The New Orleans Pelicans might have someone’s number!
Following a 102-94 victory on Monday night, the Pels improved to 2-0 on the season against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Perhaps equally important: New Orleans didn’t make loyal fans staying up late watching the West Coast game sweat because this contest never entered clutch minutes for even a single second of action.
After Jrue Holiday drilled a mid-range jumper to push the Pelicans lead to six with 6:17 remaining, the Blazers never managed to get any closer the rest of the way. The Pelicans didn’t run away with the game but rather held strong defensively, as Portland was only able to muster three points over the final 6:38 of regulation.
Don’t look now, but the Pelicans have held opponents to under 100 points twice in the last three games and have allowed an average of 101.8 points over their last four.
“It’s the way we started the game,” said Alvin Gentry in postgame. “I thought we were into the ball. I thought our bigs did a good job of dropping and trying to keep CJ and Dame out of the paint. And then it was just a matter of getting back out to the three-point shooters and challenging shots.”
Although Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 38 points, it took the dynamic duo 43 shot attempts to hit that total. The biggest reason for the lousy ratio was the fact that they couldn’t hit a three-pointer to save their lives, uniting to make just two of 20 from beyond the arc (both makes were by CJ).
While the Trail Blazers shot a dismal 4-29 (13.8%) from three-point range, the Pelicans fared much better, knocking down 15 of their 35 looks (42.9%). Those makes were crucial because New Orleans struggled from the free throw line (68.8%) as well as from two-point range (39.7%).
Despite the offense not enjoying one of their better performances, there were plenty of things to like. I felt that Brandon Ingram set the tone early, going right at Carmelo Anthony, who is not a noted defender in the league.
B.I. scored or assisted on 21 of the Pelicans first 27 points, and New Orleans was on pace to be leading easily after the first quarter until they hit a bump in the road which included this painful finish.
FOR HE'S A JOLLY GOOD MELO pic.twitter.com/GalBTxDid4— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 24, 2019
Ugh, not a good decision by Frank Jackson to force that pass right there. The Trail Blazers totaled the final six points of the frame to knot up the score at 31 apiece, but the damage cut deeper than that.
Following the turnover and Melo’s buzzer-beater, Portland proceeded to go on a 15-6 run to open the second quarter. Many must have shared my thoughts at the time: welp, that’s game. To our fun surprise though, New Orleans decidedly got the last laugh of the first half as they closed with a 10-2 run. And the guy to knock down the last big hoop before halftime? Kenrich Williams.
Kenrich caps off a 10-2 run for the Pelicans to end the half! pic.twitter.com/tUpvKD2kGP— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) December 24, 2019
Next to the Pelicans holding the Trail Blazers to a mere 94 points, the biggest theme on the night were all the various contributions. Alvin Gentry went deep into his bench, playing twelve men, as Jahlil Okafor was the only one to not step out onto the court.
“That’s who we want to be,” said Gentry. “That’s who we are, really. I think that anybody can step in and play a few minutes for us and do something positive. If that’s the case, we can have an opportunity to play a deeper rotation.”
Jrue Holiday paced the group with 21 points, which included several big jumpers late, but his defense on Dame was equally as impressive. He fought through screen after screen — sometimes more than once on even the same possession, and did a wonderful job of not allowing Lillard many uncontested looks.
Brandon Ingram finished with a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds, but so too did Derrick Favors, who posted 12 points and 13 rebounds. By the way, when Favors racks up big minutes, that usually winds up a good thing for the Pels.
The Pelicans are 3-1 when Favors plays 28+ minutes.— David Fisher (@Fish_TBW) December 24, 2019
JJ Redick had 16 points in 25 minutes, and Lonzo Ball, who started in place of Williams, only saw 18 minutes of action due to first half foul trouble. Still, he notched seven points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one sweet-ass putback — look out below, Kenrich!
"LONZO JUST DUNKED ON KENRICH"— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) December 24, 2019
A little friendly fire on the putback slam pic.twitter.com/nRMDJqRtYp
Off the bench, E’Twaun Moore brought the offense (13 points), and Jaxson Hayes, the defense (four blocks), but bless his heart he took time to post this gem too.
We're big Jaxson Hayes fans here pic.twitter.com/91UODAUV7S— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) December 24, 2019
Wins are fun — and if you haven’t been paying attention — tonight is the first time I’ve had the privilege of covering a victory. I was a lousy 0-11 on recap duty up to this point and seriously contemplating on finding a new hobby.
Up next, the Pelicans will look to close out this four-game road trip with one more win, but it’ll be a stiff test: the Denver Nuggets on Christmas Day at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN.