As the New Orleans Pelicans look to leave the Moda Center victorious again on Tuesday, there’s perhaps a slight sigh of relief aboard. For once, they will not be the team carrying the most pressure.
After a season filled with rumors, injuries, possible jobs on the line and being involved in playoff type basketball for weeks — thanks Western Conference! — NOLA finally has a chance to play a smidge more loosely as their backs are not up against a wall.
That feeling could bring a level of relaxation which could be damning. Or, it could max out the Pelicans’ efforts, no longer riddled with not being able to afford mistakes.
After stealing Game 1 in a nail-biter 97-95 victory, the Pelicans snatched early momentum and home-court advantage away from the Portland Trail Blazers. However, it was far from the most satisfying of wins.
The Pels are the equivalent to a city in a day’s time capable of leaving weather patterns that match all four seasons. Saturday night saw the Pelicans trail, thrive, falter, and survive all in one matchup. And it was slightly a microcosm of their season.
The Pelicans led in assists, while also leading in turnovers and losing the battle on the offensive glass. The had a wide-margined lead that only shrunk minutes later, devolving a 19-point margin to a game that came down to the wire.
The key is, of course, that New Orleans prevailed. Playoff wins are often like college degrees: No one cares how you get it ultimately, as long as you can place it on your resume. The next box to check arrives Tuesday as the Pelicans look to put the Blazers in an unfavorable position.
A home game is supposed to provide a sense of comfort, it’s now a must win for the Blazers. The Pelicans can now see what true leverage feels like. One may argue that they prefer their backs against the wall, but a switch of perspective never hurt anybody.
The Pels appear to have the right amount of veteran experience and focus to overcome any fears of settlement. You get the feeling that they’re going to want Game 2 even more. Listen to Anthony Davis’ voice and notice his tone as he discusses Game 1.
And what about this quote NOLA.com’s William Guillory jotted down:
That doesn’t sound like someone ready to cruise back to New Orleans with a series tied 1-1 just yet. With that being said let’s look at a few tidbits as we wait for Game 2.
- Trail Blazers don’t appear to be shaken in any manner...or do they?
There’s many different angles to this. One one hand, the Blazers have been in playoff environments before. They know the peaks and valleys and understand that a series isn’t going to be won or lost in the first game.
However, you also get the feeling that they may be just a little too confident, just a little too nonchalant.
In the video above, talented big-man Jusef Nurkic explains how aggressive the Blazers need to be going forward. He appears to take a slight jab at the Pelicans’ roster and is profoundly confident about his team’s’ shooting going forward.
As I mentioned earlier, looks like Blazers coming in as the coldest shooting team from three-point range (29.6%) over their last 12 games and Pelicans 4th ranked defense since Feb 10th had a big say in New Orleans 45-36 halftime lead.— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) April 15, 2018
If it continues, Pels are stealing Game 1.
Co-stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum even exchanged numerous texts to help each other feel better about the loss in the opening game. Do a couple of players do that if they’re not worried about their opponent or their position in a playoff series? Especially considering the fact that both stars found the bottom of the nets at a rate they’re accustomed to in the second half?
Remember, this isn’t the first time someone has struggled against the Pelicans.
For anybody asking “Where’s CJ McCollum?” at any point in this series.....— Chris Conner (@Impatientbull) April 15, 2018
CJ averaged 17.5 points and 35 % shooting per game against the Pels in the regular season. Both fifth worst amongst teams he’s faced.
After being in tough situations together before, you expect a veteran team to show resolve and not panic. You also shouldn’t expect any of those guys to back down to the Pelicans. Portland has plenty of tough players and help may be on the way soon with forward Mo Harkless upgraded to questionable for the contest.
But at some point, you start to wonder if they truly believe Saturday was a fluke or the norm. We’ll see Tuesday night.
- Pelicans big guns will look to continue to shine across the board.
It feels as if every key cog for the Pelicans had a shining moment or an imprint on Game 1. Anthony Davis did his regular super human tricks.
Basketball is entirely too easy for Anthony Davis pic.twitter.com/stUkDQAFNv— #Mickstape (Playoffs) (@MickstapeShow) April 15, 2018
Rajon Playoff Rondo dished out 17 essential assists. Nikola Mirotic shot off of one and two legs. And threw pretty passes of his own.
What a finish! The Pelicans outlast the Blazers as they win a thriller in Game 1.— Unfiltered Access (@UnfilteredAXS) April 15, 2018
Anthony Davis (35p, 14r, 4b, 2s)
Nikola Mirotic (16p, 11r, 4b, 2s)
Jrue Holiday (21p, 7b)
Playoff Rondo (6p, 17a, 8r) #DoItBigger #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/1rgTHc720O
And the hero of the game (and arguably of the season), Jrue Holiday continued his two-way magic that should have him recognized with other elite company when season awards are announced.
There can't be any more debate about Jrue Holiday's inclusion to the All-NBA Defensive First Team, right?— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) April 15, 2018
On three successive possessions, inside the final minute of the game, Holiday successful shut down a potent Trail Blazer attack. He kicked things off against C.J. McCollum. pic.twitter.com/kpv0s7b3ag
Ian Clark also provided 10 key points, including a clutch three late in the 4th quarter as he led the reserves.
The roster wasn’t all perfect, but for a team often perceived as a one-man band, they collectively took that first national stab at changing that narrative.
- History is in the Pelicans back pocket.
A win on Tuesday could possibly be a death blow to the Trail Blazers. While the 2016 Blazers belong to a rare family of teams to have come back from 0-2 deficits, history is still not on their side. According to oddsshark.com, NBA teams are 18-271 all-time after trailing 2-0 in a best-of-seven series.
Additionally, the Blazers would have lost two of their four potential home games. A loss could put them in bad company as going on the road to play catch up is one of the hardest tasks in sports. After finishing 21-20 on the road in the regular season, the Pelicans should expect Portland to pull out all the stops to avoid stepping into a historic black hole.
Overall, we should expect another hard-hitting matchup. The Pelicans have, once again, a chance to do the unlikely as the underdog this season. I won’t say they are the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the NBA just yet, but that opportunity could soon present itself.
New Orleans has persevered to basketball hell on and off the court. In one key section of the aforementioned McCollum and Lillard conversation, the word adversity was used: “Ain’t nothing wrong with adversity nothing wrong with it. It just came early.’’ Lillard said.
It’s too bad he’s playing against the team that has defined adversity perhaps better than anyone else, all season long.
What: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers
Where: Moda Center
When: 9:30 pm Central
How: TNT, 99.5 FM WRNO