Needing to build momentum after a dominant 105-85 win over the Memphis Grizzlies and with six games upcoming on the schedule against legitimate playoff caliber opponents, the Pelicans were unable to muster enough of anything on both ends of the floor against the Pistons. Outside of Jrue Holiday and his 29 points, New Orleans failed to find their groove for much of the night while Blake Griffin torched the Pelicans defense to a tune of 37 points, helping lead Detroit to a 98-94 victory.
Jahlil Okafor kicked off the contest with the Pelicans first four points and New Orleans raced out to a 7-3 lead, sparking hopes of another comfortable victory. Unfortunately right after that opening spurt, things quickly went downhill. The Pistons knocked down 8 of 18 from three-point range, got to the free throw line 13 times and Griffin lit up the scoreboard for 26 points — yes, all within the game’s first 24 minutes!
Griffin, time and again, abused the Pelicans defense, but he especially feasted on Julius Randle. Without Anthony Davis anchoring the middle and bringing the help — although Okafor did a great job of protecting the rim at times with five first-half blocks en route to a career-high six for the game, Griffin got to any place he desired. So too did Jon Leuer and Zaza Pachulia, who started in place of Andre Drummond, when cleaning up possessions around the rim. Thus, it was far from a surprise to see Okafor spend some time in the second half on Griffin, even guarding him all the way out to the three-point line when need be.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, the Pelicans could only muster a 2-10 start from deep, one trip to the foul line and New Orleans two best contributors in the first half — Okafor and Holiday — combined for 24 points. Not shockingly, the Pelicans found themselves down 57-47 at intermission.
The second half began similarly, with the Pelicans offense struggling to find any rhythm outside of Holiday. Jrue totaled 13 points in the third quarter, but the rest of the New Orleans players combined for just 10 points. So, despite holding the Pistons to 22 points, the Pelicans were only able to shave one point off the deficit in the third frame.
In the fourth quarter, though, the Pelicans finally made that run. A 9-2 start to the frame soon morphed into a one-point lead after Nikola Mirotic dropped home a three-pointer. New Orleans momentarily seized the lead at 82-81 with 7:42 to go.
Notice the use of the word momentarily.
After a Pistons timeout, Detroit scored the game’s next five points, and seconds later Mirotic was forced to leave the game due to injury. As he headed back to the locker room, you could feel a lot of hope seep out the doors of the Smoothie King Center like air out of a balloon. Sure enough, word soon came from the Pelicans PR department that Mirotic had suffered a right calf strain and would not return.
But the Pelicans would have one more last gasp.
Following a Darius Miller triple with 52 seconds left, New Orleans trailed by just a single possession at 95-92. Griffin missed a 28-footer for Detroit and then Frank Jackson was in prime position to play hero.
Holiday drove hard to the rim and drew a number of Piston defenders, kicking the ball promptly out to the Pelicans rookie standing on the wing for a wide open look from deep. His shot missed a hair long — hooray for adrenaline — and what should have been a second shot attempt went awry when Holiday’s back tap failed to wind up back in New Orleans’ hands. Instead of Jackson just grabbing the loose ball, he tried to tip it to Randle at the top of the key, but it was intercepted by a streaking Reggie Bullock up the middle, who naturally took it home the length of the floor to seal the win for Detroit with 14 seconds left and a five-point lead.
“You would think if, defensively, we could hold a team to 98 points and 40% shooting, it should be a game that you win and we just struggled offensively throughout the night,” said Alvin Gentry to postgame media. “Not very good ball movement and I know we ended up with 20 assists, but that’s really not an accurate stat because a lot of those were desperation assists, and I mean moving the ball at the end where we don’t have any other options. We just struggled the whole night. And then at the end, we make a push back, you’ve got to be able to make the game-winning plays, as we call them. We didn’t do that.”
The Pelicans scored 72 points in the paint. That’s amazingly good; however, they did very little else. New Orleans made but six shots outside of the paint (three triples each by Mirotic and Miller) and only got to the free throw line a grand total of nine times. Perhaps worse of all, the guys missed a ton of shots from in close despite netting most of their scores around the rim.
Bottom line: 94 points at home just isn’t enough in this day and age.
Up next, New Orleans travels to Oklahoma City overnight to face the Thunder tomorrow. With no Anthony Davis already, the Pelicans were going to need all hands on deck against one of the best teams in the West, but it appears the team will likely be without Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore.
I know I’ve written this word too many times already on the season so what’s one more: Sigh.