The ongoing drama that is the New Orleans Pelicans sent fans across the full gamut of emotions on their way to a seventh consecutive loss, a 139-132 overtime defeat suffered at the hands of the Phoenix Suns.
Thanks in big part to Devin Booker (44 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, five three-pointers) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (14 points, 15 rebounds, three steals, four blocks) the Pelicans losing streak was pushed to seven games — the longest since the team lost eight in a row to start the 2016-17 season.
Most of the Pelicans’ losses this season have followed a familiar script. There are moments of individual and collective excellence, but that are obscured by far too many mental mistakes, physical mismatches, and extended periods of lackadaisical effort.
This game was no different. However, the sixteenth episode of “How will they lose tonight” did bring some unexpected twists and turns. It was simultaneously one of the best and one the worst episodes of the season.
First the highlights, for no other reason than the need to have something, anything to hold on to in this crazy, mixed-up world.
JJ Redick had 26 points on 7-11 shooting to lead the starting unit to one of its best statistical performances so far. Each of the five starters scored 17 points or more and shot better than 50 percent from the floor.
Lonzo Ball broke out of an extended slump with a season-high 20 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, posting his second double-double as a member of the Pelicans. He attacked the rim, even taking and making four free throws (both season highs). His six made field goals tied his season-high, and his .667 shooting percentage was a season’s best as well.
Brandon Ingram scored 21 points in 30 minutes, on only 10 shots, giving him his 14th 20-point effort in 18 games. After going a perfect 7-for-7 at the free throw line, Ingram has made 41 out his last 42 free throw attempts. This from a young man who entered the season as a career 65.9% shooter from the stripe.
Ingram showed tremendous toughness after leaving the game during the third quarter with a laceration above his right eye that had to be closed with six stitches. He had 10 of his 21 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“I just wanted to fight with my team,” said Ingram. “I’ve been through way worse shit than just getting my head hit on whatever kind of floor it is. To be with my team and play the game of basketball is my profession and that’s something I would love to do.”
The rapidly improving Jaxson Hayes continues to be just that. Hayes scored 17 points, just two off from his season-high, and blocked a season-high five shots. He becomes the third-youngest player in NBA history to put up that stat line, trailing only LeBron James and former Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum.
And then there was this…
Hayes buried poor Cheick Diallo. Diallo was never going to get his Pelicans jersey retired, so a headstone might be the most appropriate tribute to the former Pel.
And Jrue Holiday was solid throughout the first four quarters, posting 23 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and five steals. Only 10 players had at least one game of at least 20 points, five boards, five assists, and five steals last season. Holiday is the first to do it this season.
As a team, the Pelicans shot better than 50 percent for just the fourth time in 22 games. They made 17 of their 41 three-point attempts (41.5%), and their 27 assists were the most the team handed out since their last game against the Suns back on Nov. 21, when they finished with 28.
Finally, after trailing by 20 points with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter, the Pelicans outscored the Suns 34-18 in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Over the final 12 minutes, the Pelicans showed a collective fight that had been missing and that fans had desperately been waiting to see.
“Our intensity as a team changed,” Hayes said. “All of us were playing to win; we were trying to get that win. So I think that’s just what kicked in, really.”
“I think the energy shifted,” added Holiday. “I think that when Nickeil (Alexander-Walker), Frank (Jackson), Lonzo, Jaxson...when they’re in the game it just kind of turned it up and from there...I think at the start of the third we came out slow, but they really came out with fire and juice and motivated the whole team.”
All of that is really good. Taken individually those are encouraging signs for the Pelicans.
No one wants Ball to improve more than I do. His chemistry with Hayes, Ingram, and Zion Williamson could produce reel upon reel of fantastic highlights.
Hayes at times resembles a young Shawn Kemp with his phenomenal, unbridled athleticsm and flair for the spectacular.
Ingram continues to grow into the roles of both leading scorer and team leader. He would have been forgiven for taking the rest of the night off after his fall, but he continued to attack the rim upon his return.
Unfortunately, the rest of the story is filled with those awful disappointments that stand between the Pelicans and victory.
It’s hard to win games when you allow 74 points in the first half, as New Orleans did on Thursday night. It was the most scored in a half by the Suns this year.
Being outrebounded by 11, and allowing a season-high tying 19 offensive boards, 13 second chance points, along with 66 points in the paint don’t usually indicate a positive outcome.
The Pelicans still struggle with some of the most basic elements of the game. They don’t defend the pick-and-roll effectively. Communication on the defensive end is infrequent, at best. At times, even Holiday has made baffling decisions that have cost the team points.
The Suns bench reaction is worth watching a dozen times— Ayter's Gonna Ayt (@BobbyDigitaI) December 6, 2019
Ricky Rubio is a ♂️ https://t.co/2ba5IiGuLx
With thier limitations with size, the need to box out and team rebound has increased. Instead, the Pelicans usually don’t make contact with their opponents.
Giving up second chances on the glass is one thing, but giving up the basketball is even more egregious, and the Pelicans turned it over 23 times against the Suns. Five different Suns had at least two steals, and 20 of the 23 turnovers were committed by the starters.
Maintaining a focus on development is hard when there isn’t at least some winning to go along with it, but it’s what the fans will have to do.
The loss is real, as is the streak, but if tonight was an actual step forward for some of the young players that the team is counting on...then it was worth it.
Somewhat. I still like wins. Losing sucks.