Wow, just WOW!
With Mardi Gras in full swing and Endymion rolling tonight, all of New Orleans was already swimming in festive vibes, but then the New Orleans Pelicans tapped on the shoulder and said, “Hold my beer.”
Trailing by as many as 19 points, the Anthony Davis-less crew pulled off their most surprising comeback of the season, knocking off the Denver Nuggets, 120-112.
Prior to the game, Las Vegas oddsmakers listed New Orleans as 13.5 underdogs, and in the early goings, they were absolutely on target. The Nuggets blitzed the Pelicans in the first quarter, racing out to a 39-22 lead. The team sporting the second best record in the West took full advantage of every single mistake by New Orleans, and to top it off, Denver was on fire from three-point range, converting six of their first seven looks.
“I thought we were struggling early,” said Alvin Gentry. “I thought we were trying to do too much. We did too much dribbling against this team. It’s not a team you can dribble around — they’ve got great hands.”
Not three minutes into the second quarter, the Pelicans trailed 49-30 and all onlookers were wondering that the rest of their night could be spent more wisely.
But then Darius Miller was fouled while hitting a three. A minute later, he knocked down three more free throws after getting assaulted again behind the arc. Jrue Holiday splashed home a triple. Then Julius Randle followed suit.
Suddenly, the Pelicans deficit was a manageable 10 points, but more importantly, the beast living within the souls of our lovable try-hards awoke. After the Pelicans outside barrage made that desperately needed dent, New Orleans’ execution got crisper. The defensive breakdowns largely vanished. And the effort exuded — man, oh man, — it spread like a wildfire before our eager eyes.
“We moved the ball, passed the ball better and then I thought we were better defensively,” remarked the proud New Orleans head coach. “We had to get them off the three-point line. I think they had six threes in the first quarter and had nine for the game. We did a much better job of running them off the three.”
After a catastrophic first quarter in which they were outscored by 12, the Pelicans bounced back with a 40-32 second that tied their season-high for points in that frame.
Coming out of halftime, there was some concern that the Nuggets would regain the momentum as Nikola Jokic, who picked up three fouls in a quick six minutes of the first half, would lead a fiery charge.
Nope, not today.
New Orleans seized control of the game with a 29-22 third quarter, taking a slim three-point lead into the final 12 minutes. The fourth saw a similarly good effort, but the Nuggets did make a valiant charge.
After Julius Randle (28 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) and Frank Jackson (16 points, seven rebounds) combined for 25 points in the second frame, Jrue Holiday (29 points, five assists, four threes) and Cheick Diallo (12 points, 10 rebounds, two steals) stepped up in the third with 15 collective points, and then Jrue, Julius and Kenrich Williams (seven points, five rebounds, two steals) each tallied five in the fourth.
In addition to the scoring, guys were just making plays all over the court. Kenrich hunted down a lot of key offensive rebounds. Elfrid Payton dropped 10 ultra important dimes. But the biggest highlight, the most crucial play, occurred inside the final minute — when Denver had closed the gap to five.
Enter the new face of the franchise, who in one fell swoop, put the game on ice.
Jrue Holiday, who made a habit of clinching climatic victories for the Pelicans last season with key defensive plays, reminded us all of what he’s all about in the span of ten gorgeous seconds. With the Nuggets racing in transition, Jrue stripped Gary Harris, saved the ball from going out of bounds as he tiptoed the line and led a one-man fastbreak, weaving through and around four Nugget defenders for a layup plus the harm.
“We competed at a real high level,” said Gentry. “I thought Frank stepped up, obviously he played great. Jah had his moments and I thought Julius and Jrue were really good when we needed them both. And then Jrue came through when we needed him most. But it was a really good win against a real quality team.”
Since Anthony Davis sent shockwaves through the NBA with his trade request, the Pelicans have actually had better results, posting a record of 7-8. (Prior to the Rich Paul earthquake, New Orleans was 22-28.) More interesting to note, the Pelicans have seemingly played their best ball when Davis hasn’t been on the floor.
- Tonight they beat the Nuggets on their home floor — on the second night of a back-to-back.
- Last Saturday, they stunned LeBron James and the Lakers.
- Prior to the All-Star break, they handed the Thunder a big loss after Davis left the game at halftime.
Thanks to the league’s office, Davis is literally the biggest sideshow going in town and the optics continue worsen. It’s been proven time and again that the team doesn’t require his services to win, let alone be competitive.
Hint for all those who still don’t get it: New Orleans is a stronger unit, a more eye-pleasing watch, without AD.
Furthermore — but not that it seems to matter to the vast majority living outside of the city — no one wants to see him play. Did you catch what he said on HBO’s The Shop last night???
If you haven’t had a chance to watch the AD-less Pelicans yet, do yourself a favor and please start tuning in. They’re a treat, a good time and oodles of fun. The Pelicans that want to be here, many who should return next season, offer the hope of a much brighter and sustainable future, one we’ve been dreaming to see for a very long time.