The New Orleans Pelicans (2-7) defeated the Charlotte Hornets (4-5) in Charlotte Friday night in the battle of the old Hornets franchise vs the new Hornets franchise. Mired in a three-game losing streak, the Pelicans entered this game desperate, like really desperate — we’re talking Lebron James barber level desperation here.
Prior to the game head coach Alvin Gentry announced he would be making changes to the starting lineup, inserting JJ Redick at shooting guard and Kenrich Williams at power forward in hopes of sparking his struggling team. With Reddick in the lineup, Jrue Holiday started the game at point guard as regular starter Lonzo Ball was out with an injured groin. It seems that at least for one night fiddling with the lineup worked as New Orleans escaped with a 115-110 victory over their former namesake.
The Pelicans were the more assertive team early in the first quarter. The defensive intensity was high at the start of the game, with New Orleans forcing Charlotte into several tough contested jump shots and eight first quarter turnovers. Unfortunately, the Pelicans were just as careless with the ball, turning it over eight times too that allowed the Hornets to stay within striking distance.
Forward Brandon Ingram continued his scorching play to start the season in the first quarter, leading all scorers with 10 first quarter points en route to a 25-point, nine-rebound, four-assist performance. He was also brilliant in the clutch, but we’ll discuss that momentarily.
New Orleans took a 33-28 lead into the second quarter before falling back into bad habits. The Pelicans began the frame with four straight turnovers and went on to commit an eye-popping 16 of them in the first half — a sure-fire recipe for disaster against stiffer competition. Fortunately, they were playing the Hornets, who committed 14 of their own first half turnovers balancing out the sloppy play.
Although the Pels struggled to shoot well in the second quarter by knocking down only 38.0% from the field, Redick kept the team in the game with nine points in the frame. He made two three-pointers and knocked down all three of his free throw attempts. It was obvious New Orleans looked to get the sharp shooter involved early and often in this game and it paid huge dividends. The veteran finished the game with 22 points and five rebounds to go along with a pair of steals.
Speaking of veterans, starting center Derrick Favors probably had his best game as a member of the Pelicans. Favors finished the game with 10 points, 10 rebounds and three timely assists. Those stats may not impress you, but he also had several tap outs in the second half that allowed New Orleans to prolong possessions and earn second chance points. Overall, it’s been a rough start for the big man, but he could be turning a corner if he’s finally moving past his injury woes and rounding into shape. Stout rebounding and a solid paint presence would go a long way in fixing a lot of issues on the team’s defensive end.
Pels Finish Strong
As the game entered the fourth quarter, the Pelicans trailed by five but the game was there for the taking. Problem was, New Orleans but just couldn’t seem to get control of the game because of all those aforementioned errors. So many travel calls. Redick stepping out of bounds three times. And of course some dismal free throw proficiency.
The Pelicans have struggled mightily to close games this season, and early in the fourth, it looked like we were on a path for another clunky finish. However, that’s when Brandon Ingram took over. He paced all fourth quarter scorers with 10 point in the final stanza. Although to be fair, the entire team closed the game strong. The ball was moving fluidly and New Orleans seized several clutch rebounds to extend possessions.
In a beautiful sequence and with New Orleans leading by only three points with under 2:30 remaining, Jrue Holiday set up a pick-and-roll with Derrick Favors on the right side of the court. Both Hornet defenders followed Holiday which left Favors open in the lane. Holiday hit the open Favors moving towards the basket, forcing a help defender to sag off Kenrich Willams in the corner. The veteran center quickly hit the open Williams who nailed the open three-point attempt and essentially icing the game. It must be mentioned that Williams came up big all over the court, but scoring 15 points on eight shots was quite unexpected yet most certainly welcome.
That play in particular though struck me because that is not a play you would’ve seen out of this team at any point earlier in the season. Every player knew where they should be on the court and more importantly knew where to look for the open teammate. The Pelicans executed with quick, smart decision-making, sealing the much-needed first road victory and second win of the season overall.
If I may though, one word of caution: tonight’s contested involved the lowly Charlotte Hornets and there were still major red flags like a jaw-dropping 26 turnovers in the game. That number alone will get you beat most nights. As guard JJ Redick said after the game, “We’re searching right now.”
Let’s hope they don’t have to search too much further and this win can jump start a string of better results ahead.