“We have to rescue ourselves,” said head coach Alvin Gentry after a disappointing 107-103 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
As the Pelicans (13-14) fall below the .500 mark once again, and into twelfth place in the Western Conference, here are five takeaways from the defeat and fourth-quarter fallout.
Early defensive struggles continue
Memphis scored 31 points against the New Orleans Pelicans in the first quarter. Despite rookie Jaren Jackson Jr.’s early foul trouble, the Grizzlies shot 61.9 percent from the field and 2-of-3 from deep during that stretch.
Memphis received a number of easy baskets off defensive breakdowns, including the following one where Cheick Diallo easily gets beat by Joakim Noah off the dribble.
Interior defense is killing the Pelicans. Memphis had 7 baskets within the restricted area. pic.twitter.com/d326h7yyrF— David M. Grubb (@DMGrubb) December 8, 2018
It’s the fifth-straight game that New Orleans has given up 30-plus points in the first quarter and the twelfth time in the last 14 contests such a start has occurred for the opposing squad.
Julius Randle: The 1Q Spark Nola Needed
Where would New Orleans have been without Julius Randle? Nikola Mirotic returned for the first time in two games after battling illness, but Randle remained in the starting lineup. He ended the first quarter with 11 points, three rebounds and one assist, keeping the Pelicans afloat in the midst of the Grizzlies’ hot start.
New Orleans lacked necessary intensity early in too many contests, so who better to unleash from tip-off than a jump-starter in Randle — even amid whatever defensive concerns that exist.
“I think they’ve handled it great though,” Gentry said about Mirotic and Randle shifting roles. “It’s not something that’s extremely easy to do when you’re a young player trying to establish yourself obviously from a financial standpoint and establish yourself in the league as a player. I’m sympathetic to that, and I think our whole staff is. We try to explain that to them.”
Bench production remains poor, even with bolstered unit
A Frazier-Holiday-Hill-Randle-Davis starting lineup allows Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore to command the second unit. New Orleans has struggled to find consistent bench production throughout the year, and this adjustment didn’t help change the status quo. Mirotic and Moore were a combined 0-of-7 from behind the arc, and the bench totaled 11 points on the night.
Meanwhile, Memphis generated 53 of its 107 points outside of the starting group. JaMychal Green was the leader of that push, tallying 24 points and eight boards in 27 minutes.
“We seem have trouble with JaMychal Green every time we see him for some reason, and I thought their bench came in and did a really good job for them,” Gentry lamented. “JaMychal came in, and then Shelvin Mack, but the other guy that really hurt us was [Joakim] Noah to tell you the truth. I thought Noah gave them a lot of energy, and he was very good defensively and very actively defensively. But through all of that, we had a situation where we should’ve closed the game out and we just didn’t do it.”
This type of point discrepancy doesn’t often equal wins, so the pressure to add help either at the point guard position or on the wing has to feel strong for the Pelicans front office.
Jrue Holiday’s Foster Home for Scoring Guards grows
Go ahead. Add Mike Conley Jr.’s name to list... We’ve honestly run out of room and probably need to start planning ahead if Holiday continues to let so many of your favorite scoring guards join his foster home. Conley Jr. came into Friday’s game with 20-plus points in five consecutive games. Holiday forced him into a poor shooting night (2/12 FG) and ended his scoring streak by holding him to nine points – five of which came at the free throw line.
To the biggest takeaway of the night...
Late-game grit and grind with Memphis doesn’t end well
New Orleans held a 100-92 lead with five minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter. In an old-fashioned, grit-and-grind finish, Memphis outscored the Pelicans 15-3 from that point on to steal the victory. New Orleans came up short on its final nine shot attempts, and each of its last three trips to the charity stripe were split as well. It boiled down to late-game execution at home, and the Pelicans simply couldn’t finish what it started.
Pelicans lose 107-103 to Grizzlies & are now 3-8 in games that go into clutch time. They made 3 of their last 6 free throws and missed their final 9 shot attempts.— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) December 8, 2018
That's not going to get it done against quality opponents.
Last year, they won a league-best 30 gms in the clutch.
“Well you’ve got to finish games,” said Gentry. “That’s just the bottom line. It’s not really complicated. It’s a simple thing. You get to the point where you’re eight up at home with 5:12 to go. You’ve got to finish the game. We didn’t do that. We’re up 101-97 with three minutes to go - we don’t get it done. We missed our last nine shots. You know those are the things that you have to execute, and you have to be able to score down the stretch.”
For what it’s worth, Holiday remained optimistic.
“There are new pieces and new things going on,” Holiday said. “Obviously, it’s still fairly early. We have time. Yeah, we want to fix it right now. We want to fix it quick, but everything will fall in place.”
Up next, the Pelicans will face the Pistons in Detroit for a Sunday matinee. There may be 55 games left, but there are also 11 teams ahead of New Orleans in the standings. Solutions are needed sooner rather than later in order to climb the Western Conference ranks.