The Jrue Holiday-led Pelicans dropped their third consecutive game and 28th of the season Saturday night 126-114 in the Smoothie King Center.
New Orleans was, once again, without Anthony Davis, Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic and were dealt another predictable loss to their division rival San Antonio Spurs. But the Spurs were also down a marquee piece, DeMar DeRozan, yet San Antonio didn’t miss a beat as their offense picked apart the porous Pelican defense.
The Pelicans got solid contributions from Jrue Holiday and Jahlil Okafor, and even Frank Jackson and Darius Miller combined for 26 points off the bench. But the entire New Orleans starting five had a negative plus/minus number Saturday night and the defense collapsed once again, allowing San Antonio to hit better than 51 percent from the floor and 45 percent from three.
The injuries to Davis, Randle and Mirotic meant New Orleans had to open the game with a bizarre nausea-inducing Holiday-Elfrid Payton-Solomon Hill-E’Twaun Moore-Okafor lineup. Holiday led the way with 29 points and seven rebounds, while Okafor feasted in the painted area, hitting 10 of 12 to finish the evening with 24 points, 15 boards and three blocks. Solomon Hill did a little bit of everything with seven points, five rebounds and four assists. However, E’Twaun Moore and Payton had nights to forget as the duo each scored six points and knocked down three shots to do so, but Moore needed eight attempts to get six points and Payton shot it 13 times. To get a dozen points on 6-21 shooting from a pair of starters is less than ideal, but that’s life in the here and now for New Orleans.
Frank Jackson and Darius Miller got the most minutes off the bench for New Orleans and the pair had solid, albeit inefficient, nights. Jackson had nearly as many points, 15, as he did shot attempts, 14, and the same can be said for Miller with 11 points coming off ten shots.
The three ball wasn’t kind to New Orleans tonight, as the Pelicans went 7-27 on the night. But the three was especially problematic for the Pelicans at the beginning and end of the game. In the first and fourth quarters, New Orleans hit one of eight from behind the line in each frame. The Spurs shot 45 percent from three in those two quarters, New Orleans shot 13 percent.
Yet it wasn’t just the beginning and end of the game that killed the Pelicans, the middle two stanzas was when the New Orleans defense collapsed and allowed San Antonio to score 32 and 36 points in the second and third quarters. The Spurs hit nearly 60 percent of their shots, knocked down six three pointers and got to the free throw line 17 times.
The Spurs took care of business against the Pelicans without even pretending like there was a need for DeRozan. LaMarcus Aldridge exploited Okafor, Hill and Cheick Diallo’s less than stellar defense to the tune of 28 points and 12 rebounds, Rudy Gay had 22 and 11 and, fittingly enough, the leading scorer coming off the Spurs bench was former Pelican Quincy Pondexter, who scored ten in eight minutes.
The Anthony Davis-less stretch was always going to be tough sledding for New Orleans and it’s meeting those expectations. After beating a free-falling Memphis team, the Pelicans have dropped three consecutive games to the Pistons, Thunder and Spurs; and with a back-to-back against the Rockets and Nuggets looming, plus the final regular season matchup with San Antonio taking place next Saturday night in San Antonio, there’s a chance this losing streak doubles from three to six.
Alvin Gentry was quoted after the game saying, “As long as we compete, we’ll be okay. We’re not giving up on our season, if that’s what everybody thinks.”
He said that because of course he did — no coach would say the opposite with a lot still riding on the season and job security on the line. But with the injuries that plagued the Pelicans in the past — now in the present hanging overhead once more — and the losses piling up higher and higher, it’s getting harder to believe the opposite of Gentry’s words will play out.