‘bench mob’ went on an unpredictable 29-9 run, that included minutes against the Jazz starting five.
Paced by six hustle points from Diallo, who was all over the floor, 18 points from Jahlil Okafor/Frank Jackson on that specific run, and back-to-back triples from Wes Johnson, the Pels closed the score to 110-102 and the Smoothie King Center collective erupted in joy.
With New Orleans in striking distance, Jrue Holiday approached the scorer’s table with just under six minutes remaining, but unfortunately, that would be as close as the Pelicans got. The Jazz slammed the door on the upstart group, quickly facilitating a 14-2 run and putting an end to all improbable comeback hopes — losing their eighth game in their last nine tries against the Jazz.
So, the Pelicans suffered their first loss of the season and watched their record drop to 4-1. Nikola Mirotic led the Pelicans with 25 and eight, Holiday had 18 and six, Randle had 12, and Jahlil Okafor and Frank Jackson each reached double figures in scoring, combining for 25 points.
The Jazz were led by Rubio’s 28, 12 assists and six rebounds, Gobert’s 25 and 14, and Donovan “Spida” Mitchell added 22 points.
Up next, the Pelicans begin a difficult West Coast road trip, commencing with the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.