The New Orleans Pelicans had a chance to move within one game of the third seed in the Western Conference race, but they were unable to come through in the clutch against the Portland Trail Blazers. E’Twaun Moore launched several three-point attempts that could have given the Pelicans the lead with just seconds remaining in regulation, yet neither shot found the bottom of the net, leading to the disappointing 107-103 loss.
New Orleans entered the fourth quarter with a small 75-71 lead, but legitimate hope existed the Pelicans would find a way to pull out the victory. After all, coming out ahead in closely contested battles has emerged as a thing for the team this season. More importantly, though, Anthony Davis was in the midst of crafting perhaps the gutsiest performance of his career.
At the 5:15 mark of the third quarter, Davis twisted his right ankle and lay on the ground writhing in agony. Upon watching him slam his hand to the floor in frustration, one assumed his night was over; however, the crowd witnessed AD re-tie his shoe laces and walk slowly back to the bench — not the locker room.
The @PelicansNBA AD obviously in pain after nasty fall on his right ankle. Spent that timeout with his face in a towel, but refused to go to the locker room when asked - clearly trying to gut this one out. #PORatNOP— Jennifer Hale (@JenHale504) March 28, 2018
Less than a minute later, he was back on the court, and not twenty seconds later, he scored a layup on a nice assist from Ian Clark. Following the injury to his ankle, Davis was unstoppable. Although he was noticeably hobbled throughout the remainder of the game, it didn’t slow him down in most statistical columns. Over the final 16+ minutes, Davis accounted for 22 of the Pelicans 36 points. Incredibly, he missed only one of 10 shot attempts, made all four of his free throw attempts, grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots.
Davis truly put forth an MVP-caliber performance — too bad the Pelicans couldn’t rally enough around him to eke out the victory.
There were several things that were responsible for the Tuesday’s loss, but none bigger than the play of Damian Lillard. Through three quarters, Dame had 21 points. Over the final 12 minutes, the All-Star added another 20 points on 8 of 14 shooting. Jrue Holiday, as we all know, is a hell of a defender, but he had no answer for Lillard. My current third favorite for 2018 Most Valuable Player Award totaled 41 points, nine rebounds, six assists, four steals and three three-pointers. Oh, and he didn’t even register a single turnover in close to 43 minutes of playing time.
In addition to Lillard going ham, the long distance shooting and the work on the defensive glass did absolutely no favors for New Orleans. The Pelicans shot a season-worst 16.7% from three-point range, connecting on only four of 24 attempts. And even more disconcerting, New Orleans gave up 17 offensive rebounds — 11 after halftime. The Trail Blazers finished with 27 second chance points to the Pelicans 12.
While some were ready to torch the coaching staff for rotations, I feel most of the blame belongs on the players. Fundamentals like boxing out assignments were not readily observed.
“I just think offensive rebounding,” said Solomon Hill, who played a season-high 21 minutes. “I think that we gave up  points with offensive rebounds. You are talking about holding a team to low 40%. Whether Dame gets hot or not, I think we did our job defensively. We just have to make sure we take care of business on things we are used to doing. We know that they’re a top five offensive rebounding team and that’s what they are going to do. They are going to get up a lot of shots and it’s going to be a lot of long rebounds and give themselves second opportunities.”
Another thing to consider is if Head Coach Alvin Gentry would have reinserted Emeka Okafor into the game, that would have forced Davis to chase perimeter players again. It was obvious that AD wanted to stay close to the rim on both ends of the floor because mobility was a big problem.
Anyways, chalk up the loss. While Holiday notched a triple-double (21 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists), it was clear the Pelicans offense didn’t have the same flow when Rajon Rondo is heading the attack. In trying to make up for the absent playmaking, Holiday and Davis combined for 10 crucial turnovers — the same amount Portland had on the night as a team.
Rondo hopes to be back for the next game against the Cavaliers, but the bigger worry should be the lack of potent shooting, especially from Nikola Mirotic. Once again, Niko couldn’t find the range, knocking down just one of six shots. Over his last ten games, Mirotic is shooting just 29% from the field and 20.5% from three-point range.
As evidenced by C.J. McCollum’s 3-19 shooting performance, this matchup was winnable against Portland. Now, the Pelicans sit three and a half games behind the Trail Blazers — all but assuring a fourth place finish in the West remains the best possible outcome over the remaining seven contests on the schedule, and they must next travel to Cleveland to face a Cavaliers team on Friday that has won five of their last six games.