During the Fox Sports pregame show, David Wesley talked about the New Orleans Pelicans needing to play with a sense urgency tonight against the Brooklyn Nets. While it was a complete statement of fact, it drew a chuckle out of me because the contest marked game number 39 on the schedule — we’re nearly at the halfway point of the season, the Pels are second to last in the Western Conference and there remains a problem with all of the players bringing the requisite effort each and every night.
If you stop and think about it for a second, that’s just so damn depressing. And wouldn’t you know it, a lack of urgency was precisely at the heart of the issue in a game in which the Pelicans lost 126-121!
After both teams got off to hot shooting starts, the Nets remained in high gear largely because the Pelicans just let them do anything they pleased. From shooting wide open threes to waltzing into the lane, Brooklyn got all of the enviable shot attempts every head coach craves. There were no crisp defensive rotations, no multiple efforts and certainly no fire in the bellies of the Pelicans. And if the Nets missed a shot, one of their players was quick to grab an offensive board and atone for the previous misfire.
Simply put, the New Orleans defense sleepwalked through the entire first half and they found themselves down by a score of 73-58. When the starters needed a pick-me-up towards the end of the first quarter, there was nobody available to rescue the moment. Tim Frazier, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill rolled over harder and faster than the starters did — New Orleans found themselves down twenty points less than 16 minutes into the game!
The Pelicans came out with better fight in the second half, but they were not able to make Brooklyn sweat until the latter part of the fourth quarter. Just as we witnessed in the terrible loss to the Heat in Miami on November 30, New Orleans had dug themselves too large of a hole early and remained indifferent for too long of a stretch to have a legitimate chance to come back and win the game.
If one glances at the box score, they’ll immediately point to the lack of the production by the bench as the cause for the defeat. Yes, the New Orleans reserves combined for five points — that’s a glaring issue, but their lack of offensive production wasn’t the main culprit for this loss. Allowing Brooklyn to dominate the action on their offensive end and race out to a 20+ point lead by New Orleans not getting in the face of every shooter or limiting the opponent to one shot attempt per possession were really at the root of the night’s loss.
“You’ve got to start the game where you can’t get that kind of separation and think that against a team with that kind of firepower that you’re going to be able to get all the way back,” said Alvin Gentry in postgame.
On one play down the floor, Elfrid Payton was forced to guard two Nets on the perimeter. On multiple possessions, Anthony Davis did little to disrupt drives into the paint. And the Pelicans did a woeful job of keeping the Nets off the glass when a stop was paramount. The Pelicans failed to impose their will from tip-off and there were defensive breakdowns everywhere.
That’s a shame because the offensive fireworks set off by the starters throughout was truly something special. Anthony Davis scored 34 points and grabbed a career-high 26 rebounds — something not seen in the league since Elvin Hayes in 1973. Elfrid Payton notched 25 points and seven assists. Jrue Holiday had a line of 20-4-4 and knocked down three of five from deep. Julius Randle went for 21 points on just 13 shots. And E’Twaun Moore scoring 16 points proved yet again that he really does function best in the starting lineup.
One more item to note before trying to forget the night’s horrible imagery on the court: Gentry’s substitutions were just odd. Obviously, the coaching staff had assembled a gameplan which revolved around staying small; however, once the reserves got hammered towards the start of the 2nd quarter, I’m astounded they didn’t go to plan B. Maybe slow the game down and get a good shot or two, and for heaven’s sake, make sure you grab some rebounds. It’s just odd that neither Jahlil Okafor and Cheick Diallo got into a game where New Orleans could have certainly utilized their stronger attributes.
Up next, the Pelicans get a couple of days off before facing the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. The Cav’s have the worst record in the league but the Pelicans are now 4-16 on the road. At this point, it’s a sad coin flip. #Yuck