It was quite the tale of two halves, and unfortunately for the New Orleans Pelicans, they peaked at halftime.
The Cleveland Cavaliers outscored the Pelicans by a 60-45 margin in the second half as they rode an MVP-worthy performance from LeBron James to hand New Orleans their third straight defeat, 107-102.
On a night The King narrowly missed out on a triple double (27 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists) and was fantastic down the stretch, canning jumper after jumper in the fourth quarter, Anthony Davis struggled all night long to find the range. AD missed his first six shot attempts and finished just 6-19 from the floor en route to 16 points. New Orleans is now 4-12 on the season when Davis scores less than 20 points.
However, before berating Davis too much, realize he appeared far from 100% health. On the last play of the game, he attempted a three-pointer, but he landed on only one foot, his left. Against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, Davis twisted his right ankle pretty severely and many were surprised he was able to return and finish that game. In addition to tonight’s low point total, he also added a mere eight rebounds, two blocks and one steal — numbers that have usually finished a lot stronger when playing a full complement of minutes.
Besides the statistics, it was apparent Davis sought to avoid contact. 14 of his 19 shots came outside of the paint and Davis often looked to create separation by simply fading away on his jump shots. Say what you want, but AD wasn’t himself. And trust me, this isn’t an excuse but a mere observation. Had Davis never suffered the injury in the first place, the Pelicans likely would be on a two-game winning streak.
This latest loss hurts even more after further analysis:
- New Orleans trailed 19-12 through a little more than the first five minutes of the game, but found their groove after that, outscoring Cleveland by a 45-28 margin for the rest of the first half. They rode some hot-shooting and solid defense, but most importantly, the energy was aplenty. So, call it disheartening when the Pelicans failed to muster remotely the same effort for most of the second half.
- Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic wasted some spectacular offensive displays. Holiday was able to get to the rim with relative ease as he finished with 25 points on 12-18 shooting. Mirotic, who had been mired in a month-long slump, broke out for 20 points on 8-13 shooting — including 4-7 from deep.
- Kevin Love and George Hill combined for a total of 46 minutes. Hill left the game with an ankle injury and Love battled a hamstring injury. In their stead, Jordan Clarkson went off for 23 points, in which a lot of his shot attempts were either of the easy variety or loosely contested, and Tristan Thompson proved a beast on the boards, reining in 14 rebounds that included 6 on the offensive glass.
- The Pelicans attempted six free throws on the night. SIX! In some games, we’ve witnessed a missed call or two, but not tonight. The referees had no reason to give New Orleans any further trips to the charity stripe.
Despite all of this, the Pelicans had a chance to tie the game with 25 seconds remaining. Trailing 105-102, Clarkson missed a jumper and New Orleans rebounded the ball. Instead of running a play or calling a timeout, Holiday, who was admittedly open, launched a 28-footer with 18.7 seconds left.
Holiday is shooting 33.5% from three-point range on the season, but you can’t call his open jumper a smart attempt. I’d rather see E’Twaun Moore, who missed two long bombs against the Trail Blazers in the waning moments, get the final look. Or Darius Miller, who was 3-4 from three-point range on the night. Or, OR, Nikola Mirotic, who wasn’t even on the floor in crunch time, but was 4-7 from deep.
Just as the Pelicans failed to call timeout and run a specific play on their final possession on Tuesday, they did the same tonight in Cleveland. No one can say with any certainty that it would have made any difference in either instance, but at least the final attempts may have come in better rhythm than the helter skelter appearance we witnessed.
Oh well. In case you didn’t know, there’s a big game on Sunday. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be in town and a ton of playoff implications will be on the line. Don’t give up hope...yet.