Don’t look now but the left-for-dead Pelicans have won two straight games, playing with purpose and getting great contributions across the board. Anthony Davis led the way with 38 points, 10 rebounds, three triples and two blocks. Jrue Holiday added 21 points and 12 assists while Nikola Mirotic chipped in 21 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.
New Orleans didn’t began the game as you would expect. First, Emeka Okafor drew the start in place of Mirotic so that Davis wouldn’t be forced to contend with Andre Drummond immediately. Then, following the initial jump ball, Rajon Rondo hit a three-pointer and Okafor tipped in an offensive rebound for a quick 5-0 lead. Although the Pistons battled back, even seizing the lead by as many as four points, the Pelicans finished the first quarter on top. The turning point was undoubtedly the back-to-back threes by Ian Clark and Mirotic.
In fact, strong bench play was one of the reasons New Orleans enjoyed a comfortable 15-point win, tying for the team’s fourth biggest margin of victory on the season. The Pelicans reserves finished the game with a 43-33 points advantage over their Piston counterparts, but the difference was much greater when the outcome was still in doubt.
In addition to the individual point totals, the Pelicans combined for 31 assists — against just 11 turnovers — and knocked down 14 of 34 three-pointers. That 41.2 3PT% marked just the second time New Orleans has eclipsed the 40% mark since DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season. The Pelicans also fared really well inside the paint. Despite the Pistons winning the battle of the boards by one, New Orleans finished with a 54-38 edge in points in the paint.
The biggest reason for all of the disparities on the stat sheet was team defense, something Head Coach Alvin Gentry pointed to first at the conclusion of the game: “I thought we defended number one. We had a couple lapses in the transition defense, but overall I thought we did a good job defensively.”
For the ninth time this season, the Pelicans defense held an opponent to under 40% shooting from the floor. The old adage of ‘defense wins’ seems to hold true for our beloved group because they’re 8-1 in such contests. Moreover, that’s two straight games now a New Orleans opponent has failed to shoot better than 40% — Are we seeing the rebirth of a staunch Darren Erman defense that disappeared at some point over the summer?
It’s much too early to say, but the players are cognizant of the importance on that end of the floor. In a response to a Joel Meyers question about being a willing defender, Mirotic had this to say to the Fox Sports New Orleans crew: “I do. I know this was a very important area where I can improve. I did a good job this summer with putting on pounds on my body because I knew I had to be better. It’s all effort.”
Outside of the Pistons being granted a lopsided amount of free throws (20-1 FTA advantage at halftime and 32-16 for the game), Detroit looked every bit of the inferior team we’ve become accustomed to seeing under the guidance of Stan Van Gundy — despite the addition of Blake Griffin, a known thorn in New Orleans side. Griffin finished with 22 points, but only had that one spurt in the first half where he was a noticeable difference maker.
During his current tenure in Detroit, SVG’s troops have beaten the Pelicans just once in eight tries and Anthony Davis is a big reason why. AD has scored 30 points or more all but once, with a 59-point, franchise-best mark leading the way and likely still haunting Van Gundy’s dreams.
Can all remaining opponents on the schedule be asked to wear Pistons jerseys?
- Cheick Diallo was impressive yet again, posting a four-point, five-rebound and two-block performance in 17 minutes. Through six games in February, he is averaging 6.8 points and 6.5 rebounds; however, if you were to translate his stats to per 36 minute data, here would be his stat line: 16.0 points, 15.2 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and only 2.0 personal fouls!
- Rajon Rondo had his second consecutive effective start: eight points, eight assists, five rebounds and one highlight-worthy block!
- Darius Miller scored 12 points — all on three-pointers, but my two favorite highlights were his ability to shake off a hard Diallo elbow to the noggin (he did momentarily have to go to the locker room) and stripping Drummond of a rebound by just being plain aggressive.
- DeAndre Liggins played just six minutes but was knocked out of the game following a shot to his thigh.
- Emeka Okafor finished with eight points, seven rebounds and one block, and eye tests should have approved of his effort. Despite the 35 years of age, he seems deserving of at least another 10-day contract and possibly more as he displays enough requisite athleticism to still be able to make a difference. Listening to Gentry in postgame media also gave the sense that he’ll be retained in some manner. The head coach plans to utilize him again in a starting role depending on matchups going forward.