Anthony Davis returned from a sprained ankle on his birthday and the team’s energy was there, but the New Orleans Pelicans simply didn’t have enough bullets to bring down the Utah Jazz this Sunday afternoon. With the 116-99 loss, the Pelicans have now dropped two straight at home and are virtually tied with the Thunder and Timberwolves for the fourth spot in the Western Conference.
Let’s talk about the good stuff first. Anthony Davis tallied the first triple-double of his career, finishing with 25 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals and 10 blocks! We’ve seen him score more points and snag numerous more boards, but those 10 blocks set a new career high.
He was everywhere, especially throughout the first half: Three steals and six blocks within the first 24 minutes of the game and don’t forget about all the other shots he influenced that didn’t show up in the raw stats. Rudy Gobert couldn’t score over him in the post. Ricky Rubio couldn’t beat him off the dribble from the three-point line.
Before Davis was going ham on any Jazz member within an arm’s length, though, the Pelicans offense quickly got stuck in neutral after racing out to a 6-2 advantage. Fortunately for New Orleans, the Jazz failed to take advantage of the situation. Although they built a 25-13 lead at one point, Utah was never able to break the game open. A lot of credit for that deserves to go to the Pelicans bench for keeping the game close as they outscored Utah’s reserves 18-8 in the first half and sparked some much needed energy.
That early 12-point deficit completely evaporated not two minutes into the second quarter and then Davis, Darius Miller and Jrue Holiday combined for 17 of the 28 points in the frame to propel New Orleans to a three-point halftime lead. Miller was particularly impressive as he aggressively looked for his shot, and if it wasn’t there, penetrated the lane to split Utah’s defense for hard earned hoops at the rim. He scored nine points on six shots and played about as well as we’ve seen all year for a half.
After intermission, the solid play continued...for awhile. Following an Emeka Okafor dunk with five minutes left in the third quarter, the Pelicans led 66-57. Leading by nine, New Orleans was primed to bolster their playoff odds.
Then Donovan Mitchell happened.
Over the remaining 17 minutes, my favorite for the 2018 Rookie of the Year — and I staked that claim way back in November — scored 25 points on 9-12 shooting from the field and 3-5 from deep. Holiday, Moore, Rondo, they all took their turns on trying to slow Mitchell down but literally to no avail.
Mitchell’s running mate, Ricky Rubio, wasn’t too shabby either. He scored a game-high 30 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. For not being a shooter, he ended up with four of five makes from behind the arc. Utah’s backcourt duo finished with a combined 57 points, far exceeding the 22-point effort put forth by Holiday and Rajon Rondo.
Buoyed by their guards, the Jazz outscored the Pelicans to the tune of a 59-35 margin for the rest of the game. Yeah, New Orleans offense simply dried up. The whole gang suddenly became infected with the missed shot. Even MVP-candidate Davis only managed to score just two points during Utah’s closing run. A lot of shots that the Pelicans normally knock down, missed. Ian Clark, who was running hot, rimmed out an elbow jumper. Holiday struggled to finish around the hoop all night. And Nikola Mirotic, wow, he couldn’t buy a basket — although he did force up a lot of attempts.
One thing that could have helped matters was more trips to the foul line. However, New Orleans managed to go nearly two quarters without an attempt from the charity stripe. From the time Davis shot a free throw with 1:20 to go in the first half, the Pelicans didn’t send another to the line until there was 6:59 left in the fourth quarter.
From my vantage point, this wasn’t for a lack of effort; the whistle just didn’t blow in favor of the Pelicans. New Orleans attempted a slew of shots inside the paint, but only wound up with just 13 free throw attempts? I mean, we had to know it wasn’t going to go the Pelicans way after the referees took time to look at a replay for a flagrant foul on Holiday when Rubio clearly flopped!
Following the game, the Pelicans confidently expressed that they will get back on track against the Charlotte Hornets this coming Tuesday.
“As I said, for me, what we have to do is we have to get back to playing faster, even on made baskets, we have to get the ball out and we’ve got to play faster,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry after the game. “I thought AD (Anthony Davis) got a little tired. Obviously, he didn’t quite have his legs on a few of the shots. We’ll bounce back. We’ve been through tough times before and I think you’ll see us bounce back and I think you’ll see us continue to try to get back to where we were as far as pace of game. The last few games we’ve been number 13 in the league and we’ve been the best team in February, as far as pace, so we’ve got to get back to that situation.”
Let’s hope they can bounce back because 16 big games remain on the schedule and the New Orleans Pelicans are just 1.5 games away from sitting outside of the playoff bubble.