It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty and it was damn sure stressful, but mission accomplished.
The New Orleans Pelicans managed to outlast the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday evening as they wound up on the victorious side of a 96-92 margin, guaranteeing the team their sixth winning season in franchise history. Following their third straight victory, New Orleans is back to a season-best 12 games over .500, and for at least another night, remains fifth in the Western Conference standings.
Coming into the matchup, one had a sense an arduous battle loomed ahead. The Pacers were entering with the fourth most effective defense since the All-Star break, and the Pelicans, the ninth. Meanwhile, both offenses ranked in the bottom half of the league over the same time span, with three-point conversion rates floundering in the bottom third.
That’s precisely what transpired: an ugly game featuring a lot of missed shots but a slew of fantastic defensive possessions bellied by excellent effort.
“I think they’re a really, really tough team to play,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “They’re very handsy and very physical. They’re really good at getting you out of what you’re trying to do, initially. I thought we did a really, really good job on their best player. I thought (Victor) Oladipo, I thought Jrue (Holiday) and the guys that guarded him, Ian (Clark) and E’Twaun (Moore), I thought they did a really good job on him, but to me, it was just one of those games where both teams were really good defensively. I mean extremely good defensively and we just found a way to come up. Obviously AD (Anthony Davis) bailed us out on a couple of shots, but I thought we found a way to come up with a couple of a few baskets here and there and that was the difference in the game. They’re really, really good, defensively.”
Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 21 points, but fortunately for the Pelicans, they had an ace in the hole: Anthony Davis. Through three quarter, Davis had a very pedestrian — by his standards — 15 points. He finished the game with 28 points, including a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line, and for good measure, also tallied 13 rebounds and five blocks. The home fans were right yet again to echo numerous MVP chants throughout the Smoothie King Center.
With Davis leading the way in the fourth, New Orleans won going away for a third consecutive game. After slaughtering the Celtics by a 26-13 margin in the fourth quarter on Sunday and knocking out the Mavericks 35-25 in the same frame yesterday, the Pelicans edged out the Pacers 29-23 over the final 12 minutes on Wednesday. Good teams rise to the occasion when it matters most and New Orleans is fast proving it can take care of business down the stretch. Remember this because that type of mentality bodes well for playoff basketball.
In addition to Davis being Davis, E’Twaun Moore had his best game this month with 23 points, three rebounds, three three-pointers and two steals, and Cheick Diallo narrowly missed out a double-double (nine points and ten rebounds which included a perfect 5-5 from the foul line). Moore got rolling early, scoring 15 points in the first half to help keep the Pelicans afloat offensively before AD performed his magic in the fourth.
For as efficient as these three players were, nearly the rest of the cast was notably just as absent with their shots.
- Emeka Okafor was 0-4
- Rajon Rondo was 1-6
- Ian Clark was 1-7
- Jrue Holiday was 4-10
- Nikola Mirotic was 6-16
Mirotic was well on his way to a more dire shooting performance, but he re-entered late and knocked down two crucial three-pointers — his only two makes from deep on the night. With the Pelicans trailing 80-79 and having scored just two points in close to four minutes, Mirotic’s bombs ignited the crowd, and in turn the team, to the hard-fought victory.
“I just want him to shoot the ball when he’s open,” said Gentry in postgame media. “They only remember the ones you make anyway so it doesn’t matter. If he’s open, he’s got to shoot the ball, but that also helps the flow of our offense.”
New Orleans finished with a 43.0 FG%, but Indiana struggled infinitely more so at 36.6%. The reason the game remained so close throughout and saw 17 lead changes was because the Pelicans finished with 18 turnovers. Additionally, they gave up 15 offensive rebounds to the Pacers. Scoring 15 points off of turnovers and another 17 on second chance opportunities nearly propelled Indiana to the win.
With the score tied at 87 apiece and 1:49 remaining, though, New Orleans was led to the finish line by their two stars on the night. Moore followed up his missed shot with a huge putback and then Davis ran off six straight points.
The Pelicans are now just one victory away from producing a 4-1 record and gave the Houston Rockets a run for their money on this latest homestand. Pretty impressive stuff considering New Orleans has played four times in the last five days. Can they find enough strength in their legs on Thursday night when they host the Los Angeles Lakers?
Don’t be surprised if they do.
New Orleans has made a habit of coming up with the big play or snatching away an improbable victory over close to the last several months. If you haven’t already, it’s time to stop doubting and start believing — even if the ride has you feeling like you’re hanging onto the wing outside of an airplane 33,000 feet up while flying through a bad thunderstorm.