The New Orleans Pelicans are quickly establishing the simple fact that they prefer to show out in the second half of ballgames.
Alvin Gentry’s squad was able to remain perfect in exhibition play after knocking off the San Antonio Spurs by a score of 123-114 on Sunday evening, but for the third game in a row, they needed to mount a second half comeback to stay out of the loss column.
Tonight, in particular, the sweet spot was the third quarter, where the Pelicans bettered the Spurs by 19 points. They were led by Zion Williamson, who scored 12 of his game-high 22 points in the frame, but the entire team played really well as they made shots and kept San Antonio in check defensively (22.7% allowed field goal percentage).
Zion Williamson finished with his first double-double (22/10) of preseason and dropped plenty more highlights, but the Pelicans comeback might have fallen short had it not been for the production of Jrue Holiday (16 points, four assists, three rebounds, three steals) and Nicolo Melli (14 points, nine rebounds) in the first half. The entire team was often shooting blanks outside of those two in the first 24 minutes. The freshest Nico in town was the only Pelican to make multiple field goals in the first quarter (a pair of three-pointers), and then Holiday connected on four of five shots for nine points in the second.
Along with Zion’s explosion in the third quarter, Lonzo Ball (12 points, six assists), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (13 points, seven assists, five rebounds) and Frank Jackson (12 points) really stepped up their games after painfully slow starts. Zo’s turnaround might have been the most impressive though. He looked woeful on his first trip to the foul line, made some errant decisions with the ball and took several difficult shots in the first quarter, but after that display, a much more confident Ball emerged and New Orleans’ fortunes quickly changed for the better.
Overall, the Pelicans had seven players finish in double figures, proving yet again that offense isn’t going to be a problem for this group — and remember, JJ Redick missed this contest due to rest and Josh Hart was held out as well.
One area of concern that I do have, however, is with starting center Derrick Favors. He simply hasn’t looked right physically all preseason. Don’t be surprised if we learn that his hamstring still isn’t 100% because his typical mobility and lift on his jump do not seem to be there.
The Spurs were led by Bryn Forbes (18 points) and DeMar DeRozan (16 points). San Antonio scored at will in the first half, but the Pelicans reduced the number of breakdowns and mistakes in the second. For instance, New Orleans fouled three three-point shooters before halftime but none in the second half. Eliminating nine free points makes a big dent!
Up next, the Pelicans have a bit of an extended break. They don’t play again until the 18th, where they’ll fly to New York to face Julius Randle and the Knicks, and then there will be another delay in action for the start of the regular season on the 22nd.