Black Friday took on an entirely different meaning for New Orleans basketball tonight.
While many folks were happily cashing in on deals around the country, the Pelicans were forced to sustain lumps early, then late, and ultimately, are leaving OKC with several more distinguishable black and blue marks across some already bruised egos.
With 5:11 remaining in the game, the Pelicans had just seized a 102-100 lead following a transition JJ Redick three-pointer from the corner. New Orleans proceeded to add only two more points to the scoreboard the rest of the way, falling 109-104 to a Thunder team that had registered but five wins in 16 tries against the rest of the NBA.
Please don’t take this as a slight, all fans of OKC, but the Thunder are not a good basketball team. They didn’t turn it up a few notches in crunch time against the Pelicans and play exquisitely down the stretch, but rather just made a lot fewer mistakes. When you’re two mediocre ball clubs, that’ll usually get the job done.
Over the final five minutes of the game, the Thunder made four of ten shots from the field but only attempted one from three-point range. They made just one of two from the line. Yet, they outscored New Orleans 9-2 because the Pelicans fell apart like a snow man suddenly thrust into the outside heat at the equator.
The boxscore shows the Pels made just one of their final 11 field goal attempts and completely failed to get to the free throw line. To boot, they missed all seven attempts from behind the three-point line. The results were ultra bad, but the performances witnessed were even worse.
For starters, the Pelicans had no business settling for so many outside perimeter jumpers. Before the last five minutes, New Orleans had made 11 of 31 (35.5%) from deep. Conversely, they had made 27 of 45 (60%) from inside the arc and gotten to the free throw line 21 times.
Over those final 300 seconds of the game, we witnessed JJ Redick shoot a heavily contested midrange shot fading away without a single Pelican in the paint and 14 seconds on the shot clock, and then on the next possession, Jrue Holiday missed a golden opportunity at the rim in transition which wound up a block in his face — and he bobbled a possible putback out of bounds. A few minutes later, Holiday elected to pass up a wide open jumper from the elbow — which used to be his thing — only to get a half-hearted floater get rejected by Steven Adams in the paint. And about those final four shot attempts, which all came from behind the three-point line, woof.
With no Hamidou Diallo, the Thunder had no answer for Brandon Ingram all night long. Why did B’Easy only get a couple of looks when he had been rolling along after making 10 of 15 for 24 points through the first 43 minutes of action?
As I said on Twitter, bad clubs find a way to lose in the clutch. Yes, the lack of execution hurt — i.e., making enough shots — but did the decision making have to be so damn awful too? A -26.3 Net Rating through 41 clutch minutes on the season echos a lot more than just a few unlucky bounces down the stretch of games.
I don’t even want to delve much into how this contest began because too much negativity is not good for the soul, but I can’t dismiss it entirely. OKC ran roughshod over New Orleans out of the locker room, jumping out to a 54-38 lead with 5:44 left in the first half. The Pelicans defense was as bad as we’ve seen this season for most of those first 24 minutes. And the coaching staff certainly doesn’t get an exemption from criticism.
Jaxson Hayes drew the start at center and his matchup against Steven Adams went about as poorly as expected. Hats off to the Thunder coaching staff for attacking the promising but woefully undersized and inexperienced Pelican rookie. While Jax flashed some great effort and made a few stellar individual plays, OKC’s starting center had 10 points through the first 3:16 of the game. Adams had entered this matchup averaging 9.0 points per game!!!
Admittedly, Alvin Gentry fixed the error later, having Jahlil Okafor guard Adams while Hayes was limited mostly to staying with Nerlens Noel, but the damage had been done because OKC had gotten off to such a fantastic start.
One sad note beyond anybody’s control: Kenrich Williams was forced to leave the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle after landing on Chris Paul’s foot. You knew the injury was likely to knock him out for the rest of the contest because it took him several minutes just to stand up and test that left ankle. At least it doesn’t sound like it’ll be a long-term thing?
Up next...it’s this same OKC Thunder team, and at this point, they probably wish they could play the Pelicans another 64 times this season to wrap up their schedule.
Sigh, go eat some leftovers and let’s get fat together. At least we might be able to make Zion Williamson look svelter to the discriminating eye of some nationally once he returns and is forced to don Superman’s cape.