The New Orleans Pelicans found the win column for the first time this month, snapping a three-game losing streak in their 125-120 defeat of the Chicago Bulls. After sitting out the last five contests, Julius Randle returned and put up the game’s most dominant line: 31 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four threes.
Wednesday’s matchup began very differently than the final score might indicate. Chicago raced out to a 37-25 lead with over two minutes remaining in the first quarter aided by a 13-point Zach LaVine explosion. When I glanced at the box score, the Bulls were shooting better than 80% from the floor, but who needed exact proof after watching Robin Lopez lob up all sorts of shots around the rim that found the center of the net every time!
Nevertheless, Chicago naturally slowed after their torrid start and then the Pelicans bench unit began to leave their mark. Randle and Cheick Diallo, who finished with 18 points on 7/8 shooting and nine rebounds, combined for 13 points in the first quarter. Overall, New Orleans four reserves, which also included Ian Clark and Tim Frazier, contributed 63 points, 22 rebounds and made it to the free throw line a remarkable 19 times. “Where the hell has this been seemingly all season?!?” — said everyone, momentarily ignoring the fact that the night’s opponent was a very bad Chicago Bulls team.
“Jrue didn’t have his best shooting night, but he sets the tone for our team most of the time,” said Alvin Gentry to postgame media. “And then obviously having Julius back helped some. Then we had some guys who just came in and stepped up and played great. Cheick did a great job, with his energy and creating spacing for our offense on his rolls.”
Holiday, when he wasn’t finding a teammate for one of his 11 assists, was trying to do most of his damage from the perimeter. He finished with 18 points but 13 of his 19 shot attempts came from behind the three-point line, establishing a new career-high in that category. He only knocked down three from beyond the arc, but no one should have a problem with the quantity of jumpers. In a lost season, you want to see Holiday both continue to develop the confidence befitting of the face of the franchise and work on all his weaknesses.
The outcome of game was decided on the defensive end for New Orleans. Sandwiched in between a Zach LaVine three at the 3:29 mark of the second quarter and a Kris Dunn deuce at the 6:09 mark of the fourth, the Bulls only managed to score 30 points. In nearly the span of one half of basketball, Chicago made just nine field goals out of 35 attempts (25.7 FG%).
“I think we locked in and we played,” said Gentry in responding to a question about the improvement in the team’s defense. “We did a good job of challenging shots. I thought in the first half we gave up too a lot of open threes because we were pulled just in a bit too far.”
Although the difference in the final score was only a margin of five points, a New Orleans victory was never in doubt. The Pelicans boasted a 13-point lead after Randle splashed home his fourth three-pointer of the night at the 4:09 mark of final frame.
Kenrich Williams, who somewhat surprisingly held onto his spot in the starting lineup despite Julius’ return, flashed impressive moments again. He finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, two threes and two blocks, but his rejection of Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot on a Bulls fastbreak was his clear highlight.
Darius Miller contributed 12 points, four threes and four assists, and Jahlil Okafor, the ever-efficient, smooth-moving center, tallied 13 points and five rebounds.
For Chicago, they definitely have something in Lauri Markkanen (30 points, 10 rebounds and five threes) and Zach LaVine is good for filling up the box (28 points, eight rebounds, seven assists), but their roster gets a little sketchy after that — though Kris Dunn did finish with 18 points on 13 shot attempts.
Up next, the Pelicans fly home to prepare for a Friday night matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but remember that the game will tip off a little later than usual (8:30 p.m) thanks to ESPN carrying the telecast.