In what’s proving to be one of the biggest and closest playoff races seen in the Western Conference in years, the Pelicans are thriving. On Tuesday night, they walked away from yet another hotly contested battle on the winning end, marking New Orleans ninth straight victory and bringing them a step closer to the playoffs.
While a lot can still happen mathematically with 19 games remaining, one has the sense that something magical is indeed brewing in New Orleans. Since the team turned the corner after losing DeMarcus Cousins for the season, the Pelicans have played with an absurd amount of confidence and energy, with the majority of it stemming from their two best players in Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.
Despite leaving the game with a rib contusion late in the second quarter, Davis finished with another video game line of 41 points, 13 rebounds, three steals, three blocks and —perhaps from drawing his inner Boogie — four threes. Did we just witness the birth of TNT Anthony Davis? I’m not sure but had AD not been able to return, Cousins was ready to poach a healthy Achilles tendon.
“It’s the West. We know what we’re position we’re in. We know we got to go out there and compete every night.” - @AntDavis23 after posting 41 PTS and 13 REB in a 121-116 win over the Clippers— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 7, 2018
: @realtuffjuice #PlayersOnly pic.twitter.com/9czdwmjNNQ
Not to be outdone, Jrue Holiday was equally as instrumental in the win with his 19-point, 17-assist effort. Although his shot failed him in the second half, he remained ultra aggressive in forcing the issue and finding open teammates all night long. However, without a doubt, his single biggest contribution came defensively, a potentially game-saving steal from the usually sure hands of sweet-shooting Lou Williams.
This is the clip of Jrue's insanely clutch stop. He needs to be first team all defense. pic.twitter.com/lTGbUlMe07— Kumar (@FearTheBrown) March 7, 2018
It’s all about making more plays than your opponent and New Orleans did just that down the stretch.
After leading by 15 points at the start of the fourth quarter, the lead evaporated entirely in less than seven minutes time following a huge Clipper run. Then, trailing 113-109 with 2:09 to go and all the momentum clearly with Los Angeles, it would have been understandable if the Pelicans had simply folded. The offense had ground to a halt, as shots stopped dropping and all of the easy looks dried up. But — say it with me — MVP-candidate Anthony Davis refused to lose. AD scored on three straight possessions to help the Pelicans reclaim the lead late. Then after that huge steal by Holiday, Ian Clark proved up to the task, making all four of his free throw attempts, and Davis sealed the victory with two more freebies.
The cardiac-arrest Pelicans are sure to raise your blood pressure, but they’ll eventually reward you for the bouts of serious stomach pain if the heart remains pumping. New Orleans has now appeared in 40 clutch games on the season — that’s 63.5% of their games played — and won 25 of those contests.
Since the start of January, they’re 14-4 in these games where the difference in the score has been five or less at some point during the final five minutes of games. The only team with a better winning percentage since the calendar flipped to 2018? The Houston Rockets.
- Rajon Rondo had another fine game, posting a line of 13 points, nine assists and three rebounds. For good measure he knocked three of his five three-point field goal attempts. If they’re going to leave him wide open, hope he looks to be aggressive and keep defenses honest — it doesn’t do the Pelicans any good if suddenly their four remaining players on the floor are being guarded by five individuals.
- Emeka Okafor continues to be a revelation: nine points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 21 minutes. For the millionth time, great pick-up, front office!
- Nikola Mirotic was super aggressive in looking for his shot, but the results didn’t quite follow as he scored 13 points on 12 shot attempts. It’s debatable whether he should have finished the game instead of Darius Miller (five points, three rebounds, two blocks), but how can anyone argue with the final two minutes and another win?!
- Cheick Diallo only played five minutes in the first half because Montrezl Harrell was a certifiable monster with 26 points. He simply outmuscled Diallo throughout the first half so Head Coach Alvin Gentry wisely gave Okafor more run after halftime.
Up next, New Orleans faces the Sacramento Kings Wednesday on the second night of a back-to-back. Shockingly, the Pelicans are 1-2 on the season to Buddy Hield’s team, so despite New Orleans likely being a little tired, they should be more than eager to avenge several of those earlier season performances.