Wait, you didn’t think that the Pelicans were going to close out the 2019 calendar year without another heartbreaking defeat in clutch minutes, did you??
The New Orleans Pelicans, our beautiful — from certain angles — but broken 7-23 birds, gave away another, but what made Friday night’s loss a little more depressing than normal is the fact they blew a six-point lead late to the worst team in basketball.
Then again, we may have to reconsider this ‘worst team in basketball’ deduction because the Pelicans have now lost twice to these 6-24 Golden State Warriors on the season.
New Orleans, of course, couldn’t build on their fine win against the Minnesota Timberwolves from two nights ago as they suffered a paralyzing start out of the gates. In fact, it was as though they had forgotten how to play basketball.
The team fell behind 13-4 after turning the ball over three times within the first four minutes of action and the Warriors took full advantage by knocking down three triples. Three additional turnovers later, the deficit stood at 22-8, of which 12 points were now courtesy of some of the worst passing and way too casual play you’ll see on an NBA floor.
Alvin Gentry burned through three timeouts but to no avail.
By the time the dust had settled at the end of the first quarter, New Orleans trailed 31-16. They had totaled eight turnovers versus four assists, made only 1 of 8 attempts from three-point range, and JJ Redick and Jrue Holiday only had one point between them.
After an iffy first five minutes of the second quarter, though, the light finally came on. New Orleans went on an 18-2 run, acting as though they had remembered how to hoop again — similar to how Maverick re-engaged the MiGs towards the end of the original Top Gun movie. Although the Warriors closed out the first half on a 10-2 run, you felt like New Orleans had at least gotten back into the ballgame and there was solid pulse.
Sure enough, after yet another impressive run (11-0 this time), the Pelicans trailed but by a single digit at 67-66 with 3:37 remaining in the third quarter. They proceeded to take the frame 37-22, and right about then one was certain that all the momentum was comfortably in New Orleans corner. JJ Redick was suddenly hot, scoring 13 points in the frame, and Holiday, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram were all having effective games too.
The Pelicans were unable to build a sizable lead and run away with it in the fourth; however, good vibes were still in place with the team leading by six at 97-91 with 2:44 to go. New Orleans had scored twice following a timeout, once on a beautiful drive and finish by Ingram and the other on an open mid-range jumper by Holiday.
But then in the very next instant, everything that was good on this earth was suddenly nowhere to be found: the lead, winning basketball and logical coaching decisions. And a few minutes later, fans sat were left stunned after watching another cruel defeat unfold.
“At the end of the day, you can’t come in on the road and shoot 42% and 25% from three, on good looks, and expect to win,” said Alvin Gentry in postgame. “From the 2nd quarter on, I thought defensively we did a great job. Obviously, D-Lo made some big shots, but that’s what he’s supposed to do. We had a six-point lead, I think, with two and half minutes to go. You’ve got to find a way to win the game.”
D’Angelo Russell, who finished with 25 points and seven assists, scored a quick five points to knot the score at 98. During roughly this same time frame, the Warriors didn’t miss a free throw over the final four minutes, making 10-10. Conversely, the Pelicans leaked oil everywhere and trailed the rest of the way.
While Golden State made 22 of 23 free throws on the night, New Orleans missed 8 of 23 freebies, including one by Ingram late. Questionable shot selection showed up too, but nothing troubled onlookers more than seeing both Kenrich Williams and Josh Hart largely close out the game.
Including his four misses from the field tonight, Kenrich Williams has had a December to forget thus far.— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) December 21, 2019
21 points in 205 minutes (!)
His defense/rebounding/intangibles cannot overcome this super subpar production, right?
Williams didn’t make a shot all evening, going 0-6 from the field, and his month-long struggles were obvious to the Warriors too as they dared him to shoot all night long. Hart also endured some extreme offensive ineptitude, missing all eight of his three-point attempts.
Gentry would reference several times to media afterwards that the team needed to come up with stops and needed to make shots He called this combination a simple remedy for the whole thing. As for Kenrich’s personal struggles, the head coach had this to say:
“He’s gotta shoot it, and he’s got to make shots. If they’re going to leave him open, then he’s got to make shots. He’s got to shoot them with confidence and know that they’re going to go in. If that’s not the case, then we can’t have him out there. I know he can do it, I’ve seen him do it. So, that’s what he’s got to do.”
I don’t know what game the coaching staff was watching, but I didn’t see Kenrich shoot with much confidence out there tonight. Moreover, there was another player at the head coach’s disposal who had played well overall sitting on the bench: Lonzo Ball.
Ball finished with 14 points (on 6-11 shooting), five rebounds, five steals and two assists, but he saw just eight seconds of playing time over the final 6:18 of regulation. Also, how does Redick not receive a single shot attempt over this same stretch?
That’s not winning basketball. You should play the hot hand down the stretch, especially when others are shooting blanks, and you certainly must make sure your best shooter on the squad get at least a couple of good looks in closing time.
Just as the blame squarely rested on the players for starting the game without the requisite energy and focus in the first quarter, it’s impossible to ignore the coaching staff’s failures in executing properly down the stretch.
We have a right to be angry. This one hurt. Too many mistakes were made far and wide by the whole New Orleans cast in a game featuring an opponent who looks clearly inferior on paper.