The New Orleans Pelicans were without Anthony Davis tonight as the playoff-hopeful Los Angeles Lakers, with LeBron James and a wealth of explosive young talent behind him, came into the Smoothie King Center looking for an easy win.
Alas, they failed!
The Pelicans took down the purple-and-gold 128-115, leading by double-digits for almost the entire contest. The off-the-court matters that loom large over this matchup have been covered at length, and given the circumstances, this post will celebrate the wonderful on-court show New Orleans put on rather than all of that extra noise.
Despite an abundance of productive performances up and down the roster, the best player on the court tonight was none other than Jrue Holiday. He put on a display that was equal parts aggressive (his 18 field goal attempts were tied for the most in the game), efficient (10-18 shooting overall, 5-9 from three point range) and unselfish (seven assists and only one turnover).
It seemed like whenever the Lakers attempted to make a dent in their deficit, Holiday would force a turnover, knock down a triple or create an opportunity for a teammate. He will be the first to tell you that he leads by example on the court, and fortunately for the Pelicans, nearly everyone on the team did just that.
Kenrich getting it done on both ends. He taps the loose ball away from James and Bullock to get the Pels into transition and then is ready to shoot when the ball swings back to him. He has 3 triples here in the first half. pic.twitter.com/KubvZYUxHZ— David M. Grubb (@DMGrubb) February 24, 2019
Diallo has been awesome again tonight. Now if only we could get him to work with Jerry Rice over the summer.— Chris Conner (@Impatientbull) February 24, 2019
Elfrid Payton's effort has been incredible. After stripping LeBron James moments earlier, he flies in for an offensive rebound to keep the Pelicans possession alive.— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) February 24, 2019
Pelicans taking a 69-57 lead into halftime and it's been a glorious time without Anthony Davis.
Elfrid Payton played in just his 20th game of the season tonight, but it may have been his best. His 14 points, nine assists and five rebounds contributed to a game-high +20, which is 31 points greater than the -11 mark for the Pelicans’ starting point guard from last season, Rajon Rondo. As Oleh noted above, the effort was never lacking. The fact that it was productive makes it all the better.
With four minutes to play in the second quarter, Rondo tossed an alley that LeBron James ooped, making the score 57-54. It was the closest the Lakers would get to the lead for the rest of the evening.
For most of the game, Julius Randle and Kenrich Williams were on LeBron James duty, (which the unofficial The Bird Writes style guide calls “playing defense on LeBron James” as opposed to the interpretation of some Pelicans, who believe it to mean “bowing to every whim of LeBron James”) and did about as good a job as could have been asked of them. James got his numbers, totaling 27 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, but holding him to a standard performance with the teammates he has will more often than not result in a win.
Enough beating around the bush: it’s time to talk Cheick Diallo. If Holiday energized his teammates with his play, Diallo did so to Pelicans fans both in the Smoothie King Center and out of it with his.
He had two highlight-reel blocks, each of which was followed by an amalgamation of celebrations. Whether he was signaling for the crowd to make some noise or simply expressing his pride for Wakanda, he was a spark plug.
The highlights were complemented by a pristine stat line as well: 18 points (just one below his career high) and 10 rebounds on a perfect 8-8 from the field. Jahlil Okafor played only 13 minutes in this contest, which would have seemed like a bummer if not for Diallo’s performance. The work ethic of Diallo has probably been praised by everyone in the Pelicans organization at this point, and seeing it come to fruition on a stage such as this is just plain sweet. That the New Orleans Pelicans Twitter immortalize him after the game was the perfect cherry on top:
If the season ended tonight, I don’t think many Pelicans fans would complain. It is a feel-good win for a multitude of reasons. But the grind cannot stop just yet. The Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers await the team on Monday, February 25, before they make their way to the Staples Center for a rematch against the Lakers on Wednesday, February 27. If the Pelicans continue to follow Holiday’s lead, they could very well win both of those games. For now, we will relish in the victory in this one.